A Royal Site? The Mystery of Knockoneill Tomb


Knockoneill Court Tomb dates from c3000BC.  The place name means “Nialls Hill”, or “Hill of O’Neill”, probably named after the Clan Ui Neill,  / Niall, High King of Ireland, (though his reign was a few thousand years later).  It sits on the ridge of a hill, overlooking the Bann Valley, with distant views of the Sperrins.


The tomb is 24 feet across with a double jamb entrance and a lintel leading to a gallery, measuring 24’ x 7’.  Another side passage runs into another chamber.  This court tomb is unusual in that it has a subsidiary chamber at the back of the gallery, which is entered via a passage in the side of the tomb. More unusual is the fact that the back stone of the main gallery is used as a side stone of the subsidiary chamber. Another unique feature is the later round burial cairn from the Bronze Age, superimposed on the long cairn.


As was traditional in these early burials, the dead were left to the elements and then the remains cremated, the bones were buried, along with food and belongings to take to the next world.  Neolitihc pottery and a flint blade have been found here.  A ‘pygmy’ cup and urn fragments from the later Bronze Age have also been excavated.


Were these people O’Neill ancestors? We may never know. There is certainly a majestic presence here, the scale of the site is impressive and cannot adequately be described or photographed. It is certainly easy to imagine the importance and impact of the people buried here. This is a grand and imposing place, that makes you want to pause and reflect.  The people have long departed, but their presence and spirit still can be felt here.

So, if you are in the area, make the journey to the top of the hill and wonder about the importance of the people, and the amazing work to mark their final resting place thousands of years ago.


Directions:  Take the A29 travelling north from Maghera, to Swatragh.  On entering the town, take the first left into Drumbane Road.  Take the third left into Knockoneill Road.  The field entrance to the tomb is about 500m down this road on the right, just before a farm. (The signpost is facing the wrong way!)  Go through the stile, and walk up the field, to the left.  There is a second stile taking you to the tomb.