Equinox sunset over Queen Maeve's cairn on Knocknarea in County Sligo.
Knocknarea from Circle 7
A super photograph of a group at the Kissing Stone, the most complete monument remaining at Carrowmore. Photo © Edward Lynch.

Art, Astronomy and Archaeology in Ancient Ireland

This website began as a small guidebook about the mysterious neolithic chambered passage graves at Carrowkeel in County Sligo. While the guide book has yet to be completed, the website has expanded beyond Carrowkeel to embrace various aspects of Irish archaeology, megalithic art and mythology, religion, history and music—in essence the culture of Ireland—which is one long, fascinating and interwoven story spanning thousands of years.

A slideshow of Irish sites and monuments.

I began my research into Irish megaliths at Loughcrew, inspired by the writings of American researcher Martin Brennan, author of The Stars and the Stones. Following that, I spent many years living at Carrowkeel in South Sligo, close to the shores of Lough Arrow, a beautiful landscape full of neolithic remains, mythology, folklore and superb traditional Irish music. The poet William Butler Yeats, said to be buried at Drumcliffe, referred to Sligo as The Land of Hearts Desire.

Sunrise at Cairn T, Loughcrew, County Meath.
Sunrise at Cairn T, Loughcrew, County Meath.

The great megalithic sites of South Sligo are Carrowkeel, Kesh Corran, Heapstown cairn and Moytura. Carrowkeel is a spectacular megalithic complex high on the northern plateaus of the Bricklieve Mountains. Several of the chambers at Carrowkeel are illuminated on occasion by the light of the sun and moon. Sadly, the monuments at Carrowkeel are suffering from erosion due to mass tourism and graffiti.

Moytura 

Moytura, the low ridge on the east shore of Lough Arrow, has a wonderful collection of myths and legends. The tale of the Second Battle of Moytura, a story that has inspired the plots of both The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. is traditionally set here. In an interesting article from 1928, Henry Morris suggests that both the First and Fecond battles of Moytura  took place in County Sligo, the first event being transplanted through a scribal error.

There are many more monuments on the summits of the surrounding hills, with neolithic cairns on Knocknashee, Muckelty Hill, Doomore, Croughan and the Ballygawly Mountains.

Bunduff Lake neac Cliffoney at sunset.
Bunduff Lake near Cliffoney at sunset.

County Sligo

County Sligo is one of the most beautiful areas of Ireland, with rugged mountains, beautiful lakes, and fabulous coastlines. It has also proven to be one of the earliest landfalls of neolithic settlers, with dates from more than 6,000 years ago from along the River Garavogue, a river named after a neolithic goddess. The oldest causewayed enclosure in Ireland or England, which dates to 4,150 BC was discovered at Magheraboy during roadworks two decades ago, and many dates with similar horizons have been discovered more recently. The Abbeyquarter passage-tomb in Sligo town may be one of the first such monuments built in Ireland.

Sunset at Creevykeel.
Sunset at Creevykeel, the great megalithic court-cairn near Cliffoney.

Megalithic Monuments

Carrowmore, close to Sligo Town, is the largest and oldest megalithic complex in Ireland. There were possibly as many as forty stone circles with central dolmen chambers on raised platforms or tertres, but many of the monuments have been destroyed by land-clearance and quarrying. These are some of the oldest monuments in Ireland, an early form of passage-grave built by the first farmers to arrive on this island.

For the past number of years I have been working as a seasonal guide at Carrowmore, a site that is currently open for visits between 10.00 am and 5.00 pm, and currently free of charge as there is no admission to the Visitor Centre exhibition or toilets.

The central chamber at Carrowmore, known as Listoghil, has an alignment towards the sunrises in early November and Februrary. The chamber points towards the Ballygawley Mountains, where the sun rises over the magical bottomless lake, Lough Da Gé each Samhain and Imbolc, the effect being that the Cailleach or Earth-goddess named the Garavogue, is giving birth to the solar orb. Any attempt to understand why the first farmers built these monuments will always come back to the Religion of the Stone Age.

Samhain sunrise viewed from within the chamber of Listoghil at Carrowmore.
Samhain sunrise viewed from within the chamber of Listoghil at Carrowmore.

Creevykeel

One of the largest and best preserved court cairns in Ireland, Creevykeel, just north of Cliffoney Village, and also one of the easiest to access, as it is situated beside the N15. Creevykeel was built in several phases, having been extended several times during the neolithic. The monument was completely excavated in 1936 in a dig led by Hugh O'Neill Hencken for the Harvard Archaeological Mission. In 2019 a local Cliffoney resident discovered that the chamber of Creevykeel is directly oriented to the sunrises on the spring and autumn equinoxes.

Another huge but more ruined court-cairn can be visited at Deerpark on a plateau above the north shore of Lough Gill.

Irish Traditional Muisc at Creevykeel, the great megalithic monument near Cliffoney.
Irish Traditional Music at Creevykeel, County Sligo.

Traditional Irish Music

County Sligo is one of the best places in Ireland to hear fine Irish Traditional Music. Since moving here I have taken up fiddle, banjo, and now enjoy playing a fantastic set of uilleann pipes made by Mickey Dunne.

Our music group, the Trad Counsel, played regular sessions every week, and also play at care homes, community centers and the local Cliffoney Country Market. We also hosted a traditional session in O'Donnell's Bar on the last Saturday of each month in memory of the rebel Catholic priest, Fr. Michael O'Flanagan. Fr. O'Flanagan was stationed in Cliffoney in 1915 where he won the hearts and minds of the villagers with his ardent socialism and nationalism.

Fr. Michael O'Flanagan
Fr. Michael O'Flanagan in 1921.
The Kissing Stone, Circle 7, Carrowmore, County Sligo.
The Kissing Stone, Circle 7, Carrowmore, County Sligo.