Niall O’Neill, a committee member of the Carlow Historical & Archaeological Society has recently published his findings on Ballon Hill Archaeology Project in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. The following is his account.

If you were to search for published work on the archaeology of County Carlow you would eventually come across three amazing articles from the 1850s and 1860s. These were accounts of ‘diggings’ on Ballon Hill carried out by the then landowner and his family. Having found these publications and been astonished by the descriptions of numerous burials in stone lined graves and simple pits, some containing highly decorated funerary pots, the Ballon Hill Archaeology Project (BHAP) was set up in 2012. The Project was set up and run by Nial O’Neill, Deirdre Kearney and Pat O’Neill to try to discover and disseminate as much as possible on the archaeology of Ballon Hill.

We discovered that there is, sitting in storage in the National Museum at Kildare Street in Dublin and in the British Museum in London, a wonderful collection of highly decorated 4000 year old funerary pots from Ballon Hill. These stayed in the possession of the landowner’s family until the 1920s when most were donated to the National Museum in Dublin and three to the British Museum. There was also a razor knife and three specially chosen pebbles found in one grave. These were thought lost until 1997 when they were donated, quite unexpectedly, to Carlow County Museum. The BHAP also took a very close look at aerial photos of the hill and scrutinized these in relation to the available historical mapping and Lidar survey data, gratefully received from the OPW. Through this, we discovered the probable location of the monument called the ‘old rath’ in the 19th century publications. This monument contained numerous burials and pottery vessels as were unearthed in the 19th century. Through our research we discovered two new, heretofore unrecognized, archaeological monuments, now registered with the National Monuments Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The project commissioned experts in prehistoric pottery and metal artefacts and human remains to access and report on the collection of material from the hill.

This all confirmed the dating of the archaeology to approximately 2500-4000 years ago or in the Bronze Age. We combined this with all our findings and a picture of an extremely important burial site, no doubt of national significance, became clear.

The BHAP finalized their technical report in 2015, this report can be read here. Earlier this year we were delighted to publish our work and findings in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. This was all the more significant as this Journal is the descendant of the Journals the three articles were published in in the 1850s and 1860s and the BHAP were delighted with this continuity of dissemination.

We are extremely grateful for the financial support received from the Carlow County Development Partnership and Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society and to the ongoing support and access to resources from Carlow County Museum and Carlow County Library.

To read more about the project see Carlow Historical & Archaeological Society website

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