Co Armagh tomb older than the pyramids secures new home at Ulster Folk Museum

Court tomb that is 6,000 years old was discovered in Co Armagh in 1966 and was previously on display at the Ulster Museum

A court tomb older than Egypt’s pyramids has secured a permanent new home on display at the Ulster Folk Museum.

The 6,000-year-old tomb, which dates back to the Neolithic era, was discovered in Ballintaggart, Co Armagh. It was excavated from its original location due to the risk of destruction by the expansion of a neighbouring quarry in 1966.

Laurence Flanagan, the-then keeper of antiquities at the Ulster Museum, was able to save the tomb’s stones and reconstruct it outside the south Belfast attraction.

When the Ulster Museum was renovated in 2006 the stones were put in storage at the Ulster Folk Museum, and they stayed there until earlier this year when the restoration project began.


Court tombs take their name from the face that an oval or semicircular open space or court, created by upright stones, is inset into the end of the long barrow that precedes the burial chamber.

William Blair, director of collections at National Museums NI, said they are delighted to be able to reconstruct the Ballintaggart Court Tomb.

“It is a brilliant illustration of how the museum can connect Ulster’s unique heritage spanning thousands of years to the present day,” he said.

The ancient structure is one of more than 400 court tombs in Ireland which have a distinctly northern distribution.

Dr Greer Ramsey, curator of archaeology at National Museums NI, explained the historical background of the tombs.

He said that large burial structures, similar to the shape and size of the Ballintaggart Court Tomb, became more popular in Ireland as people began to create permanent settlements.

“Court tombs take their name from a semicircular arc of upright stones marking the entrance to the burial chambers,” he said. “The Neolithic period, to which they belong, was revolutionary as it marked the end to a nomadic or hunter-gatherer way of life.

“New settlers arrived about 6,000 years ago, bringing with them farming skills and many of the plants and domestic animals we are familiar with today.

“With a more secure food supply, people could live for longer in one place and invest in larger, more permanent structures, such as tombs.” – PA