Fourknocks megalithic mound, Naul, Co. Meath
|A rare photo of excavations at Fourknocks in the 1950s. Do you recognise this man? Click to see larger image.
name Fourknocks comes from the Irish 'Fuair Cnocs' which means
'The Cold Hills'. The mound is part of a complex of small sites
in the area, and is significant to Newgrange
because it is aligned with the line of Winter Solstice sunrise
from Newgrange. Strangely though, the Fourknocks mound is not
visible from Newgrange.
mound (known as Fourknocks Site I) was excavated along with the
nearby Site II in the 1950s by P.J. Hartnett. The site was reconstructed
with a metallic domed roof, although no roof was found during
excavation. Near the centre of the floor was found a posthole
which it has been suggested may have formed a support for a wooden
roof on the mound.
number of individuals were interred in Fourknocks, with deposits
of cremated and inhumed remains found in both the passage entrance
and in the chamber.
A photo of the lintel which originally sat over the passage. See
are a prominent feature on many engraved stones from the Neolithic.
This stone was originally found over the interior of the passageway,
but has now been placed to the left of the entrance.
amazing antler pin was found at Fourknocks. It was made by splitting
the shed tine of a young deer, and is D-shaped in cross section.
It is 19mm long and has a slightly expanding domed head. (Knowth
and the passage-tombs of Ireland, George Eogan)
ornament consists of a chevron pattern on the rounded part of
the body, formed by cutting. Care was taken in its manufacture
and the surface was well-polished, even extending into the cuts."
Fourknocks chamber is 41.92 sq. metres in size, considerably bigger
than those at Newgrange
East (20.21) and Dowth
South (15.21). In relation to the overall size of the chamber,
the recesses at Fourknocks are small, and so too is the passage,
with an area of just 5.67 sq. metres compared with 14.78 for Newgrange
and about 30 sq.m. for Knowth East.
(1986), there was a small patch of paving in the passage at
Fourknocks. Sod or boulder clay was used in the construction of
the mound, and small stones were 'grouped together' to form a
of the orthostats and roof lintels at Fourknocks are carboniferous
limestone, which may possibly have been brought to the site from
nearby outcrops. Apart from one example, all the decorated stones
at Fourknocks are green gritty sandstones.
Detail on the stone over the southern recess at Fourknocks.
large size of the chamber of Fourknocks meant it would be difficult
to envisage a beehive-style stone roof on the structure. P.J.
Hartnett, who excavated the site, suggested the roof was finished
by using timbers supported on a central post. There was, of course,
a post hole found in the centre of the chamber floor, but whether
this indicates the presence of a wooden roof is open to debate.
Some believe the roof may have been made of a tarpaulin of cow-hide
or similar material. Others believe the chamber was never roofed.
Because the passage of Fourknocks is oriented to approx. 20 degrees
east of north, it does not point to a sunrise or indeed a moonrise,
so an astronomical function would probably have involved the stars.
A general view showing the Western recess at Fourknocks.
presence of zig-zag patterns on a number of stones in Fourknocks
is suggestive of the W-shaped constellation, Cassiopeia, which would
have been visible through the Fourknocks passage between 3000BC
and 2500BC, around the time the site was constructed. Martin Brennan
Stones of Time) has suggested that quadrangles and zigzags could
be images of star fields. He says the association of quadrangular
patterns and stars is common to many cultures. See this
page for an astronomical explanation for some of the symbols
of the Irish Stone Age.
A view of the chamber of Fourknocks. For more pictures, click
believe the passage was also oriented towards the rising of another
important star, Deneb, which is the bright 'tail' star of the
This may have been a precessional calculation, given that around
3,000BC, give or take a few centuries, Deneb and Cassiopeia are
at their lowest elevation. This is the only time in the whole
25,800-year precessional cycle when these constellations are not
circumpolar. For the rest of the cycle, they do not set below
the horizon from this latitude. Perhaps the builders of Newgrange
and Fourknocks knew this.
passage of Newgrange points to Fourknocks, although neither site
is intervisible. Also, Cygnus is distinctly cruciform in shape,
just like the passage at Newgrange. The legend of the romance
(who owned the Brugh) and Caer tells how Caer was a swan, and
after Aonghus fell in love with her at the "Lake of the Dragon's
Mouth" (possibly the constellation Draco), they flew back
to Newgrange and lived "in the Brugh" after that.
we consider that Newgrange points to Fourknocks, and that Fourknocks
in turn points to the rising place of the "swan star"
Deneb, we see that the building of these sites may have been part
of some great astronomical construct, designed to capture a specific
moment in astronomical time in such a way that it demonstrates
the people of the Neolithic were acutely aware of the great cycle
the presence of a large flock of wintering Whooper Swans at Newgrange
every year may add further weight to the "Cygnus
Enigma". There are a number of ancient legends which
connect swans with Newgrange, including the romance of Aonghus
and Caer, and the conception of Setanta (Cuchulainn) at Newgrange
by Dechtine and Lugh, in which story Dechtine arrives at Newgrange
with other maidens in the form of swans. This story takes place
during winter time, which is suggestive of the solstice. The story
of the fate of the children of Lir tells how the Milesians, so
moved by the plight of the swans, introduced a law in Ireland
that no swan was to be harmed.
astronomical significance of the swan constellation is the fact
that Deneb is a good marker for the position of the sun on the
night before Winter Solstice.
A rare photograph of Fourknocks taken after excavation but before
the modern metallic domed roof was placed on the structure.
A spiral carved on a chamberstone at Fourknocks. The spiral is
a universal symbol at the ancient stone sites, and can be found
in abundance in the Boyne Valley passages, especially Dowth, Knowth
The entrance to the Fourknocks mound. Access to the mound is along
a narrow pedestrian path from the nearby road.
GAINING ACCESS TO FOURKNOCKS
The key for the entrance door to Fourknocks Passage Tomb can be obtained from Mr. Fintan White +353 (0) 1 8354722 before 6pm who lives over a mile from the Tomb. Directions are signposted from Fourknocks.His house is found west of the tomb - turn left at the Y-junction with the white and green house then keep going straight up the narrow track where the main road turns to the left. The Whites' house is some distance up here - the 5th on the right.
A cash deposit must be given which is refundable on the safe return of the key. The key should be returned before 6pm.
TAKE A TOUR OF FOURKNOCKS
If you'd like to take a tour of Fourknocks, perhaps as part of a bigger tour of the Boyne Valley area, Mythical Ireland Tours would be happy to try to facilitate you. Cick here to enquire about a Fourknocks tour or visit our Tours section to see more about the tours we offer.
Fourknocks ridge "tower"
site shares a unique alignment with Baltray
standing stones and Rockabill island. Suggested books: Landscapes
of Neolithic Ireland - Gabriel Cooney; Knowth
and the passage tombs of Ireland - George Eogan; Other
Some photographs are copyright © Eileen Roche, 1996. Images
may not be copied, reproduced or redistributed without the prior
written consent of Eileen Roche.