6000-year-old burial tomb relocated to Ulster Folk Museum
The Co Armagh tomb was excavated to save it from quarrying work in 1966.
A court tomb originating from Ballintaggart, Co. Armagh and dating back to the Neolithic age has been given a permanent new home at Ulster Folk Museum. The burial structure was excavated from its original location due to risk of destruction from expansion of a neighbouring quarry in 1966 and was reconstructed at the Ulster Museum. The court tomb was moved into storage in 2006 during renovation works and has remained in storage until now.
The Ballintaggart Court Tomb first entered National Museums NI’s collection more than 50 years ago when the ancient site was threatened by a quarry expansion. The site was excavated by Laurence Flanagan, the then Keeper of Antiquities at Ulster Museum. He was able to save the tomb’s stones and reconstruct it outside Ulster Museum. When Ulster Museum was renovated in 2006 the stones were brought to storage at Ulster Folk Museum, and there they stayed until earlier this year when the restoration project began.
Commenting on the tomb’s reconstruction, William Blair, Director of Collections at National Museums NI said,
"We are delighted to be able to reconstruct the Ballintaggart Court Tomb at the Ulster Folk Museum. It is a brilliant illustration of how the museum can connect Ulster's unique heritage spanning thousands of years to the present day. We are grateful to our project partners for their input and support.”
The significance of the tomb was well known to the Richmount Rural Community Association, Portadown, who has been integral to the process of reconstituting and making the ancient tomb publically accessible once again.
Chairman of the Richmount Rural Community Association, Portadown, Joe Garvey said,
“It’s important that people can understand the rich local history of County Armagh through the Ballintaggart Court Tomb, or ‘Giant’s Grave’ as it is known locally. We’re proud to be involved in seeing it reconstructed at the Ulster Folk Museum where people will be able to enjoy it for generations to come.”
Following a reconstruction process involving researchers from the Centre for Community Archaeology at Queen's University Belfast, the tomb will stand prominently at the Ulster Folk Museum, providing an important new layer of 'pre-history' at the museum. The ancient structure is one of over 400 court tombs in Ireland which have a distinctly northern distribution. Court tombs pre-date the pyramids in Egypt and offer a unique insight into Ireland’s ancient past.
The reconstruction of the tomb arrives at a significant time for the Ulster Folk Museum, coinciding with the announcement of exciting plans to reinvest in the museum. It is planned that new facilities will expand public access to the museum’s remarkable collection and heritage assets and, in doing so, support dialogue about our shared and sustainable future.
L-R: William Blair, Director of Collections at National Museums NI; Joe Garvey, Chairman of the Richmount Rural Community Association, Portadown; and Dr Greer Ramsey, Curator of Archaeology at National Museums NI.
National Museums NI was expertly assisted by Restoration Works Ltd. and archaeologists from Queen's University Belfast in reconstructing the tomb stone-by-stone over recent months. The tomb’s journey to Ulster Folk Museum began with the assistance of researchers from the Centre for Community Archaeology at Queen's University Belfast, who created models of each of the stones of the court tomb. These models were then 3D scanned, allowing for a full 360-degree examination of each of the stones allowing them to be accurately situated and installed on-site.
Dr Greer Ramsey, Curator of Archaeology at National Museums NI, explains that large burial structures, similar to the shape and size of the Ballintaggart Court Tomb, became more popular in Ireland as people began to create permanent settlements.
“Court tombs take their name from a semi-circular arc of upright stones marking the entrance to the burial chambers. The Neolithic period, to which they belong, was revolutionary as it marked the end to a nomadic or hunter-gatherer way of life. New settlers arrived about 6000 years ago bringing with them farming skills and many of the plants and domestic animals we are familiar with today. With a more secure food supply, people could live for longer in one place and invest in larger, more permanent structures, such as tombs.”
The Ballintaggart Court Tomb is situated in the Rural area of Ulster Folk Museum. Access is included as part of general admission to the museum. For more information and to book tickets visit ulsterfolkmuseum.org.