In search of a cromlech near Mocollop,
Co. Waterford, part one
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
In the 1830s a group of soldiers and academics travelled the length and breadth of Ireland. Their mission was not of conquest but to record the nation in a great geographical survey. They were the team from the Ordnance Survey with the soldiers mapping the landscape and the academics recording the place-names and the archaeological features within.
Map of Labbanacallee area
First notice of the Labbanacallee cromlech
One of these academics was John O’Donovan from south Kilkenny. In one of the letters he received from Co. Waterford was a reference to a cromlech in the townland of Labbanacallee in the civil parish of Lismore and Mocollop. This cromlech gave the townland its name.
Unfortunately the soldiers who mapped the north-western end of the parish in which Labbanacallee is situated did not mark down on the first Ordnance Survey map of 1840 the exact location of the cromlech – they didn’t even place an X to mark a general location.
Canon Patrick Power said that Labbanacallee, written in Irish as Leaba na Caillige, means “The Hag’s Bed” and that the Hag alluded to at Labbanacallee and similar places was the legendary “Caille Beara”. Canon Power also noted that the cromlech was not marked down on any old Ordnance Survey map.
The Labbanacallee of Mocollop civil parish is not the only place of that name in the region of east Cork and west Waterford north of the River Blackwater. The most noted place of that name is Labbacallee (spelt with no ‘na’) south of Glanworth where there is a wedge tomb of Neolithic times. The Labbacallee wedge tomb is one of the largest of its type in the country. Excavations in 1934 found a number of inhumation burials with fragments of late Neolithic pottery and a few fragments of bone and stone.
Another “Caille Beara” site in County Waterford is at Ballynamona Lower in the area of Old Parish/Ardmore. This Caille Beara was described by Canon Patrick Power as a dolmen and by archaeologists as a court tomb.
The most common megalithic tomb type in the east Cork/west Waterford area is the wedge tomb. The cromlech at Labbanacallee could be a wedge tomb but Ballynamona Lower is the only court tomb example within 100kms and so the cromlech could be any other the four main types of megalithic tomb.
The townland of Labbanacallee sits on the high ridge which divides the Araglen river valley to the north and the Blackwater river valley to the south. The ridge line runs along the height marks of 969, 1026 and 1066 feet in an east/west orientation. The land of Labbanacallee on the north side of the ridge falls steeply away down into the Araglen valley.
View north down into the Araglen valley
The land of Labbanacallee on the south side of the ridge falls gently down the hill side.
Looking south from the earth bank which divides
Labbanacallee from Barranafaddock
The chief stone type on Labbanacallee is old red sandstone but there is also a scattering of quartz which is sometimes mixed in with the old red sandstone.
In 1850 the townland of Labbanacallee was owned by Captain James Barry of Mocollop castle. Of the 273 acres in the townland 158 acres was described as mountain land. Daniel Guinevan rented 48 acres of farm land and had a house and outbuildings. Francis Brien rented 51 acres of farm land with a house and outbuildings. David Condon rented 14 acres of farm land without any buildings. In 1850 there were two vacant houses in Labbanacallee. In 1901 there were three inhabited dwelling houses with a population of 19 people. Ten years later, in 1911, there were just two inhabited dwelling houses and a population of 9 people. In 2016 there is just one dwelling house in Labbanacallee townland.
Search for the cromlech 2013
In the spring of 2013 I first went up to the townland of Labbanacallee on the road between Mocollop and Araglen in search of this mystery cromlech. On the way up to the townland I met a local resident on the road and told him of my mission. He had heard rumours of the cromlech but didn’t know where it was supposed to be. The same man also reported that it was suggested by unknown people that the cromlech was not in the townland of Labbanacallee at all but was further down the road, heading south, and on the right hand side of the road, somewhere in the townlands of Black, Lyrenaglogh or Knocknalooricaun – plenty of options there.
The wind tower blade rests on distant hill, alternative site for cromlech
With this variable knowledge I went on my way to Labbanacallee townland and to the north-west corner where the townland boundary meets the public road. From that point a farmer’s roadway travels eastwards along the northern boundary of Labbanacallee. I followed the roadway to its end and then proceeded onto the mountain land of stones, bog and gorse. The going was difficult as the ground was wet. On the top of the ridge from height point 1026 to 1066 the going was doubly difficult with the wet bog and thick gorse. After a few hours rambling through the wet ground I gave up the search without any sign of a cromlech or any other early human structure apart from the stone and earth bank which forms the boundary between Labbanacallee and Barranafaddock.
