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This is the most westerly of
a group of tombs between Coolaney and the Ox Mountains and one of two
in Cabragh. It is a large and imposing wedge on a site affording good
views. Some of the roofstones survive, slipped and tilted against the
gallery-stones on the S side. My colleague Tom FourWinds writes: "Looking
down on to this tomb from the road 30 metres above, it looks a complete
mess, but closer inspection reveals a wonderful monument. The appearance
of messiness is caused by the displaced roofstones which stick up out
of the gallery.
~ 1.3 km SE in the same townland
(G 568 242) is another - but more damaged - wedge tomb lying
in a dip two fields in from the road. My colleague Tom FourWinds writes:
"The tomb occupies rough
pasture on a southwest slope. 150 metres to the northwest is an area
of exposed rocky outcrops. Knocknashee pokes its head above the top
of the bank to the southeast. This is possibly the only surviving tomb
where Knocknarea does not appear on the horizon. The gallery is about
6m long and defined by two slabs on each side and the spikiest backstone
I have ever seen. A massive roof-slab, 3.5 metres x 2 metres long, rests
against one side of the tomb. 30 metres behind the tomb there is a large
slab flush with the ground, which seems to have a chamber beneath it.
A line of stones joins this to the tomb. To the northwest there is a
second flat slab lying with its long axis at right angles to the gallery.
~ 5.2 km S (G
568 201) at Knockatotaun is a portal-tomb with some affinitites
to wedge-tombs. Its large, horizontal capstone (measuring 3 by 4 metres)
is still in place. Its underside look as though it has been worked to
some degree. It rests on many orthostats, nearly all of which are encrusted
with worm fossils. The long axis of the chamber is NW-SE, with the broader
end at the southeast. The orthostat below the 'rear' end of the capstone
has some handsomequartz veins running through it.
About 5 km S of Knockatotaun in Achonry is a boulder-burial,
about which the only information I have is the photo below.
Known as "The
Labby [Rock]", ('Labby' is an anglicisation of the Irish
word for 'bed' - as in 'Dermot and Grania's Bed', this tomb,
7 km SE of Riverstown and 7.2 km NNW of Ballyfarnon, is best found by
following the signs for "Cromlech Lodge" (a well signposted
hotel) from Castlebaldwin. A path zig-zags through the woods until the
dolmen suddenly appears - behind a wall. This remarkable and endearing
megalith has a huge limestone capstone 2.5 metres thick, 4.5 metres
long, and 2.75 metres wide, weighing some 70 tonnes. It is a veritable
hanging garden of vegetation, and appears to be driving the ridiculously
puny portal-stones and backstone into the soft ground. The entrance
is marked by a low thin door-slab.
~ 1.7 km ESE in Moytirra West (G 807 151) is a small round cairn with surrounding bank which had a double kist in the centre, and which yielded the first examples of Irish bronze-age 'bell-beakers'. The townland name preserves that of a legendary plain, Magh Tuireadh, also known as Moytura, in which two cosmic battles were fought.
~ 2.5 km SE in Moytirra East (G 815 141) is a court-tomb that I failed to find in 1972 because of a misprinted map-reference. Its four-chambered gallery is over 11 metres long, with a large court facing NNE, and has an unusual double (or split) entrance like some Ulster wedge-tombs (such as Dunnamore, county Tyrone), suggesting that it might be a late example influenced by - or influencing - wedge-tombs.
There are several standing-stones in the vicinity, up to 3.5 metres high, some prostrate: perhaps part of a greater megalithic complex. The nearest is 100 metres S of the tomb in the next field.
~ 2.4 km W is the huge cairn of Heapstown.
a tarred track leading E from a by-road running from North to South
through the hills, and well-signposted this megalithic cemetery is superbly
situated on limestone ridges in different townlands, of which Carrowkeel
is only one. There are cairns in Keshcorran to the W, as well as a dozen
tombs and two megalithic kists in the main necropolis, which has clearly
been laid out with an eye to the unique landscape of rocky spurs. There
are magnificent views from the cairns over Lough Arrow to the E, and
N to Knocknarea and Ben Bulben. Some of the rock-faces are steep, and
there are extensive patches of peat-bog and heather on the ridges and
in the deep fissures.
