Dublin Port is a busy passenger and freight terminal, and it’s unusual not to see a large vessel of some sort in Dublin Bay at any given time. For the past few months though, it’s been almost impossible not to see a ship: a bright red tanker has been at anchor in the bay since August after problems developed with its cargo of bitumen during unloading. Safe to say there’s a lot more than a ha’p’orth of tar involved there. Probably no sheep though.
Half-hidden in the trees below Muck Rock, between the 19th century rhododendron gardens and the world’s first Poc Fada Golf course, is a collapsed dolmen known locally as Aideen’s Grave. In the legends of the Fianna, Aideen was the wife of the warrior Oscar, son of Oisín and Niamh of Tír na nÓg, and grandson of Fionn MacCumhaill. She is said to have died of grief on hearing of her husband’s death in battle, and was buried here by Oisín in a tomb of the sort normally reserved for warriors and kings.
Before this version of events was popularised by the poem The Cromlech on Howth, the tomb was known as Fionn MacCumhaill’s Quoit, the capstone (or quoit) having been tossed from the Bog of Allen almost into the Bog of Frogs by the legendary giant who is held responsible for quite a few of Ireland’s geographic features.
The structure in fact predates Aideen, Fionn and the Fianna by several thousand years, as dolmens or portal tombs typically date from the Neolithic period, 4000BC to 2500BC. Despite the 75-ton capstone having slipped off the 2.5-metre portal stones, it remains an imposing monument. Like most portal tombs, it was likely covered with stones or earth when originally constructed, with only the capstone visible. But as to who built it, how, and why, we’ll never know for sure.