Monday, July 15, 2013

Seefin Passage Tomb, County Wicklow

The Neolithic passage tomb of Seefin stands on top of a 650m high mountain in North Wicklow. It dates to approximately 5000 years old and appears to be part of a series of tombs, as a number of other peaks in the area like Seefingan and Seahan also have similar large cairns covering passage tombs. This would have been an incredibly difficult undertaking in the Neolithic period even though there is an abundant supply of stone on top of the hills. The peaks of these hills are all around 650m – 750m above sea level, so why would they have constructed these elaborate and large stone tombs up here? When you arrive at Seefin it immediately becomes apparent. The views are just simply spectacular and some of the finest vistas you can ever enjoy in Ireland. The whole of South County Dublin and Wicklow opens up around you, rolling hills, well ordered fields, shining lakes all stitched together like a neat quilt. It is almost like those who constructed the graves wanted to claim ownership of all they could see. That by placing their ancestors far above the low lying lands of the living, the shades of their forebears could watch over them from their tombs.

But who was buried at Seefin? The tomb was excavated by R.A. Macalister in 1931, however he reported finding no artefacts and stranger still, no human remains in the tomb. Perhaps then the remains had been removed in antiquity, by the decedents of the tribe if they migrated from the area they may have wanted their ancestors with them.
 Perhaps in some remote period the grave had been desecrated with all traces of the those interred removed and destroyed, or perhaps no-one was buried in the tomb at Seefin in the first place, maybe the tomb was merely a symbolic marker in the landscape and never a final resting place? Or perhaps the remains were there and Macalister missed them? Whatever the case, it is certainly strange that 5,000 years ago a large community worked together to construct an elaborate tomb, that was then left empty. Perhaps in the future, a small investigation of the unexcavated tomb of Seefingan might provide the answer.
 The tomb at Seefin is a large stone cairn, measuring around 25m in diameter and about 3m high. You can see a number of large kerb stones around the base of the tomb defining its outer edge. The tomb has a passageway around 10m long and opens into a chamber with five compartments. According to Macalister there are two decorated stones at the entrance, but perhaps because of the very strong light when we visited on the 13th July 2013, we couldn’t make out any megalithic art.
View down the passageway

Getting There

Seefin is in County Wicklow, roughly half way between the Sally Gap and Manor Kilbride on the R759. If you are travelling from Dublin go on the N7 and exit onto the N81 at Citywest. Turn left onto the R759 and continue along this road. The turn off for Seefin is on your left immediately before the large entrance to the Kippure Estate and Kippure Bridge. The turn off is only a small lane so expect to miss it and you can always turn around in the entrance for the Kippure Estate.

Drive for a few minutes up this steep track, if you come to the fences and warning signs for the Army Rifle Range you have gone too far, simply turn back and park your car in a handy lay by. Be sure to approach Seefin from the South (as the Army range is to the North but is well marked by a fence and signs), follow the track through the fir-tree forest plantation.
The first stage of the track up the hill
At this point the track briefly disappears, kept to the left of the fence and continue climbing

The view back down the track from around two thirds of the way up
The track was rough and steep and haunted by swarms of hoodlum horseflies but bear with it and keep climbing up. When you get to a fallen fence where the path seems to disappear, cross to the left hand side of the fence and keep following the fence up. After a total climb of around 30-45mins (we took it very handy as it was so hot and it took us around 40 mins and we’re by no means athletes) you’ll find the tomb on the summit, our first glimpse of the tomb had a crow rather ominously perched on top of it, very atmospheric!

Our first glimpse of Seefin, note the crow perched there like some kind of ominous sign
Enjoy a well-earned rest and take in the simply wonderful views. We were obviously gluttons for punishment, as we decided to take on Seefingan, the twin peak that is also crowned with a Neolithic passage tomb identical to Seefin.
Seefin from Seefingan
Unlike Seefin however, Seefingan is still unexcavated, and appears as a simple large cairn of stones. It’s well worth the walk as you can enjoy even more spectacular views as Seefingan is around 100m higher above sea level than Seefin. It’s very easy to get to, just follow the rough path  to the north-east through the bog (jumping the odd minor crevasse) for around 20mins or so and you’ll arrive at the tomb.

The cairn on top of Seefingan, almost identical to Seefin but never excavated so no visible features
The climb was made easier for us by the exceptionally dry weather, I think given the nature of the ground, that the path could become quite dangerous in wet weather so please do wear good boots and appropriate clothing if you are attempting it on a less than perfect day. If like us, you are going up on a nice sunny day I recommend insect repellent, those horseflies were merciless thugs and I’m still scratching a number of bites now.
Above all though, please do be aware of the Army Rifle Range and respect their warning signs!

For those interested in prehistoric archaeology, or those who love a bit of hillwalking, or those who just want to see some of the finest views in Ireland, Seefin is a real must-see.

I do hope you enjoy our blog, we are trying to cover as many sites across Ireland as we can. Please do consider supporting us as we need all the help we can get and we'd really appreciate it. You can support us by sharing our blogposts or by downloading one of our audioguides from, they are packed with original music by Enda Seery and sound effects to make a fun and immersive way of hearing the story of one of Ireland’s iconic heritage sites. They cost just €1.99 and you can enjoy them from the comfort of your own home or at the sites. If you want to try them out before you buy we have a number of guides available free to download, including the incredible Rock of Dunamase, Kells Heritage Town and an audioguide that describes all the archaeology discovered during work on the M6 motorway between Kinnegad and Galway, it’s the story of a landscape through its archaeology.

If you’d like to receive daily updates about great heritage sites then please consider following us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.