I left Sligo in a hurry and headed out the Dublin Road. There is a megalithic(meaning built of stone)monument on the way and being a history fan and needing an antidote to my short town sojourn I headed to Carrowkeel.
Carrowkeel is a Neolithic passage tomb cemetery in the south of County Sligo. Neolithic refers to the era in which it was built. Carbon 14 dating places the tombs at between 5400 and 5100 years old, so that they predate the Pyramids on Egypt’s Giza plateau by 500-800 years.
The site of these tombs is in the Bricklieve Mountains. To get there is a drive of some miles up narrow country roads and eventually onto a track on private land. There’s no car park as such and there were already four cars there. I had to park on a bend on a boggy verge, hoping I would be able to drive out of it.
The tombs are up high and it takes a walk of a mile or so along a winding, climbing track patched with rippling silky puddles and knotted with sheep above stoney slopes and the odd, twisted tree.
Reaching the summit its possible to see for miles around. To the east is Loch Arrow and at my feet, like the backs of earthbound dolphins, a plain of the ice formed drumlins I heard of so long ago in Mr. Gleesons Geography class, that stretch to far off Ben Bulben.
The first thing that strikes me is how much it reminds me of the description of the cairns of the Barrow-Downs described in the book (but not in the film) of The Lord of The Rings. I was also reminded of the burial mounds of the Rohirrim also in that book but then I guess Tolkien took his inspiration from history. It was an easy jump then to see, in my mind’s eye, slow processions of chanting mourners, wending their way to this high place in sorrow.
I counted five tombs, though there could be more, one in better shape than the rest. The entrance is tiny and it would not occur to me to go in though an American family that preceded me told me it was amazing inside. I didn’t try it as it would be just my luck to have to thing collapse on me.
I did wonder if it was right that people could just come and clamber in an out of them but I have to say that it was refreshing that there was no interpretive centre or information only a couple of old signs stating their National Monument status and the wind and the stunning view and the feeling that time is fluid.
The tombs were opened up in 1911, the first excavators causing some damage and hampering future excavations. Here is an account of the first entry in one of the tombs:
“I lit three candles and stood awhile, to let my eyes accustom themselves to the dim light. There was everything, just as the last Bronze Age man (sic) had left it, three to four thousand years before. A light brownish dust-covered all… There beads of stone, bone implements made from Red Deer antlers, and many fragments of much decayed pottery. On little raised recesses in the wall were flat stones, on which reposed the calcinated bones of young children.”
I won’t bore you with any more. The photos tell a story and there is a link below, if you, like me, are into this sort of thing. There are some sites that can grace you with a sense of connection with the ancestors and this is one of those. It is easy to think, standing here with the sun and shadows racing across the slopes and the wind lifting my hair, that someone like me stood here 5000 years ago looking out on all this too, someone, who, in their sorrow gained some peace from the world at their feet and their place in a procession of souls behind and ahead into an unknowable future.
When I was walking back down the track some time later an extremely large American lady was gamely walking up, struggling and breathless under her own great weight. “Is it worth it?” she asked me good-humouredly. And I had to tell her it definitely was.
This whole area is a wealth of ancient sites which I am sorry I didn’t make more time for. To read more check out http://www.carrowkeel.com/
I finished this holiday 4 weeks ago now and still I am writing about it. Hopefully one day they’ll invent some type of portable PC I can carry around with me and write as I go… 😉
NEXT AND LAST: CLONMACNOISE and peace that comes dropping slow.