Of the other tombs, Cairn F (now ruined and almost unphotographable) is the finest, with double-transepted chamber shaped like a Cross of Lorraine, and a (now-collapsed) roof of corbels assisted by squinches and packing-stones. Between the inner pair of recesses was a broken pillarstone, at the butt-end of whose fallen portion human ashes had been placed. In this and some other tombs some of the large stones are of sandstone. These may have been placed at points of particular stress where limestone would soon collapse. In fact, some of the lintels in Cairn K are cracked and dangerous.
Cairn G has a 'light-box' of earlier and cruder construction than the famous one at Newgrange.
Whereas the Newgrange box
permits a shaft of light to penetrate along the passage of the tomb
into the chamber at the winter Solstice, the Carrowkeel one was designed
to "trap" the light of the setting sun at summer Solstice,
and the light of the setting moon at the winter solstice and Lunar Extremes.
Cairn B, dramatically sited at the N end of a promontory W of Cairns F and E in Treanscrabbagh townland (G 745 116), has the most commanding position of all the tombs. Within a kerbed cairn 22.5 metres in diameter and 5 metres high is an accessible, fairly-crude pentagonal chamber with two sillstones at either end of a passage.
On a commanding limestone ridge to the NE of the complex in Mullaghfarnagh (approachable from the N via a seemingly-natural stairway in the cliff) is a cluster of nearly 50 stone rings known as "the village". Some are too large to have been roofed, so they may have been tent-shelters for ritual occasions. Most form a continuous line along the E edge of the ridge, and are aligned with Knocknarea on the northern horizon. There is no evidence to connect them with the same early Neolithic period as the supposed necropolis.
Below "the village", also in Mullaghfarna, is an undisturbed wedge-tomb.
~ At the top of Keshcorran
mountain (G 713 126) is a cairn, mostly covered in vegetation, which
overlooks the stark tombs of the necropolis at Carrowkeel. It is over
5 metres high and is about 30 metres in diameter - and probably contains
a passage tomb.
~ Lower down and on the west
side of Keshcorran mountain (G 706 122) are several caves, which are
visible from the road. The cave with the largest entrance appears to
go back quite some distance into the hill, and offers spectacular views.
~ 1.5 km NE of
Kesh Caves in Carnaweeleen (G 717 132) is a disturbed passage-tomb
known locally as Carnaweelaun, originally cruciform but now somewhat
scattered with displaced roofstones and collapsed uprights. One roofstone
lies to one side, propped up against taller orthostats, which are a
little over 1 metre tall. These could mark the corners of the central
chamber. Situated on a north-east spur of Keshcorran Mountain, it offers
fine views to the N and E towards Carrowkeel and beyond.
Although concentrated in the townland of Carrowmore (rather too close to the county town of Sligo for its preservation), there are also passage-tombs in other neighbouring townlands - most of them ruined and looking like portal-tombs. The cemetery is dominated by the kerbed tumulus of Misgán Méadbha (Maeve's Cairn, Lump or Pimple) on the summit of Knocknarea: unopened but almost certainly containing a passage-tomb or megalithic kist. It is 55 metres in diameter, over 10 metres high and round about it are the remains of several tombs and cairns.
It was in this area that passage-tombs
- and stone circles deriving from their cairn-kerbs - were developed
in Ireland, moving East across Ireland and into Britain and Brittany
as they got more elaborate. The Carrowmore necropolis may have had as
many as 80 sepulchres originally; now only 60 can be traced, because
of gravel quarrying and other schemes such as municipal dumping to fill
in gravel pits! They are now protected (from private but not from 'official'
damage), and there is
(of course) a Visitor Centre.
