Carrowmore is the largest Megalithic Burial Ground in Ireland
June 27-29, 1999:
We began our education into the mysteries of the megalithic monuments. Carrowmore is a site where 200 or so of these megalithic monuments once stood. Sadly, in the dark ages of Irish history (the 1800s depression and famine) many of them were destroyed for building material and to make way for productive farming. Today only about 40 sites are visible at all, and about another 20 lie buried. Carrowmore covers about 40 acres of ground and we found ourselves returning again and again over a three day period.
Some of these 'tombs' date back to 3000BC, which makes them approximately 500 years older than the pyramids.
Locals never miss an opportunity to point this out.
They're called Passage Tombs because there's a passage (you can see it clearly here) to a chamber (under the capstone) where human remains were interred.
However, the amount of human remains in these 'tombs' makes it clear that it was only a token amount of the population. Anthropologists and Archaeologists are still pondering what the meaning was. Some say there was a pharaoh-like religious order where some ultra-powerful leader got to be buried for his immortality.
Our favorite theory is that they buried any number of remarkable people here to create a 'sympathetic magic' whereby worshippers could became imbued with the powers of their respected ancestors.
The capstones weigh in at several tons. They are laid on top of the uprights and their immense weight holds the whole thing together.
While these monuments seem small today, they're only the tip of the iceberg. Just like back in York, ground level has risen here. Especially around these monuments. Over the centuries the earth has drifted around them in the same way snow drifts around homes. Originally these stones stood six feet tall.
There's other intriguing details to these monuments. Here to the right you see the top of a six foot dolmen extending a foot above ground. Looking closely one sees a small 'leveling' stone which gives the capstone a specific slant. It appears that the angle of the slant was important, though of course no one knows exactly why.
(It appears to be approximately 15 degrees, or about the inclination of the earth to the solar plane.)
To the left here is a stone ring designated Site 19. We were on a tour with about 40 people. 95% of them were from the United States. The tour guide told us many people had very spiritual experiences at this ring of stones (they're all numbered). After the tour, we wondered where everyone disappeared to. Trying to park the car, we saw 'em all at Site 19.
Behind the ring you can see the mountain of Knocknaree and the tiny bump on the top is Queen Maeve's Grave.
Queen Maeve's dominates the landscape. Like the TOR in Glastonbury, you can't keep your eyes off it. During the tour our guide pointed out that all the mountains ringing the valley around Sligo had cairns on their crests which were visible to the naked eye, just like Maeve's. It's as if the ancient peoples were saying to any strangers: "We are here. This is our land."
Current legend says Queen Maeve (ancestral hero and fore-mother of the Celtic peoples) is buried here standing up in full battle gear facing her enemies to the north. But she was allied with the people to the north via marriage and the cairn was made five hundred years before Maeve by pre-Celtic peoples. It was possibly built as a symbolic tomb of mother earth, and she faced her enemies to the north (the winter darkness) and then her legend was appropriated by the peoples who came later.
So we had to climb Knocknaree and view the cairn. It's over 40 tons of stone and never been excavated. It may contain passage graves, but the effort to pull it apart and put it back together would take archaeologists 50 years, so there's no plans to do it. For now, its mysteries are safe.
Local folklore advises one to take a stone from the bottom of Knocknaree and place it on the top.
Make a wish.
Here the ancients have left clear messages to those of us in the present.
Bridget and Hyla Forever.
North of Sligo is the Court Cairn of Creevykeel. It was excavated in the 1940's by a team from Harvard. Except for a 14th century iron smelting addition, it's in excellent shape.
Court Cairns have a large court (seen in the background of these photos) which leads onto the burial chambers.
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