Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Prehistoric Monuments of the Faughan Valley

Bronze Age Ireland saw the construction of new types of stone monuments in the landscape, the large court-tombs and passage tombs of the Neolithic gave way to the smaller wedge tombs, cist-burials, stone circles, rows, alignments and solitary standing stones. Here in the peaceful Faughan Valley just outside of Derry you can see a whole prehistoric Bronze Age landscape with numerous monuments scattered throughout the region.

The first of these that we visited were these prominent standing stones at Clagan. There are three standing stones visible here though only one still stands vertical, originally they probably formed a small stone row. They seem to be put to good use by the bullocks who were enjoying a good scratch on them when we arrived. There are beautiful views down the Faughan Valley from the hill on where the stones stand, and this site is well worth a look if you’re in the area. To find the standing stones, take the B74 Glenshane Road from Claudy, then take the second left onto the Clagan Road and you’ll see the stones in a field around 400m south-east of Clagan Bridge. Park safely on the road but as there are livestock in the fields surrounding the stones, please be sure to close all gates behind you.

We weren't the only ones interested in the standing stones at Clagan, these local archaeology enthusiasts beat us to it

At Ballygroll you can find a quite remarkable collection of prehistoric monuments, all clustered together on a sandy ridge at Slievegore Hill. Much of the site is covered by bog, but excavations in the late 1970s revealed part of a large prehistoric complex. The identified remains include a court tomb, two wedge tombs, a circular stone cairn, a barrow, two stone circles, cist burials and prehistoric field walls.
Part of the remains of the Neolithic Court-tomb
The earliest monument discovered at Ballygroll is a Neolithic court tomb (this type of monument generally dates from around 4000–2500 BC). The capstone of the tomb appears to have faint cup marks as decoration. The wedge tombs are from the end of the Neolithic period or Early Bronze Age (around 2500–2000 BC) and the stone circles probably date to the Early Bronze Age (2500–1500 BC). Archaeologists dated the barrow to the Late Bronze Age, all of this shows that this region on the hills around the fertile Faughan Valley was an important and thriving place in prehistoric Ireland for over three millennia. Ballygroll was likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, the whole flanks of the Loughermore Mountain was recorded to have large numbers of prehistoric monuments during the mapping in the 1830s, but apart from Ballygroll much has been lost due to agricultural land reclamation over the years.

The bog that surrounds the features and the plantlife that partially obscures them are in themselves interesting and worth a visit, with mosses, lichens, flowers and insects giving you an accessible and fun introduction to Irish bogs. Sometimes the plantlife can make finding the monuments something of a challenge, and it’s probably best visited on a dry day after a frost rather than in the height of summer when the grasses are at their highest.

We got to Ballygroll by driving on a minor road north from Ervey Crossroads to Highmoor. The site was signposted. There was no parking at Ballygroll but we parked on the laneway leading down to the site. You’ll find a large interpretation panel with a map of the features, it’s worth taking a quick snap of this on your camera to allow you to reference back and keep your bearings on this expansive site.
At sites such as Ballygroll you'll often find quartz which appears to have held significance in the Neolithic and Bronze Age
Even a quick glance at a copy of the Ordnance Survey Discoverer Map 7 will show the wealth of prehistoric sites in this small region. These are just some of the incredible sites you can see in this beautiful part of rural County Derry. While you are in the area be sure to pay a visit to Ashbrook House, a beautiful estate that has been home to the same family since the 1590s. For more information about the lovely Faughan Valley and to find accommodation please visit

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The capstone of a Bronze Age cist burial at Ballygroll