Dolmens, also called portal tombs, are the simplest and perhaps the most spectacular of all the Neolithic tombs. The name dolmen is derived from the Breton ‘tolmen’ – stone table – and in these tombs three or more upright stones support a large capstone, forming a burial chamber underneath. The entrance or portal is between the two uprights and originally the single chamber stood at one end of a cairn, a great mound of stone and earth.
This elegant dolmen, set on the edge of a terrace ringed by low rugged hills, is known locally as the Hag’s Chair. It stands dramatically at the southern end of the long stone cairn that stretches back to where you are standing. Most of the cairn has gone, but two parallel lines of carefully-set stones defining the edges are still visible. Excavation in 1963 revealed that a stone-lined grave or cist had been inserted into the northern end of the cairn but this is no longer visible. The entrance to the portal tomb is on the south side, overlooking a tributary stream of the Forkill River. Although the chamber had already been disturbed, finds from the excavation included many sherds of Neolithic pottery and a few flint tools. At the same time the magnificent capstone, which had slipped when the backstone split, was reinstated using a mobile crane. The backstone itself was also repaired using special cement and the displaced stone that once sealed the tomb was pulled back into position across the entrance.
Portal Tombs were built in the Neolithic Period, probably in the centuries around 3500 BC. Without their protective cairns and with their stony frames and massive capstones revealed, local people have called them fanciful names and woven tales of fairies, giants and witches around the ancient stones.