Feature Friday: Blackstairs Cursus No.2

Last April I wrote a short post on the Blackstairs cursus monument on the slopes of the Black Banks in the townland of Coolasnaghta known locally as “The Cailín Slipes“.  It featured in an article by Christiaan Corlett (2014(i)) in the summer edition of Archaeology Ireland in a discussion of upland cursus in Leinster of which there are a few. This feature is dramatically placed at the centre of the natural Coolasnaghta Amphitheatre visible from a great distance (despite the vegetation and peat which overlies it) especially under the right lighting conditions and in snow. One of the best views is from the Corribut Gap looking back towards Mount Leinster where you will see the two parallel banks running down the mountain to the right of the young River Burren channel.

photo (1)

The Coolasnaghta Amphitheatre from the Corribut Gap carpark

Over the summer I met Tipperary native but now Carlow resident Tom Doolan, son in law of well known and respected Myshall primary school principal and local history enthusiast, the late Andy Jordan. Of course the Blackstairs came up in conversation and Tom imparted nuggets of Andy’s valuable knowledge which he had passed on. Amongst these was a discussion about the Cailín Slipes, its location and its folklore. It was then that Tom informed me that Andy spoke of three such features on the mountain, the famous and obvious one but two more which were visible only under certain conditions. This rang a few bells as I had spotted two very subtle parallel lines on the slopes near the summit of Slievebawn.

The search was then on to revisit this site and find the third

On Wednesday I purchased the Autumn edition of Archaeology Ireland to discover that Ivor Kenny has indeed confirmed the existence of a second cursus, located on the slopes of Slievebawn. While the Cailín Slipes does not appear to have anything at its mountain top end, this could be down to preservation or visibility as the area is heavily overlain with peat and vegetation. The Slievebawn summit on the other hand is topped with the base of a large summit cairn which may be a damaged passage tomb (the small cairn sits on the base of this today) as well as a prominent quartz vein outcrop. Its southernmost extent near the mountain summit also forms the townland boundary between Knockendrane and Rathnageeragh suggesting it was once much more obvious than it appears now.


Archaeology Ireland Autumn 2014

With a series of (possible passage tomb) summit cairns (the PhD research subject of Andrea Watters, UCD), at least two and possible a third cursus, close to 10% of all the rock art identified so far in Ireland (Bradley 1997), recently discussed in Christiaan Corlett’s excellent new publication (2014(ii)) a portal tomb, pre-bog field walls, pre-bog hut sites, standing stones and a possible Bronze Age stone row and cairn cemeteries, the significance of the Blackstairs in early prehistory has possibly been underestimated until now.

Coolasnaghta Prehistory

Map of the Coolasnaghta Amphitheatre & some sites

If you are in the area in the next few months keep your eyes peeled especially in low winter sunlight which can be great for highlighting subtle earthworks. An excellent example of the power of local knowledge and a few sets of eyes on the one landscape.


Bradley, R. 1997 Rock art and the prehistory of Atlantic Europe: signing the land. London & New York; Routledge.

Corlett, C. (i) 2014 “Some Cursus Monuments in South Leinster”. Archaeology Ireland 28 (2), 20-25.

Corlett, C. (ii) 2014 Inscribing the landscape: the rock art of South Leinster. Dublin; Wordwell Ltd.

Kenny, I. 2014 “Another cursus comes to light”. Archaeology Ireland 28 (3), 21-25.

If you havn’t done so already make sure you purchase this edition of Archaeology Ireland and the last if you can still get your hands on it for more information especially for Ivor’s detailed discussion on the new cursus.

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