Regional traditions and
distant events – Parknabinnia and other atypical court tombs in north Munster,
the northern part of the province of Munster in western Ireland, there at least
four atypical court tombs that may belong to a distinct regional tradition.
These atypical court tombs, along with other court tombs throughout Ireland,
appear to have been initially used c. 3700-3570 BC. The north Munster atypical
court tombs are characterized by very narrow, straight-sided ‘courts’, short
heel-shaped cairns, and a gallery of two chambers. Interestingly, dating
evidence from one of these tombs, Parknabinnia, indicates that shortly after c.
3000 BC, its rear chamber was blocked and only the front chamber continued to
receive deposits. Somewhat earlier, sometime in the second half of the 4th
millennium BC, deposits seem to have ceased at the nearby Poulnabrone portal
tomb. Looking beyond north Munster, the late 4th millennium BC
appears to have been the era of construction of some of the massive, developed
passage tombs elsewhere in Ireland such as the Boyne Valley in eastern Ireland.
Various interesting questions are raised, particularly in the areas of social
differentiation and the construction of identities. For instance: Are the distinctive north Munster atypical
court tombs the result of an isolated population? If so, how should we explain
the north Munster portal tombs and other monuments that seem to indicate
connections with areas farther afield? Also, are the patterns of construction,
use, blocking, and disuse evident in the north Munster megaliths related to
events farther afield such as the construction of massive passage tombs in distant
parts of Ireland and beyond? If so, what might this tell us about different
scales and layers of identity in the Neolithic? As a first step, this paper
discusses the architecture and dating of these north Munster atypical court
tombs and then places them in the wider context of contemporary megalithic
activity in Ireland.