These may be the
ancestors of all the stone
circles of Atlantic Europe, which enclosed simple small boulder-built
chambers. Occupying the edge of Carrowmore plateau, these mostly align
towards a 'ritual centre', and were not built to impress or be seen
from afar. A date late in the fifth millennium BC has been established
for one of the boulder-chambers, making it the oldest known building
They have been interpreted as quiet sacred places of an egalitarian society which lived close by, on especially-good land with a climate favoured (rather than battered) by the sea, which was also, of course, the main highway until late mediæval times. This might have been a matriarchal society which inevitably made the mistake of allowing boys to form secret societies and play with big stones - and big clubs.
Later on, tombs or shrines with high visibility and prestige were built away from Carrowmore on the Slieve Gamph or Ox Mountains to the SW. Some of them had more complex cruciform chambers and large cairns. The dead were now distanced and elevated from a more stratified society with a labouring class, and the shrine-houses of the dead no longer fitted into the landscape, but dominated it.
The third phase is represented by the huge cairns of Misgán Méadbha on Knocknarea, and Listoghil in Carrowmore (currently being desecrated with heavy machinery by Dúchas/Irish Heritage) - perhaps constructed later than their burial-chambers. These complex monuments required huge labour-resources, and must have been built by a fairly totalitarian society. Later still, the highly visible hilltop cairns on Carrowkeel, all supervised by the all-seeing and probably baleful eye of Misgán Méadbha, were built as a kind of new necropolitan annexe to the already venerable sacred area of Carrowmore.
The best way to view the Carrowmore Sacred Landscape is to walk along the by-road which runs North-South to the W of Cloverhill House. Many of the denuded tombs and kerbs (which of course are not stone circles), as well as the cairn of Listoghil, the most prominent megalith in the complex, can be viewed to the W.
the passage-tomb remnants are stone
kists, standing-stones and a holed stone (difficult of
access because it is surrounded by drains and electric fences!) in the
townland of Tobernaveen to the extreme NW of the complex (G 665
350). It looks remarkably like the door-stone to the court-tomb at Corracloona,
county Leitrim, and is very likely the last vestige of such a
tomb.Through this stone babies were passed to ward off the many infant
maladies that for so many centuries afflicted Ireland with a child mortality
greater than almost anywhere else in Europe. It was still being used
The remains are
clearly that of a central court tomb minus the court. Two galleries
stand facing each other some 5 metres apart on an E-W alignment. The
E gallery is the more complete and it is possible to tell that it was
divided into two chambers, because one of the dividing jamb stones is
in situ. The other, more ruined, is roughly the same size and design.
Each gallery is about 4 metres long and over 1.5 metres wide. The entrance
jambs into each gallery are present and well-matched.
Sligo town itself occupies
the area most favoured for living and burying in Neolithic times.
~ In Cloverhill,
to the S of the main cemetery, and on the other side of the road from
Cloverhill House, near a former schoolhouse (G 671 335) is a roofless
and shamelessly-neglected small tomb which is decorated with worn curvilinear
ornament on three of its orthostats. A fourth decorated stone, removed
in 1832, is now in the wall of an out-building attached to the old school
nearby. This tomb is hard to find: click for directions
(on left of page).
3.2 km NW of Aclare, at a height of about 250 metres and extremely difficult to locate across featureless bog lie two court-tombs embedded in the peat. The more southerly (to which the grid reference above applies) is probably the best-preserved in Ireland. Entry can be made only through a small hole in the roof, which is corbelled with high-pitched slabs in two and three tiers over low orthostats. As with the tomb in Carrowleagh in county Mayo (some 9.6 km NNW) the court is entirely concealed by cairn and bog.
~ 300 metres
N is a wedge-tomb with a low, modern wall - obviously constructed of
cairn-material - surrounding the remains of the cairn. The court would
have been at the north-west end, but this area is in total disarray.
The gallery is in a much better state, and, unusually, diamond-shaped.
The entrance is just under 2 metres wide.
~ 6.4 km SW is the fine wedge-tomb in Carrowcrom, Mayo.
