I left Sligo town in a hurry and drove out the Dublin Road. There is a megalithic(meaning built of stone)monument at Carrowkeel in south county Sligo that I wanted to see.
Carrowkeel is a Neolithic era passage tomb cemetery in the south of County Sligo. 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 had heard of so long ago in Mr. Gleesons Geography class, stretching 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 to imagine a slow procession of chanting mourners wending their way to this high place in sorrow.
I counted five tombs one in better shape than the rest. The entrances are 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 it was refreshing that there was no interpretive centre only a couple of old signs stating the 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 more information here.
There are some sites that can grace you with a sense of connection with the ancestors and this is one of those. Standing here with the sun and shadows racing across the slopes and the wind lifting my hair it is easy to think that someone like me stood here 5000 years ago looking out on all this, someone who in their sorrow gained some peace from the world at their feet and their place in the procession of souls stretching behind and ahead into an unknowable future.
I was walking back down the track some time later as 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. I had to tell her it definitely was.