A visit to Knockroe – Kilkenny’s Stonehenge!

Paddy O Shea addresses the group on the archaeological significance of Knockroe

By John Fitzgerald

The Kilkenny Heritage Walkers re-connected with our Megalithic past at the weekend when they converged on the ancient passage tomb at Knockroe, near Windgap. I was honoured to accompany them on their trek.

Situated in idyllic countryside, the site is located close to the Kilkenny.Tipperary border. Facing it about ten kilometers across the Lingaun Valley is the Neolithic cairn on Slievenamon.

Though Knockroe gets a mention in Canon Carrigan’s History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory (1890) it wasn’t excavated until 1990 under the direction of Professor Muiris O’Sullivan of UCD.

The walkers ventured out in the early hours of the morning on their annual visit to this 5000 year-old site, deemed an archaeological wonder of the South East. Though not as well known as Newgrange in the Boyne Valley or Stonehenge in England, Knockroe is of immense significance in the bid to understand the ways of our ancestors.

Having arrived at the site via a maze of country roads and fields, the walkers took turns expounding on a cultural gem that assumes its special place in the sun at this time of year.

The tomb, which was built on a colossal clay rampart, has two chambers, and on December 21st -the mystical Winter Solstice- the rays of the great golden orb filter through the southwestern chamber. This creates an uplifting radiant spectacle.

Another big attraction for the walkers was the complex series of hieroglyphics (an assortment of squiggles and spirals) on the thirty stones at the site, which may been intended either as artwork or as markings aimed at calculating the passage of time and the seasons.

The walkers had a lively exchange on the subject, with some favouring the art theory and others opining that our ancestors in this instance might have been in functional rather than celebratory mode when they set to work on their carving.

After Knockroe the walkers headed off towards their second destination, tackling steep hills and lonely boreens to enter another portal of Old Ireland. This time it was the High Crosses at Ahenny, standing on the Tipperary side of the Lingaun River; that drew them forth.

And what stunning tributes to craftsmanship and religious devotion await the visitor. The crosses were commissioned in the 8th century by the High King of Ossory. On the larger of the two you’ll find elegant carved depictions of Biblical themes and motifs. Even non-religious folk over the centuries have been wonderstruck by the artistry.

Having dome homage to a breathtakingly rich and diverse heritage, the walkers assembled for light refreshments at a cross-road somewhere near the Kilkenny/Tipperary border.  They reflected on another fulfilling twelve months of learning, teaching, and sharing ideas and paid tribute to members who’d said goodbye to the world during the year.

The Kilkenny Heritage Walkers plan further excursions into the past and down the pathways of memory in 2024.


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