7000 BC and Stone Age people arrived in Ireland. They mainly ate berries, fruit, and wild animals and moved from place to place. Circa 4000 BC they started clearing the land and began building stone structures. We are familiar with elaborate buildings such as Newgrange (3000 BC) & Carrowkeel (3400 BC). But they were performing complex and involved funeral ceremonies long before this.
In 2016 local farmer Michael Chambers was observing a fox on Ben Gorm. As an avid hillwalker and member of the Nephin Begars hillwalking club he was very familiar with the area. He noticed the fox disappear among the rocks on Ben Gorm’s east slope. He went up to investigate. He discovered a previously unknown cave system under the rocks. He summoned some Nephin Begar comrades and they explored the cave. It involved squirming & tight manoeuvring that would leave any claustrophobic person in a panic. They persevered and discovered, deep within the bowels of the cave, ancient human remains. They contacted the Gardai. Subsequently the National Monuments Service, with the National Museum of Ireland, commissioned an excavation, carried out by Dr Marion Dowd of IT Sligo.
In January 2018 the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht confirmed that the remains belonged to 10 individuals and were placed there over a 1200 year period from 3600 to 2400 BC. This was most likely an excoriation site – a place where remains were left to decompose before most of the bones were recovered for burial elsewhere.
It is a humble reminder that, as we tramp our merry way up and down the hills and valleys of Ireland, we are only the latest in a long succession of humans to explore and connect with the landscape. Anyone hiking on Ben Gorm before 2016 would not have known what lay in a chamber beneath their feet.
Brannen’s pub and B & B in Newport Co. Mayo is the home of the Nephin Begars hillwalking club. The proprietor is John Chambers – cousin of Michael Chambers who initially discovered the cave. John was one of the party to make the initial exploration of the cave when they discovered the human remains. As a fellow hill enthusiast John was very willing to discuss the experience and show his photos – an opportunity surely not to be missed. What better than to get a firsthand account of this remarkable discovery and be able to engage in an in-depth discussion about the local hills?
Hillwalkers are perhaps best placed to continue to discover such Stone Age burial sites and/or megalithic art as we explore all corners of the land. I’ll leave the last word to Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan, who in January 2018 praised the local hillwalker for reporting his find.
“This is a fascinating archaeological discovery and I want to thank the community of hillwalkers for reporting it to us. Such vigilance is extremely important to us in helping to protect and understand our archaeological heritage” Linkback: https://mountainviews.ie/summit/309/comment/19888/