Rock Art in North Tipperary

This is a draft version of the article

Rock Art in North Tipperary
By Derek Ryan Bawn
When you review a map of the distribution of prehistoric rock-art in Ireland there has always been a large area, according to the Schedule of Monuments Record (SMR), where none occurs in the counties of Tipperary, Limerick, the northern sections of Cork & Kerry, most of Clare and most of Offaly & Laois (Fig.1). 
Fig. 1 Geographical distribution of Rock-art in Ireland (Lisheentyrone is highlighted in red) (courtesy of the National Monuments Service, Department of the Environment, Heritage and the Gaeltacht).

Broadly speaking there are large concentrations in the south& west of Cork & Kerry, another concentration around Kilkenny, Carlow and Wicklow, there is some of the most famous rock-art in Meath (Bru Na Boinne& Loughcrew) and another concentration in Donegal / Derry. There are also some panels in Mayo, Sligo, Cavan, Louth and Westmeath.
Recently a new panel of cup-markings have been discovered in North Tipperary in the townland of Lisheentyrone near the village of Portroe (Fig. 2, Fig. 3 & Fig. 4). It is likely to be the oldest recorded artwork in all of Tipperary.
Fig. 2 Cup-marked stone at Lisheentyrone.

Fig. 3 Cup-marked stone at Lisheentyrone looking West.

Fig. 4 Cup-marked stone at Lisheentyrone looking East.

To date there has been evidence pointing towards the potential of rock-art in North Tipperary. Cup-marks were noted during the excavation of Baurnadoomeeny wedge-tomb near Rearcross and possible cup-marks have been noted on a kerb-stone of a barrow at Borrisnoe.
Excavations during the construction of the M8 motorway near Cashel in South Tipperary also revealed a pick-marked stone covering a cist at Windmill Hill.
Caimin O’Brien of the National Monuments Service has inspected the open air panel at Lisheentyrone and it has now been added to the Schedule of Recorded Monuments. The panel itself is part of a rock out-crop that is approximately 3.4m x 2.8m. It is adjacent to a standing stone pair and a large bowl barrow (Fig. 5 & F[ipk8uig. 6). On a previous visit to the stone pair in 2005, the rock out-crop was covered with grass. However on a visit in March of this year the grass covering had been eroded away and it was immediately clear that the stone was cup-marked. It was also noted that there were similar cup-marks on the eastern stone of the nearby stone pair. There are expansive views to the west (where Lough Derg is located) and also to the south-west, south and south-east.  To the north the view is limited by rising ground. The hill of Laghtea to the south-west seems to dominate the landscape from the cup marked panel and this hill was identified as the location of a hill-fort by Tom Condit in 1995 (Fig. 7). Unusually there are no views of Lough Derg from the panel.

Fig. 5 Illustrating the relationship between the rock-art panel and the stone pair.

Fig. 6 Illustrating the relationship between the rock-art panel and the bowl-barrow.

Fig. 7 Showing the relationship between the rock art panel and the hill-fort of Laghtea (centre of photo).

A revaluation of possible rock-art in the North Tipperary is now needed. It is very probable that the cup-marks on the kerb of the barrow at Borrisnoe are authentic (Fig. 8). They have been noted as being possible cup-marks as part of the description of the associated mound-barrow in the Archaeological Inventory of County Tipperary but have not been given an individual SMR number.  They are described in the SMR as “According to an OPW field report (30.12.77) there are cupmarks on the external faces of some of the kerbstones in the SE quad; these are now covered with lichen. A possible cupmark was noted on the internal face of a stone in the NNW quadrant and on the external face of a stone at ESE.” 
Figure 8 shows the kerbstone in the SE quadrant. There is approximately 15-20 cup-marks on this stone. Unusually there are also cup-marks on the horizontal edge of this stone.
Fig. 8 Cup-marks on kerb-stone at Borrisnoe.

Another possible location of rock-art in Tipperary is on a standing stone in the townland of Blackstairs in South Tipperary (Fig. 9). To date the markings on the standing stone have been described in the SMR “as traces of natural hollows on both surfaces which may be the result of natural erosion”.  However it is possible that these are in fact cup-marks rather than natural marking. Unusually there are cup-markings on both sides of the standing stone. The standing stone is located within a ditch and is 2.1m high with a thickness of 0.13m and a width of 1.25m. It has expansive views in all the directions.  It may be that this stone once formed part of another monument and was deposited in the ditch.
Fig. 9 Possible cup-marks on a standing stone at Blackstairs.

What is also worth noting is that each of the panels of rock-art is in close proximity of a barrow. Lisheentyrone is 30 metres from a bowl barrow, Borrisnoe is part of the kerb of a mound barrow and Blackstairs is within 600 metres of a ring-barrow.
The newly discovered panel of cup-marks at Lisheentyrone opens up the exciting possibility that there is more rock art waiting to be rediscovered in the mid-west region. We often see that once one instance of rock-art is discovered in a region, there are more in the locality. As each of the panels has been found in the vicinity of existing prehistoric monuments, it seems that the search for more should begin there. 

I would like to thank Chris Corlett for his advice and guidance with this article.  I would also like to thank Ken Williams and Ian Thompson whose photography and field walking have inspired me in my own. I would of course like to thank my wife and parents who supported me in writing this article. The photograph provided by National Monuments Service is much appreciated.