The Brownshill Dolmen is a megalithic portal tomb situated 3km / 2 miles east of Carlow town, and looks like a piece of Stonehenge got transplanted to Ireland. This megalithic burial chamber dates back to around 3500 BCE.
What is a Portal Dolmen?
The Brownshill dolmen (sometimes spelled Browne's Hill Dolmen) is one of many megalithic portal tombs found in Ireland. They consist of large capstones, which are leaning to the ground one side, propped up on the other side with supporting stones, to create an entrance at the high end. Stone age people would have buried human remains inside the tomb (skeletal remains are typically found), sealing the entrance with smaller stones. The smaller stones often erode or collapse over the millenia. At Brownshill, the supporting stones (or portal stones) remain, as well as a door stone, which would have been at the entrance.
Quick 360 degree video of the Brownshill Dolmen
Largest Capstone in Europe
The granite capstone of the Brownshill Dolmen is believed to be the largest of any megalithic tomb in Europe. Measuring roughly 5 x 6 x 2 metres (16 x 20 x 6 feet) and weighing around 120 tons, historians can only speculate how neolithic people placed the capstone on top of this dolmen. One theory is that they did not move the capstone at all -- instead, when they found an appropriate boulder, they dug holes for the supporting stones and inserted them, then dug away the surrounding earth, leaving a Dolmen looking like it is today. Another theory is that they put the supporting stones in place first, then gathered a big pile of earth, stones and timber around these supports to form a ramp of earth. They used the ramp to slowly roll capstone into position. Both these theories try to account for the fact that many dolmens are surrounded by a mound of earth.
What the Brownshill Dolmen Tells us About the Neolithic Irish
The size of the capstone does tell us one interesting thing about the people who lived here over 3,000 years ago -- they had available "leisure" time to move this giant capstone to this location, and to leverage it onto this rock. In other words, while they were farmers, not all of their time was taken up growing food. These stone age people had sufficient enough "free time" that they could invest significant amounts of labour into this effort, which was clearly important to them, perhaps for symbolic, or even ceremonial reasons.
From Carlow Town, follow the Hackenstown Road (R726) east out of the town, for about 2km. Look out for the brown tourist sign pointing to the dolmen, which is in a field off the road, to the right. It is visible from the road.
Brownshill Dolmen. Image by Dylan