I got an intense craving over the weekend to walk back in time and and touch the past. I’m talking about way, way back and the place that drew me was Gaulstown Dolmen which is about five miles from my home in Tramore.

The little grassy path leading up to Gaulstown Dolmen was a joy in itself with honeysuckle wafting its perfume and fully formed, but as yet unripened, blackberries that immediately had me thinking of Seamus Heaney.

Then round a tiny bend and the history of my Co. Waterford opened 6,000 or so years to me.

Gaulstown Dolmen, Co. Waterford
Gaulstown Dolmen, Co. Waterford

There is a magnificent quiteness in this special place ~ just the gentle swish of the wind in the trees and the beating of one’s heart.

According to the brilliant Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford compiled by Michael Moore, Megalithic tombs, like Gaulstown Dolmen, were built at a time when much of the country was first intensively occupied by farming communities. Consequently, the tombs, through their large size and impact on the landscape, can be regarded as a statement of ownership of the land as well as burial places.

As I looked at the land around the Dolmen, I wanted to know more and more about how it looked thousands of years ago.

Land below Gaulstown Dolmen, Co. Waterford.
Land below Gaulstown Dolmen, Co. Waterford.

Who walked these lands; what was going through their minds; how did they feel about life and death?

And, of course, who were the individuals who constructed the dolmen with that breath-taking  capstone? What sorts of rituals surrounded death back then? It seems that cremation was the usual burial rite but what of the emotions felt by those who were bereaved ~ did such a sense as ‘being bereft’ even exist back then?

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.

20 thoughts on “Pastlands”

    1. Hi Sue, yes it is serenely beautiful.
      I wonder about the loving back then. Did ‘romantic’ love even exist or was it far more economically based?
      As for death, one would assume that it was viewed as being a lot more ‘natural’ than it seems to be today.

      1. I think death had to have been seen as part of the turning cycle of nature… they were closer to it than we are, in so many ways.
        Romance? In the way we understand it today, perhaps not… but love, I think, has always played its part. Those who created such resplendent tombs and landscapes for their dead must have known love… and if they knew it for their gods, they would have known it with their hearts.

        1. Sue, they were definitely closer to nature than us ~ though I think you’re in their league most of the time!
          I guess you’re right about the love as opposed to romance. I’d like to think so anyway.

  1. Brrrrr. Looking at those stones arranged 6,000 years ago by human hands for purposes of honoring or marking death sends a shiver through me. I too suspect that the emotions of the individuals were likely similar to ours – grief and emotional pain and emptiness. That said I am equally sure that their understanding of death – the process. the reasons, the meaning, the purpose, what lies beyond, was much different than ours.

    It is interesting though that our lives and theirs had common points at least in birth and death – places where we could at least understand each other’s emotions. No doubt, were we granted the ability to visit with them, we would find other commonnesses as well. In the meantime, we share the land and weather and seasons of life – and the Dolmen.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us Jean.

  2. You brought back great memories of past trips with friends, renting a car and driving in the countryside, clutching our maps (township maps? survey maps? –they were very detailed map books) and stopping at spots with standing stones. Wonderful country!

  3. Hi Jean,

    I must not be eating enough since I first thought this post was titled, “Pasta Lands.” And I was thinking to myself, “how interesting that there is pasta in Ireland.”

    Of course, your actual post was much more interesting than one about pasta – lol.


  4. It’s awesome to think that the landscape from the dolmen is essentially unchanged over all those years. In the times where there were few big structures the dolmens, standing stones etc. must have been major landmarks for the people. Happily many are still in situ though we’ll probably never really know their original purpose and contents.

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