Known as "Cashelmore", the fort is inside the Coolavin Estate some 14 km WSW of Boyle, romantically sited amongst trees, and approached through a gate. It was restored in the 19th century and is built of stones which get smaller as they get higher. Inside are three sets of steps leading to the ramparts, three wall-niches, and two souterrains.
This very fine, excavated tomb
lies immediately E of the noisy and busy main road from Sligo to Bundoran,
a few metres N of Creevykeel Crossroads. It is contained in a wedge-shaped
cairn which was originally nearly 60metres long. The broad end faces
roughly E, and from it a short passage leads into a large oval court
(with somedry-walling) about 15 metres long. This in turn leads into
a 2-chambered gallery with vestiges of corbelling in the rear chamber.
Only those orthostats nearest the entrance to the gallery are of megalithic
proportions, some of them 1.8 metres high. Behind the gallery are the
remains of 3 single-chambered subsidiary tombs, apparently built at
the same time as the rest of the monument. On the S side the cairn is
double. On the NW part of the court are the remains of a much later
kiln, and evidence of iron-smelting was found there when the tomb was
excavated - see just above the centre of the photo below.
~ 3.2 km SW in Cartronplank, behind a house about 100 metres E of the road from Cliffony to Drumcliff is "Tombavannor" an overgrown court-tomb resembling those at Shalwy and Croaghbeg in Donegal, with a massively-constructed gallery of 2 chambers, good entry-jambs and a very large gabled backstone some 2 metres high. Only a few stones of the court, decreasing in height from the entrance, survive amongst the vegetation.
~ 9.5 km WSW of Creevykeel is a small wedge-tomb at Streedagh (G 629 504), exposed by a storm which removed some of the sand dunes that once covered the area. The roofless gallery is just 3 metres long, but has well-preserved double-walling. It is entered through two matching stones with a door-stone in between - which was broken when some vandals lit a fire in the gallery. The circular kerb - some 10 metres in diameter - is almost complete. Good overhead views of the tomb can be had from sand-dunes nearby.
~ 12.8 km SSW in Coolbeg, about 900 metres NW of the 12th century cross and Yeats' grave at Drumcliff ("- horseman, pass by!"), about 200 metres W of the bridge over the Owney river beside a grove of cherry-trees, (G 673 424) is a large limestone wedge-tomb with trees growing through it, whose main chamber is almost 7 metres long, over which one (slipped) capstone remains - with at least one cup-mark on it. There is an antechamber or portico and a good façade of stones about one metre high. Much of the double-walling survives.
~ 16 km SW (7.4 km W by N of Coolbeg) in Cloghcor (G 599 438), facing N on the highest point of a ridge, is a portal-tomb in a passage-tomb situation. The weight of the roofstone has collapsed the chamber and it now lies behind the portal- or entrance-stones which are 2 metres high, and which may not have directly supported the roofstone. There are fine views S over Sligo Bay to Knocknarea.
Immediately to the E of a by-road leading to Riverstown is a huge cairn over 60 metres in diameter and 6 metres high - said locally to have been piled up on a single night by non-human forces. Being on low ground, its enormous size and massive kerb suggest that, like Listoghil in Carrowmore (above), it contains a passage-tomb.
There are reports of decorated stones and an Ogam stone which used to be near the cairn. A kerbstone on the S side has barely-decipherable glyphs.
(For a discussion of the Sligo passage-tombs, see Carrowmore, above.)
~ 1.6 km W at Barroe (G 799 144) is a possible megalithic tomb with a craggy capstone 1.8 metres thick and wide similar to the capstone of the portal-tomb at Carrickglass, 2.4 km E of Heapstown.
~ Three crannógs in Lough Arrow are marked on sheet 25.
or Deerpark: Centre-court tomb
The fine views to be had from
this huge tomb are now blocked by insensitive planting of dreary conifer
forest, which is to the S of the road from Leckaun to Sligo (6.4 km
to the E). On the top of a ridge overlooking Colgagh Lough, the tomb
has an impressive central court 15 metres long, from which 3 two-chambered
galleries extend to give the tomb a length of 30 metres. Two are on
the E side and one on the W. One of the E galleries still has a lintel
in place (though broken) above the jamb-stones. The court is entered
from the S side, and the tomb (also known as Leacht Con Mhic Ruis)
has some similarities with the tomb at Ballyglass, county Mayo.
