19th Century Bronze Age Finds at Greenhills

Our knowledge of the Bronze Age is informed by chance discoveries and survival of artefacts from this period of prehistory. The main evidence for the period consists of metalwork finds in a number of graves and the pottery found alongside. The Greenhills area was particularly suited for sand quarrying and a number of archaeological finds from the Bronze Age were discovered from time to time during the late 19th century.

Drawing of the Urns found at Greenhills
Drawing of the Urns found at Greenhills

T J Longfield wrote to the Royal Irish Academy of how he had been approached in early 1892 by a dealer, a Mr Halbert, with an offer of two fragments of an ancient cinerary (burial) urn. He was told that they had been found on the east side of a hill near Green Hills between Tymon Castle and Greenhills. A few days later he went to Greenhills to investigate and returned to Mr Longfield with some further fragments from the large urn and fragments from a separate smaller urn and also two flint scapers. Longfield said that the large urn which he had pieced together was one of the most beautifully and richly decorated urns to have been found in Ireland.

On Tuesday 2nd August 1898 two men approached Lt Col G.T. Plunkett, Director of the Dublin Museum with earthen vessels which they had packed with straw and carried in nosebags. They had two further parcels containing fragments of pottery and pieces of bone. These finds had also been discovered at Greenhills and the men described how they were found in a small chamber lined with stones (a cist burial). Plunkett impressed upon the men the importance of preserving the area of the find and that it would be of more value if kept intact rather than removing pieces for sale. A photographer was sent to record the find before it was removed to the museum. The entire cist was encased in wood and although it weighed three tons it was removed intact to the museum. The cist measured twenty four inches high on one side by nineteen inches on the other side by nineteen inches high internally. Each side was formed by single slabs of stone.

There were three vessels associated with the find. The largest urn measuring twelve inches was inverted over a quantity of burnt bones thought to be the remains of one man. A smaller vessel was found under this large one which measured three and a half inches and there was also a food vessel in the cist that was seven and a half inches high. The quality of the pottery was regarded as good by Plunkett. The sand diggers had also earlier found two earthen vessels that were not enclosed by a cist which broke as the men struck them when digging and these were the fragments that they had brought to the museum. The men also said that they had found a skeleton two months previously two feet below the surface of the quarry. It had been buried in a north south alignment with the head pointing north.

In August 1898 another urn was found by the men employed in the pit and they covered it and informed the museum as requested. It was another burial urn inverted on a small flagstone with one cremated interment and a small pin made of bone.

According to the archaeologist Paddy Healy one complete vessel was kept by the sandpit owner Laurence Dunn which Plunkett stated was highly decorated however some of the Greenhills finds are in the National Museum. All of these remains were found in a flat cemetery with no indications of a raised area such as a mound. The burials would have dated from approximately 1,000 to 1,500 years ago.

Colette Allen, South Dublin Libraries



Plunkett G.T.  On a Cist and Urns found at Greenhills, Tallaght, Co Dublin

Longfield, T.H. Note on some cinerary urns found at Tallaght, County of Dublin


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