How the Secrets of a Prehistoric World were Revealed by Séamus Ó hUltacháin

In the mid 1990s four megalithic tombs were known to exist in Burren townland with a scattering of outliers in the adjacent townlands of Cavan and Fermanagh. In the summer of 1997 I was told by Paddy McGovern of Legeelan that a ‘stone ditch’ (which would have been buried over millennia) had been discovered by him when cutting turf as a young man some fifty years previously. The wall was mostly taken away for road building but remnants could still be seen. The adjacent townland of Burren was now a mature coniferous forest, ready for harvesting and an uneasiness that the ‘whole archaeological story’ had not been told and that ‘archaeology’ could be destroyed in harvesting operations prompted me to remark to Gaby Burns that I felt that only ‘half the story’ had been told. And so in the autumn of 1997 we began surveying this enigmatic limestone escarpment, where huge sandstone boulders which ‘did not belong’ were omnipresent. Bit by bit we began to realise that we were examining the (substantial) remains of an almost perfectly preserved ‘prehistoric world’. Although we had no background in archaeology we quickly began to trust our instincts – our ‘gut feelings’. The landscape never ceased to surprise – never failed to fascinate. We were driven on both by the joy of discovery and the desire to share our discoveries. We were greatly encouraged by Rory Sherlock who undertook an archaeological survey in this area in 1998 –’99 and by other archaeologists and geologists. Gaby was the recorder/cartographer/illustrator while I forged ahead into ‘the unknown’. The result of our work is contained in the book ‘Burren-Marlbank – A Monumental Prehistoric Landscape’. After twenty-one years of studying this ‘relict’ landscape I’m still not sure if ‘half the story’ has been told. Hopefully it has not!

Séamus Ó hUltacháin

 

The following is a poem ‘Baile’ (in Irish) which tries to imagine the shock/wonder/excitement of our prehistoric ancestors when they first reached the Burren/Marlbank escarpment. In a way it mirrors the confusion/excitement we experienced as we tried to re-imagine and unravel their world.

 

Baile

Is le mór-iontas a d’amharc siad thart
Nuair a bhain siad an scairp aolchloiche amach don chéad uair
Scaipthe ar fud na coillearnaí
Na clocha ollmhóra gaineamhchloiche – as áit – achan áit
Cuid acu macasamhail na sléibhte a bhfuair siad spléachadh orthu
Eadar an coll is an iúr ar a mbealach aníos ó na h-uiscebhealaí
Bheadh éacht mór oibre le déanamh
A mbeart a chur i gcrích
Agus imfháluithe a leagan amach dá mbeithigh agus dá mbarraí san áit seo
Ach nárbh é sin a mhol na saoithe is na draoithe dóibh a dhéanamh
A mhaígh gurbh anseo a threoraigh déithe na nua-thalmhaíochta iad
Chun lonnaithe agus deireadh a chur le h-ocras is le h-anró
Agus stop a chur leis an síor-ghluaiseacht
Agus giota ar ghiota tháinic siad chun tuisceana
Gurbh anseo cinnte a d’fhág na déithe an bunábhar buan
Fá choinne cróite is claíocha is fiú páirceanna súgartha
Is gurbh anseo a raibh fáil ar an dúrchloch luachmhar
Crochta sna h-aillte os cionn ailteanna alltachta
A d’fheilfeadh dá n-uirlísí feirme is baile
Is le tua cloiche i láimh chrom siad ar an obair
Is leag siad síos crainnte is rinn’ spás glan de
Is scoilt siad an chéad chloch is chuir síos marcanna
Is ghrean siad cuid eile le rúnscríbhinn phearsanta
Pobal beag faiteach ar imeall na scairpe
Réabhlóidithe radacacha ag cumadh ár staire

Séamus Ó hUltacháin

Posted in Local Stories, Poetry.