North Kildare

The possible henge monument at Boherhole Cross was first described in The Shady Roads to Clane; the relevant exerpt is given below. In 1999, when the Clane Kilcock road was to be widened, a team of archaeologists headed by Thaddeus Breen examined the site. The substance of Mr Breen's report is published in Oughterany vol.II, no 1.

If a grave site at Loughbollard is compelling evidence that this area was inhabited as far back as the Stone or Bronze Age, there may be something far more exciting in store for us. Some months ago Tony brought me to a field adjoining the Boherhole cross-roads to show me a strange formation. It was a deep trench in the field, roughly semi-circular in shape, with very regular sloping sides and a slight bank on the outside of the trench. Tony had always believed it to be one of those dried-out river valleys from the end of the Ice Age, until one day he read in the papers about manmade formations known as henge monuments. He did not get all the details at the time but he would not exclude the possibility that this strange thing at Boherhole might perhaps be something other than a river bed.

The word henge is best known from the context of Stonehenge in Wiltshire. Stonehenge is a Bronze Age open-air temple, made up of a giant circle of megaliths with huge lintel stones connecting the upright (There is in fact much more to it, but there is no need to elaborate here). While such lintelled stone henges were extremely rare, archaeologists tell us that wooden henges were quite common. They consisted of wooden uprights with horizontal lintel poles linking them along the top. Contrary to stone henges and circles, wooden henges did not survive the centuries (let alone millennia), but excavations have shown their former existence in many places in England and a few places in eastern Ireland. At Newgrange, circling the mound of the famous passage tomb, are the remnants of a stone circle. Along a similar perimeter the post holes of a wooden henge were also discovered, and a curious coincidence helped the scientists to determine which was first.

All organic substances can be dated by radiocarbon or similar methods, but stone structures can not. So in this case, where it was found that the stone was placed over the original post hole, it is evident that the wooden henge was there before the stone circle. If we can generalise from this finding, then wooden henges belong to an older tradition than stone circles, i.e. more than four thousand years old.

To qualify as a henge, the place should be circular. In order to find out, we started looking for a continuation of the curvature outside the field. The first thing we noticed was that there was a considerable rise or bump on the Kilcock road, continuous with a shallow bank apparently formed from the excavated material of the trench. We then stepped into the field across the road and also found round contours, making up a rough quarter circle between the road and the ditch bordering onto the next field. The markings were less clear than in the first field, so we allowed for the possibility that an attempt at levelling had been made sometime in the past. We then went on to inspect the next field where we hoped to find the fourth quadrant. Alas, the field was quite level. But the strange thing was that the soil level in the corner of the field was right up to the top of the bank, leading us to the conclusion that some serious levelling had been done here.

The Boherhole site must have once extended across the road into the neighbouring fields.
(Drawing Hermann Geissel )

We also looked at the topographic location of the Boherhole site, and we found it to be in a prominent position. The land along the Kilcock Road is reasonably level between Mainham and Baltracey, but if we look for minor rises and falls then our site is on a high point with the land sloping off gently in three directions, north, west and south. Looking east it lies just slightly off-peak.

My great joy came with the discovery on an aerial photograph that the ring does indeed continue on the east side of the road, and even the north-east quadrant that had been totally levelled, clearly showed the closure of the ring. The pattern was complete!

What encouraged me in the thought that this might be a henge monument was the sheer size of it. One structure reminiscent of its shape, but bigger, that I am familiar with, is the stone circle of Avebury in Wiltshire. Not as famous as Stonehenge, I find Avebury even more impressive. It is a giant circular trench, some five hundred yards (450m) in diameter, with a circle of megalithic stones around the inner circumference and several small stone circles inside. Without the stones, Avebury looks remarkably like what Boherhole must have looked like, only bigger. Still, Boherhole is over two hundred yards (about 200m) in diameter, enclosing an area of nearly eight acres (over 3ha), and that is big!

On the other hand, this mysterious place is not totally unlike the great sites of Knockaulin, Tara or Navan Fort (Co. Armagh). However, the ditch is now the dominant feature, with the rampart - if there ever was one - rather indistinct, except, strangely enough, where it crosses the road. If Boherhole was related to great enclosures, it would have been of significance at a later time, in the Iron Age.

A major prehistoric ritual/ceremonial site? Why not. If excavations were carried out, one would of course look for all sorts of prehistoric artefacts, but also for the post holes of a wooden henge.

Could it have been a Bronze Age ceremonial site or was it something else?
(Drawing Roger Horgan)

(Note: Henge monuments are actually Neolithic New Stone Age monuments.)

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