Carrowkeel Cairns

One of the most spectacular megalithic sites in Ireland

It is almost in my back yard.
It is spectacular on three levels.

Amongst the fourteen 5500 year old cairns are three cairns in good condition than can be entered for curiosity and remarkable individual spiritual experiences.

The landscape surrounding the cairns has an unexpected remarkable wild beauty that almost seems oriental.

The views on a clear day are probably the best you can have in Ireland. Over a third of Ireland can be seen ranging from the Mourne mountains of Co. Down in the north east, Donegal's mountains in the north west, Connemara and Clare mountains in the south west and Wicklow mountains in the south east. It also shows you how the centre of Ireland is incredibly flat for miles.

I visit Carrowkeel often, usually trying out different approaches that vary from the popular signposted route that approaches from the south west. Each new approach certainly provides a new vista and vision of the area.

The "Seize The Day" effect

When I approached Carrowkeel from the north east, not long ago, I could not help thinking of that wonderful movie, one of my all time favourites, "Dead Poets Society". Carpe Dium - Seize The Day or its literal translation "Pluck the day while it is ripe". It was a warm sunny day causing me to drop my work and head for the hills.

"'Tis only in their dreams that men truly be free,
'Twas always thus, and always thus will be" - Keating

Most have seen the "Dead Poet's Society" movie but how about the book the film was made from?

I believe that its the poet, writer, and painter in us all that becomes the ultimate prayer that truly connects us together with God, but sometimes it takes a mentor to show or take us to this. I have met some wonderful church priests, ministers and clerics who do this well, but also family members and even tour guides that take us into experiences that release our creativity. I've seen visits to Carrowkeel have this affect on many, perhaps more than visits to wonderful places like Tara, Loughcrew, Kildare and so forth.

We have to thank the scribing of songs, poetry and stories by the earliest of Christian monk scribes for our main source of any vision of the Celts, druids, Tuatha De Dannan and the ancient races before them.

Along the Red Earl's road

I approached from the north east, instead of the popular south west route with the intent of finding a low lying cairn at the side of the ancient and now barely visible Red Earl's Road.

The Red Earl was an Anglo-Norman, Richard de Burgo, 2nd Earl of Ulster around 1300 AD who successfully briefly added Co. Sligo to Ulster away from the Irish Normans. Yes, the North-South divide goes way way back even beyond Tuatha De Dannan times of around 1300 BC. The Red Earl built a boundary road from Boyle to Ballymote Castle. Ballymote castle was built on "The Ford Of Corran" indicating the site goes way back into Tuatha De Dannan times. The "Book Of Ballymote" was written by the monks there, one of the best ancient account of the Tuatha De Dannan.

I did find the cairn, beside this Red Earl road, but it did look more like a Celtic cist burial site from 1000 BC or much younger. Perfect condition, untouched and slabs closing the tomb still intact. Usually these are by stone circles of the same era. Sure enough there seemed to be the remains of a circle nearby, but instead of singular stones these were rock piles of small cairns and these usually date back to between 300 BC to 400 AD so nothing made sense really, other then the beautiful remote views over Lough Arrow and Leitrim.

Up onto the "keel" of Carrowkeel

Next stop was a dense "hut site" region involving quite a steep climb onto a plateau. Last time I visited I did not make sense of this very rocky region, but this time I found the kerb stone formations of many "huts", the round living quarters of the megalithic ancients of about 4000 BC until 3000 BC.

The biggest surprise was what seemed to be the remains of a large central court cairn like at Deerpark, Co. Sligo. This was in the centre of these hut sites. If this was not a ceremonial area then I wonder if it was a megalithic equivalent of a semi-detached residence,or what the USA calls "duplex". Maybe it was the home of the "chief". earby this hut site plateau is, a beautiful "fairy tale" small mountain that is home to what is known as cairns "O" and "P". Rarely anybody visits these as the mountain seems too tough to cimb.There is an easy route, though. My next task was to go "backwards" and take photos of each section of the "easy route" to create a pictorial direction guide video for people carrying iPods, smart mobile and portable media players with them. This took me back through a beautiful canyon still full of patrolling hawks and buzzards,.

My backwards photographic trek ended at the highest car park below the now incredibly popular passage cairns "G" and "K" Not only was this car park packed, and it's "off season" now, but cars were struggling to park while others getting stuck trying to pass each other on the narrow unsurfaced track to the car park.

Where they say the fairies are

I climbed to cairn "G", just a few minutes walk and was surprised to see several people in, on and around it. The population had obviously "seized the day". There were musicians and singers there and people with books. Inside the larger complete passage cairn was like the inside of the Indian Cave where the Dead Poet's Society met.

Perhaps I should have joined in. Well I did hang around and share stories awhile and then moved on to two more cairns I had never visited before, that most visitors ignored. Luckily by cairn "G", one local adventurer described to me an easy route to get to them, which I greatly appreciated. This was to cairns "C" and "D".

Both of these cairns fascinated me because I heard "C" was part of a boundary war and "D" is the only cairn given a name by local people, the common name of "Fairy Ring".

Visiting these cairns was a joy, but getting there beware. There is a hidden bottomless hole, I spotted it in time, threw a stone, and never heard it land.

Cairn "C" did have a fence that went over it rather than around. It is largely derelict but two passages are very distinct. The main is unusual because it is curved. These passages are commonly west to east.The back stone is definitely due east but the curve makes the entrance face north west and in perfect alignment to Morrigan's cairn on Ceis Corran mountain. The other passage faces due south and in perfect alignment with the incredibly interesting cairn "E" which is a fusion of passage cairn, barrow and court cairn.

Cairn "D" is a total mess, a totally broken up cairn, yet it is understandable why it is called the "Fairy Circle". Nature has taken over to give a uniqueness where on a sunny day the imagination runs wild. Its the sort of place that brings a wide grin to me as it stirs endless amounts of Alice In Wonderland boundryless imagery. It caused me to explore and explore every part of the site with each turning empowering even more entertaining yet powerful imagery.

Visit Carrowkeel yourself

If you are in Co. Sligo or wish to visit do let me know and I would enjoy guiding you around Carrowkeel for as long as you feel comfortable there. Most visitors like 1 - 3 hours there which is a good time to visit "the best of". Some folks then like to return on their own at a later day and stay a day or even two days if they bring a tent or stay at a local guest house.


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