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King Orry’s Grave lies hemmed in on three sides by modern buildings and a road, but when built it stood on a slight promontory next to a deep gulley leading into Laxey valley, and commanded extensive views over Laxey Bay towards Clay Head. Despite later developments, the site is one of the most complete of the Island’s megaliths, though there is some disagreement as to whether the east and west chambers were at any time joined.


King Orry’s Grave (East) stands immediately by the roadside and the slabs set on edge next to the steps leading up onto the site form the kerb of the cairn which once covered the burial chambers. The cairn was originally trapezoid in plan, but part of it was destroyed during the construction of the dwelling, Orry’s Mount, immediately to the south during the 1800s. The north-east end of the cairn is defined by an arc of taller stones which partially encloses a semi-circular area, or forecourt. Gaps between the stones are blocked by drystone walling which still survives to a height of 1.5m in places, indicating how high the cairn behind once stood. The forecourt would have served as a place for rituals where the living celebrated the dead, reflected in the discovery of the remains of fires, burnt animal bones and fragments of tools.

At the centre of the arcade two stones lean together to form an entrance into the cairn. Beneath them a narrow portal leads into the first of three surviving burial chambers – more probably existed prior to originally roofed over with slabs before being buried beneath the cairn so that the only access to them was through the portal. Small fragments of bone were found in the first of the chambers together with some Neolithic flint tools and pottery, and although the site was disturbed before excavation, it seems likely that only skeletal remains were placed in the tomb after a process known as excarnation. Evidence from other Neolithic tombs suggests that it was common for the bodies of the dead to be deliberately exposed so that the flesh and other soft tissue was removed by animals, birds and weather. The surviving bones, usually the skull and the heavy limb bones, were then gathered up and placed inside the tomb.

The stone lying in front of the entrance to the tomb is thought to have once formed a lintel over the two portal stones. Its present position may be due to the passage of time or to a much more deliberate act of closing the tomb once it fell out of use. The line of stones which now links the protruding ends or ‘horns’ of the façade is similarly thought to indicate a deliberate act of closure and reflect a phenomenon seen at many other Neolithic tombs. Antiquarian claims that the purpose of another large stone lying close to the information board was an altar on which human sacrifice was carried out are rather less likely.


King Orry’s Grave (West) lies about 40m to the southwest beyond the garden of a private house, but can be reached by a path round the back of the house. The tomb is perched on the edge of a deep gulley through which a stream flows down to join the Laxey river. The basic layout of this part of the site is similar to the remains seen over the road, with evidence of burial chambers originally covered by an earth and stone cairn and a forecourt with façade.

Walk past the large upright stone and turn to look back towards the house in order to get the best view of the site. The forecourt is quite difficult to distinguish, but the stumps of stones to either side of the one remaining tapered slab mark the remains of a curved façade. The 3m tall stone, known as King Orry’s Stone, stands at the centre of the façade and forms part of the entrance into the burial chamber. The stones outlining the façade would probably have been graded in height, so that the smallest stood at either end, with any gaps between filled with drystone walling. In common with similar tombs, the forecourt would have been used for rituals.

Between King Orry’s Stone and the house lie three chambers, originally roofed over and covered by a cairn, but now open to the sky. The chamber nearest the house is constructed from massive slabs, and entered via two leaning portal stones, the edges of which have been worked to create a narrow oval opening. Between this and King Orry’s Stone lie two additional chambers built from smaller slabs, and with flagged floors. It appears as if the massive chamber was the first structure on the site, and that the portal stones were its original entrance. The second and third chambers, and the forecourt, were all elements of a second phase of construction.


King Orry’s Grave and Cashtal yn Ard (Maughold) are probably the two most comprehensible examples of chambered long cairns on the Island: both preserve essential elements such as the trapezoid plan, the curved forecourt and multiple burial chambers. Both sites would have absorbed much time and energy in their construction, and must have been major economic and spiritual part of Neolithic life in the east of the Island.

Structural adaptations show that they were in use for centuries: King Orry’s Grave was probably begun about 6,000 years ago, but a radiocarbon date from a fire in one of the forecourts shows that the monument was still being used a thousand years later.

Tradition suggests that they may even have been used since then; excavations at King Orry’s Grave in the 1830s allegedly found, according to an antiquary writing several decades later ‘a few human bones, the skeleton of a horse, an iron horse-shoe…, and an iron sword, objects which indubitably point to a Scandinavian interment’ (Barnwell 1868, 105). This story may have been fabricated to attract Victorian tourists to the site, but there is good evidence of Viking interest in prehistoric tombs, as at Maes Howe in Orkney. Another antiquary, who claimed to have been present at the time of the investigation, mentions only the remains of a horse and insisted that the site had not been associated with the semi-legendary King Orry before then.



Text from 'A Guide to the Archaeological Sites of the Isle of Man' by Andrew Johnson and Allison Fox.

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