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King Orry’s Grave                             Source: Stringer, J / CC BY NC 2.0

The Anomaly of King Orry’s 5000-Year-Old Grave

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The Isle of Man is a small, beautiful island in the Irish Sea and is a self-governing British Crown dependency. This island has a rich history as it is associated with the Vikings and has many important archaeological sites. One of the most important of these is the megalithic tomb known as King Orry’s Grave.

The Legend of King Orry’s Grave

The Isle of Man’s early history is quite mysterious. It was first populated by Neolithic farmers and settled by Gaelic Irish farmers and traders in the 6 th century AD. The island was raided and then conquered by the Vikings, who left a lasting legacy.

Location of The Isle of Man (Google Maps)

The tomb of King Orry is associated with a Norwegian Viking leader , King Godred Crovan.  He was a Norse-Gael, a Viking born in Ireland, and came from a powerful family who ruled the Kingdom of Dublin .  Godred took control of the Isle of Man and other islands as well as Scandinavia in 1079 while controlling the rich Kingdom of Dublin. He died in 1095 and his descendants established the Crovan dynasty and ruled the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles for almost two centuries.

King Godred or Orry, as he became known to the Manx (Isle of Man inhabitants), is a major figure in the folklore of the island. He is often credited with establishing the island’s unique legal system . Many historic sites on the island are named after the him, such as the Grave of King Orry. However, the monument is not in fact the final resting place of the Viking king , and the tomb is much older than the Viking period.  

It is estimated that this megalith, and one nearby, were built by the original Neolithic inhabitants of the island. They were built as burial monuments and were possibly part of ancestor cult as was common across Northern Europe.

The Sights at King Orry’s Grave

There are two megaliths at the site. The largest one is known as King Orry’s, which is similar to the ‘Clyde tomb’, a type of megalith found all over western Scotland , and also to those in Ireland known as ‘Court Tombs’.  It consists of a circular stone and was covered by mounds of earth in a rectangular shape. The circular stones are still largely intact, and the tall standing stones are known as menhirs.

Court tombs, Creevykeel, Ireland (Ewing, K / CC BY-NC 2.0)

Court tombs, Creevykeel, Ireland (Ewing, K / CC BY-NC 2.0 )

King Orry’s grave, in the eastern part of the site, is formed into a semi-circle, and measures 36 feet (12 m) by 12 feet (4 m). This area contains three burial chambers laid in a row, with a forecourt built in front of the tombs.  Sadly, much of the structure has been destroyed in modern times.

The smaller tomb is at the western section and is considered a later addition. It consists of a cist burial which is a coffin-shaped monument made from stone. Again, a menhir stands adjacent to the burial.

It is believed that the two megaliths could once have been connected and that they formed part of a religious or ceremonial area . Unfortunately, there is little definitive evidence for this because a modern house was constructed between the two stone age monuments.  The prehistoric remains were possibly destroyed during the construction of the house in the 19 th century.

Cist burial chamber at Kilmartin Glen, Scotland (cornfield / Adobe Stock)

Cist burial chamber at Kilmartin Glen, Scotland ( cornfield / Adobe Stock)

The monuments are two of the several stone age monuments on the Isle of Man and likely to hold the remains of the island's elite, which would indicate that the Isle of Man was important in the Irish Sea region during the Neolithic era.

Visiting King Orry’s Grave

The heritage site is a protected monument and located north of the village of Laxey, which is popular with tourists. While the stone age monuments are partly located on private property visitors will not have any problem visiting the site. No admittance fee is charged to visit the 5000-year-old megaliths. Information boards provide information about the monuments, their history, and the legends of King Orry.

Top image: King Orry’s Grave                             Source: Stringer, J / CC BY NC 2.0

By Ed Whelan

References

Clark, G. (1935). The prehistory of the Isle of Man . In Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society (Vol. 1, pp. 70-92). Cambridge University Press

Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/proceedings-of-the-prehistoric-society/article/prehistory-of-the-isle-of-man/94C24F26DF8E0440E453F989363999FA

Davey, P. (2015). 15 The Isle of Man: central or marginal in the Neolithic of the northern Irish Sea?. The Neolithic of the Irish Sea, 129

Available at: https://books.google.ie/books?hl=en&lr=&id=uCQeCgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA129&dq=king+orry%27s+grave&ots=quv24Aj_w-&sig=sAUTR9YW17EzIQUODuuiKV5mpsY&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=king%20orry's%20grave&f=false

Fowler, C. J. (1999). On discourse and materiality: personhood in the Neolithic of the Isle of Man (Doctoral dissertation, University of Southampton)

Available at: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/42323/

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