Equinox sun rise at Loughcrew.
Equinox sun rising over the Loughcrew neolithic complex in County Meath, 22nd September 2011.

—o0O The Sacred Island O0o—

The ancient sites, history and music of Ireland.

This website began as a small guidebook to the mysterious neolithic chambered monuments at Carrowkeel in County Sligo; the guide book was never completed, but the website has expanded to cover various aspects of Irish archaeology, history and culture.

The Song of the Chanter, an ancient Irish march.

I spent many years living at Carrowkeel in South Sligo, close to the shores of Lough Arrow, a beautiful landscape full of Irish megalithic activity, mythology, and superb traditional Irish music. The great megalithic sites of South Sligo are Carrowkeel, Kesh Corran, Heapstown and Moytura. Carrowkeel is a great megalithic complex high on the summits of the Bricklieve Mountains. Several of the megalithic chambers are illuminated by the light of the sun and moon.

Sunrise at Listoghil in Carrowmore.
Samhain sunrise at Listoghil, the central monument at Carrowmore in County Sligo.

Of all European lands I venture to say that Ireland is the most mystical, and, in the eyes of true Irishmen, as much the Magic Island of Gods and Initiates now as it was when the Sacred Fires flashed from its purple, heather-covered mountain-tops and mysterious round towers, and the Greater Mysteries drew to its hallowed shrines neophytes from the West as well as from the East, from India and Egypt as well as from Atlantis; and Erin's mystic-seeing sons still watch and wait for the relighting of the Fires and the restoration of the old Druidic Mysteries.

Herein I but imperfectly echo the mystic message Ireland's seers gave me, a pilgrim to their Sacred Isle. And until this mystic message is interpreted, men cannot discover the secret of Gaelic myth and song in olden or in modern times, they cannot drink at the ever-flowing fountain of Gaelic genius, the perennial source of inspiration which lies behind the new revival of literature and art in Ireland, nor understand the seeming reality of the fairy races.

W. Y Evans Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, 1911.

Carrowmore, close to Sligo Town, is the largest and oldest megalithic complex in Ireland. There were once sixty stone circles with central dolmen chambers, but many have been destroyed by land clearance and quarrying. These are some of the oldest monuments in Ireland. The central chamber is oriented towards the sunrises in early November and Feburary.

Sunset over Knocknarea and Queen Maeve's Cairn, County Sligo, one week after the equinox.

There are many unexplored neolithic sites and alignments in County Sligo. I now live in Cliffoney village, close to Creevykeel, the huge neolithic court cairn looking over the Head of Mullaghmore on the North Sligo Wild Atlantic Way. Creevykeel, one of the largest, best preserved and most accessible neolithic court cairns in the West of Ireland, is but one of many megaliths in the area.

Creevykeel, the massive court cairn close to Cliffoney Village in North Sligo.

There are many other important and well preserved megalithic sites in Ireland. One of the most awe inspiring complexes is found at Loughcrew to the west of County Meath. Here similar sites and myths are found to those in County Sligo, but with the addition of megalithic art, the oldest form of writing in Ireland.

Loughcrew; ancient symbols are engraved on the inner keystone.

It was the discovery of megalithic art through the writings of Martin Brennan that drew my attention to the Irish neolithic culture. Art, mythology and astronomy are features of the great Irish neolithic mounds. There are two major alignments at Loughcrew, both discovered by Martin Brennan and Jack Roberts. In both cases a key panel of rock is engraved with complex symbols, is illuminated by a beam of sunlight on significant mornings.

Loughcrew; ancient symbols and measurements are engraved on the inner keystone.

These amazing alignments occur on two mornings in the year.

Cairn L at Loughcrew by W. A. Green.
Cairn L at Loughcrew by W. A. Green.

Special attention is given to the monuments of County Sligo where I live, especially the great sites of Knocknarea, Carrowmore, Carrowkeel, Moytura and Kesh Corran, as well as many lesser known sites around the county.

A sunbeam illuminates the art within the neolithic chamber of Cairn L.
A sunbeam illuminates the art within the neolithic chamber of Cairn L, Loughcrew.


A day spent with Martin is a day that will be remembered.

If you have an appreciation of history and archaeology, beautiful landscapes and music, stories of the old days and the language of stones, then a day spent with Martin Byrne as your guide will surely rank as a high point, and one your most interesting days. We spent a fine day tootling around the countryside, ducking down little lanes and being shown marvelous things we never would have found on our own, and all the while entertained with stories and comments, drawn equally from ancient history or just a few years back. From court cairns to caves, portal tombs to standing stones, Martin was a perfect guide for us - very knowledgeable yet easy going, his deep familiarity with, and obvious care for, the historic sites nicely seasoned with wit.

We were lucky to have found him as our guide, and I would go back in a shot to spend another such day.

Rachel Kane, Vermont, USA

Playing Elizabeth Kelly's Favourite, a slip jig, out on Coney Island, County Sligo. Thanks to Jane Talbot for the clip.

North Sligo has been home to some big personalities over the centuries. In recent years my interests and research have included: St Columbkille, St Molaise, Lord Palmerston, Father Michael O'Flanagan, Countess Markievtz, William Butler Yeats, and Lord Mountbatten, all of whom have close connections to the region.

Fr. Michael O'Flanagan

Since 2015 I have been researching the life and times of Fr. Michael O'Flanagan, the radical Catholic priest who led the people of Cliffoney in a social protest over the summer of 1915, remembered today as the Cloonerco Bog Fight. The people of Cliffoney locked the village church for ten weeks in protest when the Bishop removed Fr. O'Flanagan, an event which became known as The Cliffoney Rebellion.

Fr. Michael O'Flanagan in New York in 1921.
Fr. Michael O'Flanagan in New York in 1921.


Lord Palmerston (1784 - 1865) had a long career in government spanning sixty years; from spats with Wellington in during his tenure in the War Office, he moved to the Foreign Office where he was notorious for his 'intermeddling', 'gunboat diplomacy', and rows with Queen Victoria. He ended a long and colourful career twice prime minister and was one of the most popular politicians of the Victorian era.

His response to the Great Hunger was completely inadequate, and many of the tenants he assisted to emigrate to Canada arrived in dreadful conditions. His prosecution of both the so-called Opium Wars against China were disgraceful episodes of Liberal Colonial barbarity. It is alleged that he was one of Europes highest Freemasons who initiated the wave of revolutions in 1848; that he was a Russian agent; and indeed that he was known to some leading assasins of the day.

Playing an early Irish jig, Leslie's March, dating to 1793, in the musician's balcony in the top chamber of Aughanure Castle, Oughterard, County Galway. Clip courtesy of Ed Kyle.

Places I know well, such as Loughcrew and the Boyne Valley mounds of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth are covered in greater detail; early research on sunbeams illuminating ancient art is presented on the Loughcrew pages.

Midsummer sunbeam, Cairn G, Carrowkeel, County Sligo.


Our traditional Irish music group meets up on the last Saturday of every month, in the Ballroom of O'Donnell's Bar in Cliffoney. The Session begins at 9.30 pm. In these Covid times music nights have been suspended. However, you can find plenty of music and tunes on Meg's Youtube channel.

The Carndonagh cross by W. A. Green.
The east face of the Carndonagh cross by W. A. Green.
Centenary tricolor, Easter Monday 2016
Centenary tricolor, Easter Monday 2016, Benbulben, County Sligo.