On the way home I met another local resident who said there was no cromlech in Labbanacallee and that the idea of a cromlech was one of confusion with the more famous place near Glanworth. After such a fruitless search the local man may have some merit in his comment.
Not the only cromlech to disappear
The mystery cromlech at Labbanacallee is not the only one to seemingly disappear. In about 1840 John O’Donovan was told of another cromlech in the townland of Rath in the Barony of Upperthird. This was described as having a large flat stone supported on three upright stones with another broken upright stone to one side. Canon Patrick Power suggested that this cromlech existed in 1907 but by 1989 all trace of it has since disappeared. Could the cromlech at Labbanacallee have been removed since 1840?
There is another possibly that the cromlech at Labbanacallee was removed before 1840. The Rath cromlech is marked on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey map but the Labbanacallee cromlech is not so marked on the map. The Ordnance Survey soldiers went up to Labbanacallee and marked a height point at 969 to use as a triangle elevation measuring point. The surveyors marked houses and roads that existed in later times and still can be seen today. But they marked no cromlech. This absence may be because the cromlech was removed before 1840 yet the memory of it remained to give the townland its name.
Barranafaddock wind farm
Since 2013 a wind farm was constructed in the townland of Labbanacallee and Barranafaddock and other adjunct townlands on the west side of the public road. Twelve wind towers were built with a number of access roadways. A team of archaeologists were present during construction but they found only an undated house site and an undated cooking site. In June 2016 a local resident told me that when digging the foundations for wind tower number 32, they engineers had to go down nearly 20 feet through the bog before they found solid rock. Could the Labbanacallee cromlech be buried under the bog like the Neolithic stone walls of the Céide Fields in north Co. Mayo?
2013 and June 2016 survey areas
Search for the cromlech 2016
In June 2016 I returned to Labbanacallee for another search. In this search I returned to the mountain land area of the townland. The going was good on this visit with the dry weather of the previous few weeks making the bog hard under foot. The gorse was not as extensive as in the previous visit and good travelling was possible. Unfortunately after surveying a larger area in June 2016 as in 2013 not sign of a cromlech of any type, be it wedge-tomb, portal-tomb or court-tomb.
Quarry feature under furze looking south towards tower 21
Two possible sites for further investigation were found. A small quarry type feature was found along the south side of the high ridge on top of the mountain land part of Labbanacallee as marked on the accompanying map. This quarry type feature is not common elsewhere on the hilltop.
The other feature found were two small mounds about five foot high and five foot in circumference. They are located just to the west of the earthen bank which runs north-south and separates Labbanacallee from Barranafaddock.
The two mounds – umbrella and coat – earth bank to right
These two features do not suggest cromlech site but they are usual features in the landscape.
Sketch map of the two features – quarry and red dots
Future survey areas
There are presently (2016) two areas of forestry in Labbanacallee townland which are worth investigating. Unfortunately both forests have young trees and a person needs to bend down to get through them. In a few years’ time the trees will have grown up to allow a person to walk between the trees and see if any features exist. The southern forestry area has had previous crops of trees and any archaeological features within may have been removed to make way for the first crop of trees on the site. The farm land area needs surveying and the 18 acres of marsh land in the south-east corner of Labbanacallee. After that the area down the road to the south is worth investigating as suggested by the local resident. Much more work to be done.
Farm land and two areas of forestry at Labbanacallee
End of post
 John O’Donovan (edited by M. O’Flanagan), Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the County of Waterford collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1841 (Bray, 1929), pp. 70, 71, no. 147
 Canon Patrick Power, Place names of Decies (Cork University Press, 1952), p. 50
 Peter Harbison, Guide to National and Historic Monuments of Ireland (Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 1992), pp. 81, 82
 Michael Moore (ed.), Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford (Stationery Office, Dublin, 1999), p. 4, no. 18; http://www.ardmorewaterford.com/placenames-of-ardmore-waterford/ accessed 7 June 2016;
 Michael Moore (ed.), Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford, p. 1
 Griffith’s Valuation, Labbanacallee, Lismore and Mocollop parish, Coshmore and Coshbride barony
 Michael Moore (ed.), Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford, p. 4, no. 18