Below the monument, approached by the path from which the path to the court-tomb branched off, are other remains including a ruined wedge-tomb, a souterrain, and a trivallate stone fort with souterrain (G 750 366) which offers splendid views towards Slieve Dargan.
~ 8.5 km SSW, on the other
side of Lough Gill, close to a by-road in Carrownagh (G 732 285)
is another sprawling (single-)court tomb with massive stones, and a
long gallery divided into (possibly) three sections. There is an impressive
square backstone at the W end, and good jamb-stones indicate that there
are two distinct chambers. There may be a third chamber at the east
end but this area contains some cairn material, possibly not all original,
and a large stone which may be a displaced lintel. This may be the area
of the court. One of the embedded stones appears to be out of line with
the gallery and suggests that the structure widened at this point to
form a court.
Dargan (Carrownamaddo and Castledargan townlands): Passage-tomb
'Calliagh a Vera's [Caillech
Bhéarra's] House' is not on the highest peak of Slieve Dargan,
but on a lower peak to the west. Slieve Dargan blocks the views to the
east and northeast, but the views to the south, west and north are extensive.
~ 850 metres SSW in Dargan townland (G 701 288), beside a well-used forest track, is a North-South alignment of 3 stones, whose northernmost stone (1.4 metres) has fallen and is half-buried. The central stone is 1.6 metres high and is rectangular in section. The southernmost is a small triangular one just 50 cms tall. The disparity in height poses a problem of authenticity.
Tanrego West: Court/Portal-tomb
G 596 307
Just under 5 km SW of Knocknarea, this tomb is picturesque in a sylvan setting, and is a 'hybrid' or intermediate between a court- and a portal-tomb. It has massive entrance stones about 2 metres high. The half-door stone between them is a feature of portal-tombs and is a reddish sandstone, in contrast to the greyish limestone of the rest of the tomb. The first (and only remaining) chamber of the gallery is formed by two massive orthostats which are not in line with the two entrance/portal stones. This also is a feature of portal-tombs. There is no back-stone to the gallery - which ends in two opposing jambs. Many other stones are scattered about, some of which might be roofstones, others from the court, and yet others could be from the original kerb.
~ 6.6 km SW is one of the wedge-tombs at Cabragh.
G 400 282
Once visible a few hundred
metres E of a by-road following the valley of the Owenwee river, 8 km
SW of Dromore West, this tomb is now the magical centre of a large clearing
in a conifer plantation. Known as The Giant's Griddle, it has
a fine slab-like capstone 2.8 metres long, tilted appropriately and
resting on 2 well-matched portal-stones about 1.5 metres high (between
which is a low 'half-door' stone) and only just resting on the backstone.
One of the sidestones has disappeared, allowing the chamber to be seen
Cup-and-ring designs are reputed to be on two stones of the wall/fence in which The Giant's Griddle is incorporated.
~ 2.5 km NE is another (less impressive) portal-tomb at Crowagh (G 421 294) with a good door-stone between its squat portals. Its long cairn - with signs of a kerb - can be traced to 18 metres behind the chamber. Despite the collapse of the massive capstone, which has crushed the chamber and pushed the portal-stones and door-stone forward to about 60°, the tomb is still over 2 metres high.
~ 2.8 km N by E in Knockanbaun (G 402 307), in the centre of a very thick clump of trees and scrub is portal-tomb similar to that at Crowagh but with a small capstone - which was, nevertheless, heavy enough to have crushed the chamber and forced the portal stones forward.
~ 2.6 km WSW at Caltragh (G 376 270) are the remains of a court-tomb largely surrounded by peat. From the road, the remaining huge roofstone can be seen. Other stones, including a horizontal supporting stone beneath the west end of the roofstone can be seen if you make the somewhat treacherous journey across old peat-cuttings.