Carrowkeel, Co. Sligo

CarrowkeeloIntroduction to Carrowkeel, Co Sligo

Carrowkeel, Co. Sligo is a townland on the northern part of the Bricklieve (Breac Shliabh) Mountains and is home to the remains of 14 stone age passage cairns, three of which can be entered into comfortably. There were probably many more here.

Through online social sites, especially through Facebook and YouTube you will often read and hear me refer to Carrowkeel and the cairns from a mythological approach, especially around Summer Solstice, when the setting sun lights up two of the cairns.

I regard a visit to Carrowkeel as a wonderful extension of our daily Afternoons At Carrowcrory and our Celtic Dreamtime weekends that we host four times a year.

Our mythological approach, which includes stories of Morrigan, Bride, Brigid, Lugh, Lugah, the Swans of Bride and alignments is only one of several ways this area is viewed and explored.

Historians visit here to follow up their learning of stone age and bronze age discoveries.

The archaeology of the place attracts various scientists from astronomers and anthropologists to botanists, geologists and mathematicians

Tourists love here for the views, and we counted viewing 17 counties of Ireland on one clear day.

Modern “pagans” love going there to follow their own interpretations and perform their rituals and expressions, though its darn annoying when they don’t clear up after themselves such as burgundy wax covering the ancient stones, and hay stolen from the local shepherd to form a floor bed in the cairn.

June 21st is the most popular time here, especially at sunset, the solstice sunset, even when Summer Solstice is not really on June 21st. 100s of people, mainly local people, flock to visit the cairns to witness the lighting up of two of the passage cairns. Due to popularity of the 21st its hard to take decent photos as visitors block the sun outside the cairns and people inside the cairn block the sun coming into the cairns.

The same phenomena can be experienced on June 19th, 20th , 22nd and 23rd when less people are present and photography becomes easy, along with a magical solace experience.

As an unusual step for my posts I’ll serve you a wee classroom account of Carrowkeel here :-)

A sort of Timeline of Carrowkeel

Archaeologists have come up with many stories from their findings but the majority agreement seems to be that the earliest “known” hunter gatherers were in the area 7000 BC, a time when the area was very wooded. The oak belt from Co. Galway to Co. Leitrim did not seem to reach Carrowkeel as the findings in the peat turf there are more of elm and hazel close to water. The hunter gatherers found the Sligo shores and the rivers from those shores abundant with food.

The first farmers are said to have arrived around 4000 BC along with a supply of grain seed and farmed animals such as cattle, ship, pigs and fowl. These farmers are said to have brought skills to west of Ireland from the fertile lands of the time that stretched from Iran and Palestine. Why they commenced farming from western Ireland, particularly from the areas that are now counties Mayo and Sligo are a mystery and are the cause of creation of much of the mythology of the area.

Mythology places their arrival at around 1400 BC, which is even recorded on scribed middle eastern tablets dating back to 1200 BC. It is said that this was the time of heavy rain and seas rising causing “the deluge” as reported in the “Bible”. Tree forensic scientists studying fallen trees, still preserved in the bog, also report a warm and wet climate from the tree rings of this time.

Deep orthodox Judaism also connects Erin to the people of their lands, especially the Tuatha De Dannan, a lost tribe of Israel, and place their arrival around 720 BC.

However, the archaeologists follow a different timeline.

They report that the people arriving around 4000 BC brought with them farming skills that had become their culture since 7000 BC in the middle east. From 4000 BC it is said that the forests disappeared and were replaced with grazing and cultivation farmland. Archaeologists have reported this was caused by tree diseases more than felling. Evidence, through pollen traces, of ancient cultivation of wheat and barley has been found at Carrowkeel, but believed to have been cultivated in small quantities. Tools for cultivation have rarely been discovered.

Healthy abundant farming was said to have existed from 4000 BC until 2600 BC, when the climate of the area became cold, trees fell and the formation of peat bog commenced. Interestingly tree forensic scientists reports I have seen tend to make this date more like 900 BC rather than 2600 BC.

Archaeologists are also dating the building of the cairns of Co. Sligo to between 4000 BC and 2600 BC. A theory from them is that farmers worked heavily on fields, livestock and crops through Imbolc to Lunasa but had spare time between Lunasa and Imbolc to build so this was the time of building the cairns.

Carrowkeel is not the only area of Co. Sligo with megalithic stone age cairns. Carrowmore is popular with visitors as is Maeve’s cairn of Knocknarea, though the legend of Maeve is much more recent than the building of the cairn. There are also the less visited cairns of the Ballygawley mountains and other peaks of Co. Sligo. Overall Co. Sligo, covering a very small part of the Irish Republic landscape, is home to more than 40% of the current known passage cairns in Ireland.

Another unique feature of the Carrowkeel complex is the remains of a large stone age village, homes built with wood, reeds and straw but surrounded with kerb stones for insulation and protection. It is believed 100 homes were here and the remains of at least 40 kerb stone circles remain in the village area, on karst limestone, just like the Burren in Clare.

This village also causes dating confusion. The archaeologists report the village seems to tie in with the local farming and cairn construction of between 4000 BC and 2600 BC but storytellers and mythmakers describe this as a Firbolg village created around 1400 BC.

