“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 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.”
– Robert Lloyd Praeger(one of the three men to first reopen the tombs)
Carrowkeel predates the pyramids and if that isn’t enough reason to go visit these beautiful passage tombs then I will try give you several more now. The Carrowkeel complex is spread out over quite an expansive area and contains 14 passage tombs and cairns. Sadly on the day of my visit I simply didn’t have time to go and see all the ruins in the area due to weather conditions and very little knowledge of the site before my visit. I knew it was built around 3200-2400BC and that the possible remains of a neolithic village was found nearby. The passage tombs are relatively untouched in many ways though the first excavations carried out in 1911 caused quite a substantial amount of damage.
Carrowkeel is located in the Bricklieve Mountains in County Sligo. Its one of the largest tomb complexes in Ireland along with Brú na Bóinne, Lough Crew and Carrowmore. The day of my visit was overcast and blustery, and as I began my ascent up the mountain it helped to add to the atmosphere. There wasn’t a single other soul there and my mind began playing a couple of tricks on me and I experienced some pretty strange sensations. It seemed fitting that the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain was just days away when I visited three of the cairns at the end of October 2012. As I trudged through the boggy earth up towards the first cairn I got images of how haunting and peaceful this place must have seemed to our ancestors as they brought their loved to be buried in these tombs.
As I reached the first cairn the wind kept on rising in ferocity, the rain too got colder and heavier. I had already experienced the strange sensation of someone following me as I walked up the stretch from where I had parked, my mind had begun to drift off to a couple of things in my own life that I wanted to leave behind on that mountain. There had been one or two thoughts and memories plaguing my mind in the weeks leading up to my visit and it felt like they came to some sort of conclusion on the side of that mountain. I entered the first cairn and sat down staring out across the mountain through the lightbox that is aligned for the summer solstice. The wind created a hum as it circled the mound and I sat there for fifteen minutes giving myself a brief respite from the cutting rain. As I left the mound I circled around it and headed up to the next cairn, I wasn’t able to enter this cairn but circled around it before heading to the last tomb I was to visit that day.
The wind continued and so did the rain, making me lose my breath at times, as I circled the last tomb it seemed to me the wind just dropped and the rain stopped almost instantaneously I stood there for half an hour drying off with a strange sensation of lightness in my head. As I descended back past the three cairns I recalled the thoughts that had been occupying my mind the preceding few weeks, I felt calmer and they didn’t hit me with the same emotionally intensity as they had before. I passed by each cairn and felt lighter and brighter, as I rounded the last one the rain began to fall again and increased as I walked back towards where I had parked. By the time I got to the car I was entirely soaked.
I know my experience that day may sound like a load of superstition and foolishness, but to each their own and I feel my visit to this place of such spiritual significance paid my mind dividends. I highly recommend a trip to Carrowkeel but just some words of warning, due to the unexcavated nature of alot of the surrounding area be careful with your footing as the undergrowth is laden with rocks and deep boggy holes. Secondly I would really suggest not walking on top of these tombs, they are small and incredibly fragile and any scaling of them would cause damage. I hope to head back to Carrowkeel later this year.
GPS: 54.05412, -8.37626