Cairn E at Carrowkeel
Cairn E is an unusual structure, unique among the other monuments at Carrowkeel. It is a composite or hybrid of a court and passage monument, measuring 35 metres long and 10 metres wide. This cairn is quite striking in shape and volume, and adds greatly to the mystery of Carrowkeel by its presence. There is a structure of similar shape and dimensions at Moytura in Highwood across Lough Arrow, but with no remaining cairn stones.
Cairn E is located above the Bricklieve Gap at 310 metres above sea level, some 300 metres north of Cairn F. The easiest approach to the cairn is from the mountain road where it is joined by the green strip, useful for parking, that leads north to Cairns C and D. Head south up the hill following some of the ever-shifting sheep trails. A stone or two from near the front of the monument can be seen from the road. Its about 200 meters up the hill to Cairn E.
The northern end of the cairn houses a roofless passage with a cruciform chamber which, like Cairns B, G and K, is aligned to Queen Maeve's Cairn atop Knocknarea 25 km away. Sitting in the back of the chamber the remaining stones of the entrance perfectly frame the mountain with its huge cairn. Neolithic communication: perhaps it is a view such as this that is encoded in some of the megalithic art in the Boyne Valley and Loughcrew. A few of the large flags of limestone from the chamber are still in place and the two small side chambers still have their roofing slabs. All other roofing slabs are missing. The short passage is divided by sill stones, as usual with these monuments.
There is a large split block of sandstone a few metres from the entrance, which was surely a part of the monument. Perhaps it was broken at the same time as the standing stone in nearby Cairn F, which may have been vandalised during the neolithic Battle of Moytura? A kerb of massive limestone flags, laid end to end is visible in places peeping out from under the cairn stones. The body of the cairn is surrounded by a thick growth of heather.
The cairn is composed of splintered limestone chunks, and the 1911 excavation found a small secondary cist in the body of the cairn, possibly dating to the Bronze age. Many court cairns have secondary cists added later then the main monument, though in truth most Irish monuments were probably put up in stages and expanded over time. The cruciform chamber probably existed in some form before the cairn was added.
While the passage and chamber are oriented to Knocknarea at 337°, quite close the axis of the midwinter lunar standstill setting azimuth, the long body of the cairn is aligned on a different axis: 329.5°. The mound laid out on the summer solstice sunset/winter solstice sunrise axis. Once every 18.6 years at the spring or autumn equinox, the quarter moon will set behind Croghaun, and moonlight may illuminate the left side of the cross-shaped chamber. Also, standing at the entrance and looking south-west along the axis of the cairn, the winter solstice sun rises over the body of the cairn. The north (Knocknarea) end looks to have had a court shaped structure outside the entrance. There is a large flat slab to the left of the entrance and a fallen stone of equil size near the entrance may be a roof slab. Full moons near midwinter set over Doomore cairn and would have been able to shine into the court.
The south end of Cairn E houses the court structure, a kind of courtyard which faces the midwinter sunrise direction, is built of massive flags of limestone up to 4 metres long. There is a hollow behind the longest kerbstone where the 1911 crew threw out stones looking for a chamber. A small cist, large enough for a person to crouch in, was opened behind the court to the left.
The growth of bog over the entrance suggests that this structure fell into disrepair long ago, and the north side, specifically the large sandstone boulder split in half, visible in the picture above, and the dismantling of the roof, look like ancient damage. The pillar stone within the chamber of Cairn F close by was broken during the neolithic and while the roof was still standing.
Were these the results of some tribal struggles in the neolithic? The Battle of Moytura across the lake. is the tale of such an event. A similar act of vandelism took place in the 1940's when the Stirring Rock, a rocking stone one kilometer south of E and F was tipped from its pedestal at the behest of the Catholic church. For me, Cairn E is one of the most interesting and mysterious structures in Carrowkeel. It would be well worth excavating and restoring this wonderful building, which has always reminded me of a fuse on a circuit board.
The court is full of stones pitched out by the excavators in 1911 when they looked for a second passage. Cairn B, where neolithic art was discovered last year, can be seen to the left and Kesh Corran with its Pinnicle looms in the distance.