The Knockmaree Linkardstown Dolmen in Phoenix Park, known as the Devil’s Altar
The Knockmaree Dolmen.
The Phoenix park in Dublin is always worth exploring and its nooks and crannies have some wonderful surprises. Here’s one you may enjoy.
Take a stroll along Chapelizod Village and enter the south western side of the Phoenix via the Park Lane entrance just off Chapelizod Road. Continue up along the pathway that brings you to Upper Glen Rd. As you cross the road you will see a small keepers cottage, Knockmary Lodge, on top of a hill. Adjacent to Knockmary Lodge in a very pretty woods at the top of Knockmaree Hill, you will find one of the oldest man-made creations in Dublin, the Knockmaree Linkardstown Dolmen.
Knockmaree is derived from the Irish name “Cnoc-Maraidhe” meaning the hill of the mariners. Perhaps the maritime name was associated the occupants of the tomb or with the nearby river Liffey The Knockmaree Linkardstown Dolmen or popularly known, perhaps with some justification, as the Devil’s Altar, dates from a time earlier than the pyramids of Giza. Dating from 3,500 to 3000 BC during the Neolithic period.
Linkardstown style cists, or burials, consist of an earthen mound, with a stone-built tomb at the centre. The remains found inside these tombs are usually adult males and may occasionally be accompanied by a child. The stones today at Knockmaree are all that is left of the original tomb, the earthen mound is long since gone. Archaeologists have identified centuries of water erosion on the dolmen’s capstone making it highly likely that the capstone was brought all the way up from the River Liffey to the tomb by our ancestors.
When the mound was excavated by archaeologists, they discovered the tomb was reused on several occasions. The tombs centre was found to contain the remains of two male inhumations (uncremated bodies) from the Neolithic age. Grave goods were also discovered, a flint blade, a bone toggle and a shell necklace. Later burials were cremations and burnt human remains were found in the tombs outer area. The remains were contained in four small sepulchral vases dating from the Bronze Age approx. four thousand years ago.
As the great megalithic tombs in the Boyne valley like Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth have shown us, many of these ancient burial sites like Knockmaree are astronomically aligned with an axial alignment towards the rising and setting of the Sun at the winter and summer solstices. As the burial mound that once covered the dolmen has been removed, I imagine the dolmen itself would have shifted somewhat over the centuries.
Next Solstice, perhaps a Broadsheet reader will visit with a compass and see if they can figure out any alignment, they won’t be disappointed as the sun shining through the woods is a reward in itself.
The alignments had a ritual significance and many sites were certainly ceremonial and spiritual in nature. The summits of prominent hills and mountains may have been symbolically important places to locate tombs and cairns.
There is archaeological evidence that Neolithic people believed in a multi-stage journey of the dead to the afterlife, the final leg of which took the deceased upwards through the roof of the burial chamber and mound (situated on a hill like Knockmaree Hill or a mountain summit) to the sky, where ‘the dead, now revived, joined the cyclic Sun, and very likely, a god or gods associated with it in the eternal rounds of cosmological life, death and rebirth’.
There is a timeless quality about these megalithic sites, even a modest one like Knockmaree, it gives them enormous power. They were here before us. They will be here long after we’re gone.
So, if you find yourself in the Phoenix Park, perhaps visit the tomb and take the opportunity to pay your respects to an ancient culture and some of Dublin’s earliest Dubliners.
All pics by Harry Warren
Harry’s Dublin appears here regularly, often on a Friday