Like all of our Neolithic passage tombs, Knockroe shouldn’t be thought of as an isolated monument. It is part of a wider prehistoric landscape in the Lingaun Valley that may be centred on the large tomb on the summit of Slievenamon. The name Knockroe derives from an Cnoc Rua meaning ‘the Red Hill’, perhaps referring to the distinctive dark red soil of the locality, though it is also known as ‘The Caiseal’ locally. As well as a wealth of prehistoric monuments, the Lingaun Valley also has ancient monasteries with beautiful high crosses, castles, churches and more.
One of the truly special things about Knockroe is that it has a dual Winter Solstice alignment, with the eastern passageway aligned with the rising sun, and the western passageway aligned to the setting sun. The Neolithic builders of Knockroe were some of our earliest farmers in Ireland, so the knowledge of the passage of the seasons was critically important for their life. Few days were as tangible and important as the Winter Solstice, as it marked the shortest day of the year – from here each day would grow longer as life and Spring returned. Imagine how dramatic it would have seemed to those early farmers to see the inner recesses of this great tomb illuminated once again. Today, the experience still draws a crowd. Members of the local community gather for both dawn and sunset at Knockroe, to watch the light move up the ancient passageways once more. If you are lucky to be in attendance, Prof. Muiris O’Sullivan, the archaeologist who excavated the site, is often there to talk about the significance of the monument. It is always a warm and friendly experience with mulled wine and home-made mince pies. But at the critical point a hush and thrill of excitement builds as the community share the experience together, just like another community did over 5,000 years ago.
Don’t miss Professor Muiris O’Sullivan discussing Knockroe with Neil in Episode 28 of our Amplify Archaeology Podcast.