First Stop Proleek:

You can leave your car in the grounds of the Ballymascanlon Hotel and follow the signs for the Proleek Dolmen which can be found set on a river terrace to the west of the Flurry river at the north edge of Ballymascanlon golf course. Ballymascanlon (the townland of Mac Scanlan) takes its name from Scanlan, son of Fingin. Chief of the Ui Meith sept. This sept had extensive holdings in Co. Louth, and gave its name to the district and village of Omeath. The first certain evidence of continued human occupation in the peninsula comes from the Neolithic period, about 5000 years ago, when farming communities initiated woodland clearance for grazing and cultivation. A substantial population would have been required to build up the twenty or so megalithic tombs found in north Louth. The standard megalithic burial tradition of the late Neolithic period in Ireland is presented by a single chambered burial monument known as a Portal Dolmen because of the importance of a door at its entrance. The Proleek Dolmen is a classic Irish tripod dolmen, with a mighty granite capstone. The sureness with which the capstone is poised on the back stone and portals in the tomb at Proleek and the weight of the capstone of up to 40 tons has understandably given rise to speculation about the means whereby they were so dramatically poised. The raising of the capstone could have been achieved by lifting it vertically on a rising bed, which was removed after the stone had been securely propped over the side of the proposed chamber. While it could have been levered into position on rollers over an inclined plane. Provided by the base of the half-finished covering cairn piled up at the back of the chamber, how the successful balancing on the three stones was accomplished is still a source of wonder. There is no trace of a mound of stones or side stones usually associated with such a burial chamber. A gallery grave is located less than 100 meters to the southeast of the dolmen. Only two cover stones survive but there are slight remains of the usual outer walling.

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Proceed out the Greenore road until you come to the village of Rampark. Turn left just after the sight of three upright stones comes into view on the left hand side. Walk towards the top left corner of the large field, which is now a housing estate. In this corner of the field is the holy well and close by, the mass-rock, during the time of the Penal Laws in the eighteenth century, the countryside was dotted with Mass rock where Catholics met in the greatest secrecy to attend mass. The Mass-rock at Rampark was located in a secluded spot, cleverly built into the ditch and could easily be taken as an integral part of it. The top of the rock is flat and smooth and above it and recessed into the ditch is another stone-probably intended a hiding place for the sacred vessels. Close by is water from a well which known as Tobar na hAltora (the altar well). The site for the mass-rock was well chosen for though it provided little shelter, it did allow a means of escape from the priest catcher’s and soldiers. It would seem that bad weather was not a deterrent to attending Mass.

St. Oliver Plunkett shortly after he arrived from Rome to take up his position as Archbishop of Armagh c. 1683, wrote back to the pope, the people of Louth are so devoted that they will go three miles to hear Mass… very often in the rain.

Near the Mass Rock is a hill where a man would stand guard on the lookout for the English soldier while Mass was being said. From here there is a clear view of the approaches from both Dundalk and Carlingford. Slievenagloch would prevent any attack from the North while to the south is the open sea. With the great scarcity of priests and a price on their heads their safety was of great importance. It would seem that the location for the Mass would often change as there are a number of other Mass-rocks in the parish of Ballymascanlon. The chalice used in the Mass was often made in three separate pieces so that if searched no one person would be apprehended if found carrying it complete. It is very likely that the archbishop of Armagh Bernard McMahon who was hiding in the Ballymascanlon area c 1743 said Mass here. Even though the penal laws were relaxed in the 1750’s the Mass was of necessity still said at Mass-rocks as the Roman Catholic were so poor that they could not afford to build a Mass-house.

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