To me this brings thoughts of two different ancient Calendars.

The Creation Calendar, with each year dated as a “year of the world” which is roughly 4000 BC, give or take a couple of hundred years depending on who’s calendar creation is referred to such as Bede’s, calculations by Rabbi Halafta or the chronicles of Eusibius and Jerome. I find it interesting to think of the Creation Calendar possibly being dated to the arrival of farming to Erin, once RN, the Sacred Land

The other ancient calendar is the Mason’s Calendar dated as “years of light” or years from the first cut of stone, the origin of masonry. This commenced 1800 BC, about 400 years before the deluge legends told by bards that brought ancient tribes by ships to Erin.

Transition from Goddess to the Green Man

One common thread through the findings and theories of archaeologists, tree forensic scientists and bardic storytellers is the faith of the farming people was based on a mother earth, an earth goddess. All thing growing, people, animals, crops, were all known to come from a womb, and life to the womb came from the earth. As wombs are feminine the earth was regarded as feminine too, so the goddess and women were revered. The cairns appear to be created vulva’s through which the people could connect to the earth mother or goddess for taking life back and accepting new life.

However, something major descended from the skies, a major climate and weather transition, large meteorites, extra terrestrial visitors, we do not know. Whatever happened it seemed to create a fast world cultural change that believed something from “above” was placing a curse on those who had put faith in the earth mother, and created a reminder that there was something much bigger, a bigger force from above.

This is when its appears the forerunners of druids stepped in, men who claimed to have connection with the “heavens” and the ability to protect the people on earth. This seems to be the start of male domination as bards and druids appear to have all been men and male deities, male gods were introduced along with a trinity of Father (The Universe), Son (mankind) and Holy or Guiding Spirit (the mother earth spirit)

The goddess had to remain in reverence to earn the trust of the people and it is said by bards that men called upon the goddess to recharge their passion, confidence and bravery.

The Green Man in various images such as Cernunnos and Herne created dominance and took over as the revered ruler of nature while Brigid remained the spirit of farming. The Green Man also became the “Mr Right” of women who yearned for a husband through whom they could share passion with the spirit of the Green Man.

During this transition of reverence from the mother earth to a greater male spirit it seems the cairns became redundant. Their use changed from being connections to the other world to being sealed up burial tombs. The earth became regarded as the “middle earth” or “middle world” the place between the spirit world above and the earth where our bodies came from and will return. When spirit and body comes together this is the “middle earth”, the place we walk.

I think it is quite convenient, through balancing the above, to consider the archaeologists findings of 4000 BC onwards was of the earth mother and earth goddess years followed by the druid and bard male dominated years after the deluge of 1400 BC or even from earth changes at the first “year of the light”, first year of masonry in 1800 BC. Around 4000 BC was into the age of Taurus, and descriptions of what the Taurus symbol represents is very fitting. 1800 BC was well into the Mars ruling age of Aries, again into an age fitting for the Aries symbol.

We just do not know through a factual approach, but from a storytelling approach the above, I feel, is very inspirational and divine teaching.

Going back to the cause of this transition I mentioned that something from above came to earth and “placed a curse” on the people of earth. With our modern languages, well especially English, this is translated as having some kind of “spell” or sacred demon placed on us. In ancient Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland there is no word for illness. The translation of the Gaelic for being ill is “having a curse on me”.

With this in mind it broadens what may have happened to cause a human crisis that opened the opportunity for a change in faith towards a male dominance that later cemented itself into the major religions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism

Carrowkeel For You

Overall, I do not think Carrowkeel is a valuable place for history lessons due to the wide conclusions published by archaeologists, anthropologists, geologists, self appointed druid school researchers and even theologians.

Carrowkeel is a valuable place for solace, wonder, inspirations, creation of story and an exhilaration of personal regeneration, restoration, and reconciliation with spirit.

This wonder is amplified when the setting sun lights up two of the cairns on for 5 evenings, usually from June 19th until 23rd.

Perhaps the 21st is not the date for solace as the place is packed for people, but these people are wonderful to join with for celebration of this observance.

We hope we can take you there or meet you there :-)

This feature is connected to our “Afternoons At Carrowcrory” that can also include a morning of visiting one or two of our local very ancient sacred sites, at least 25 very dynamic megalithic (earth faith and druid ritual) and culdee (early Christian) sites within 10 miles radius along with many more lesser known for the passionate enthusiast.

Our afternoons include use of our Two Worlds Labyrinth Garden, Ogham alphabet and treelore introductions, dream crafting and a harps and bards ceili and among all this a break for scones or brack and beverage and a chat.

We recommend you stay here in local accommodation for 2 nights that suits all budgets and diet preferences

No car? Be eco and use the train. We arrange to meet and wave goodbye to visitors on 1:30 pm and 5:30 pm trains at Boyle Station.

Please find our what we serve from here

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  1. My good friend Carmel Teirnan,is from Sligo.she now lives in Jacksonville Florida.and owns the Flys Tie irish pub.I,ll mail her your slides im sure would love em.


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