Poulnabrone dolmen is an unusually large dolmen or portal tomb. Situated in a rocky and unblemished field in the remote and high altitude townland of Poulnabrone, Kilcorney, it comprises three standing portal stones supporting a heavy horizontal capstone, and dates to the Neolithic period, probably between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. Contrary to some information sources, it is well outside the boundaries of the Burren National Park. It is the best known and most widely photographed of the approximately 172 dolmens in Ireland.
The karst setting has been formed from limestone laid down around 350 million years ago. The dolmen was built by Neolithic farmers, who chose the location either for ritual, as a territorial marker, or as a collective burial site. What remains today is only the “stone skeleton” of the original monument. Originally it would have been covered with soil, and its flagstone capped by a cairn.
When the site is excavated in 1986 and again in 1988, approximately 33 human remains, including those of adults, children (and the remains of a much later Bronze Age infant) are found buried underneath it, along with various stone and bone objects that would have been placed with them at the time of interment. Both the human remains and the burial objects date to between 3800 BC and 3200 BC.
The site is relatively unblemished, despite being a popular tourist attraction. A rope provides a barrier between tourists and the dolmen in order to preserve the ancient stone, and it is requested that tourists do not go beyond this barrier or touch the dolmen.
A large car park is opened in 2007 by the Clare County Council to deal with traffic problems caused by cars or coaches parking in the narrow road, guided by a 2005 estimate that put the number of annual visitors at 200,000. In 2007, tension arises when Dr. Ann Lynch, the archaeologist who led the excavation of the site, requests that visitor facilities be reduced in order to preserve “the spiritual quality of the landscape surrounding the tomb.”
(Pictured: The Poulnabrone dolmen with karst limestone pavement in the foreground)