Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter X

We give a full-page illustration of an urn and its contents, at present in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy.

Urn and its contents found in a cromlech in the Phoenix Park

This urn was found in a tumulus, which was opened in the Phoenix Park, near Dublin, in the year 1838. The tumulus was about 120 feet in diameter at the base, and fifteen feet high. Four sepulchral vases, containing burnt ashes, were found within the tomb. It also enclosed two perfect male skeletons, the tops of the femora of another, and a bone of some animal. A number of shells [3] were found under the head of each skeleton, of the kind known to conchologists as the Nerita littoralis. The urn which we have figured is the largest and most perfect and manifestly the earliest of the set. It is six inches high, rudely carved, yet not without some attempt at ornament. The bone pin was probably used for the hair, and the shells are obviously strung for a necklace.

Cinerary Urn

We give above a specimen of the highest class of cinerary urns. It stands unrivalled, both in design and execution, among all the specimens found in the British isles. This valuable remain was discovered in the cutting of a railway, in a small stone chamber, at Knockneconra, near Bagnalstown, county Carlow. Burned bones of an infant, or very young child, were found in it, and it was inclosed in a much larger and ruder urn, containing the bones of an adult.

Possibly, suggests Sir W. Wilde, they may have been the remains of mother and child.[4]


[3] Shells.—Cat. Ant. R. I. A.; Stone Mat. p. 180. The ethnographic phases of conchology might form a study in itself. Shells appear to be the earliest form of ornament in use. The North American Indians have their shell necklaces buried with them also. See Wilson's Pre-Historic Man.

[4] Child.—Mr. Wilson gives a most interesting description of an interment of a mother and child in an ancient Peruvian grave. The mother had an unfinished piece of weaving beside her, with its colours still bright. The infant was tenderly wrapped in soft black woollen cloth, to which was fastened a pair of little sandals, 2 ½ inches long; around its neck was a green cord, attached to a small shell.—Pre-Historic Man, vol. i. p. 234.