Baltinglass Hill is a truly remarkable place to visit, with a history as confusing as the structure is overwhelming. The structure on top of the hill is essentially an open multi-chambered cairn, with the remnants of at least three tombs at its centre. The whole site is then again surrounded by the remnants of a Bronze Age hill fort whose builders may have used some of the stones from the cairn. It is believed that the cairn would have dated from the same time as Newgrange, between 3500 -3000BC. The cairn is surrounded by a kerb of large stones, and an inner kerb was revealed during excavation, three of these kerb stones bear images of concentric circles. The main tomb is situated at the north side of the cairn, it contains a 3 metre passage, complete with roof slabs, leading to a chamber with three very narrow compartments and a basin shaped stone. On the south side of the cairn is another passage-less tomb chamber with three compartments, two of its stones are faintly decorated. Another chamber stands to the east of the main tomb, and finally on the northwest are the remnants of a tomb structure with a corbelled roof quite like a beehive hut or a Clochán.
The hillfort has two defensive ramparts and is known as Rathcoran, dating from around 1000 BC, the name has been said to be taken from the Irish ‘Ráth Cuaráin’ ‘Cuarán’s ringfort’ but it is maybe more plausible that it derives from ‘Ráth Charnáin’ ‘ring fort of the cairn’. Unfortunately many more of the stones may have also been removed to build the three stone walls that converge at the cairn separating the Parishes of Baltinglass and Rathbran.
The remains of the cairn were excavated during the summers of 1934,1935 and 1936 with PT Walshe overseeing the excavation. In his article, ‘The Excavation of the Burial Cairn on Baltinglass Hill’ he describes a local legend that surrounded a collapsed passage at the tomb, “the passage here being said to have led from the cairn to the old Cistercian Abbey of Baltinglass, something over a mile away at the foot of the hill to the west”. During the excavation cremated bone, pottery, many flint scrapers and large amounts white quartz were found. The recesses of the main tomb contained a large amount of burnt bone, interestingly some bone even remained sitting in the basin shaped stone inside the chamber, three flint scrapers were also found within the chamber.
Other interesting finds during the excavation of the cairn were bone pins, bone needles and also a polished egg shaped white stone 2cm in diameter. In another section of the cairn an area had been cleared and wheat, nuts, a polished axe and a javelin head laid out in what PT Walshe felt was a deliberate way before being covered over by the cairn structure itself. PT Walshe also noted that white quartz had been placed on top of many of the stones within the structure before the cairn was filled in and also mixed in with the cremations which he felt showed that white quartz appears to be of particular interest to the builders of the tombs. In his conclusion PT Walshe states that some of the pottery at the site was very similar to that found at Carrowkeel and feels the site is linked closely to both Seefin, Newgrange, Dowth and Carrowkeel. It should be mentioned there are one or two unusual tall stones standing about 30 metres from the cairn itself, its relationship to them is something I am unable to discover
The trek up to the summit of Baltinglass Hill is steep but undeniably worth the effort, in my mind though the site has been much destroyed it is still a powerful place, I find it hard to believe that anyone could visit this special place and not become aware of its palpable presence.
GPS: 52.94702, -6.68328