The north ridges and shelves of Carrowkeel mountain in County Sligo. Left, the largest monument, Cairn F and the long Cairn E. Right, Cairns G, H, K and L and the large swallow hole, Poulnagcolum. Photo: Sam Moore.


 
 
Cairn A
Cairn B
Cairns C & D
Cairn F
Cairn G
Cairn H
Cairn K
Cairn L
Cairns M & N
Cairns O & P
Doonaveeragh
Treanmacmurtagh
Sheecor
Lough na Leibe
Treanmor
Cairnanweeleen
The Caves of Kesh
Kesh Corran
Kesh Mythology
Kesh Cairn
Sections of Cairn F
More sections from F
Section of Cairn G
Astronomy at Cairn G
More astronomy
Sections & plans
Panorama from Carrowkeel


Take a virtual tour of five of the cairns on the excellent Voices from the Dawn
Carrowkeel page.


 

Carrowkeel megalithic complex

Carrowkeel was one of the least known of Ireland's ancient sites until recent years. It is the most spectacularly situated of all the great megalithic complexes. The neolithic monuments are spread across the highest summits and ledges on the north ends of the Bricklieve Mountains in south County Sligo. Carrowkeel is situated on the west side of Lough Arrow, overlooking the modern village of Castlebaldwin. It is easy to find, well signposted from the main Dublin/Sligo (N4) road below.

This whole area, a good chunk of County Sligo was one of the most important centres of neolithic Ireland. Carrowmore and Carrowkeel are joined by the Uinshin river which flows from Lough Arrow to Ballisodare Bay, the main road through the thickly wooded region. It is a landscape rich with physical remains of the ancient past, and mythical echoes that can still be perceived in the majesty of the locations and views from the top of the mountains across the plains of Sligo.

The main group of cairns at Carrowkeel. Cairn G with it's roofbox is to the foreground.

The name Bricklieve (Breac Sliabh) translates as Speckled Mountain; Speckled can mean many things in old Irish including portal and magical, and there are two other powerful Speckled sites in Sligo: Tobernaveen near Carrowmore and the Cursing Stones on Inishmurray. The Bricklieves are a series of parallel carboniferous limestone plateaus running in a north-west/south-east direction. This amazing topography was sculpted by the retreating galciers of the last ice age as they receeded to the north-west wards towards Knocknarea and the sea. Seen in aerial photographs and on maps, the shape of the mountains is not unlike a gigantic right hand, palm down, with four plateaus for fingers and cliff-edged valleys in between. Tully Mountain over to the west forms a 'thumb', then Treanscrabbagh, Carn Mor, Carrowkeel and Doonaveeragh ridges make up the fingers.

Macalister's 1911 map of Carrowkeel.

The Carrowkeel cairns are built in commanding positions at altitudes between 240 and 360 meters on north-facing bog-covered terraces. You are reccomended not to drive past the first carpark as further on there are potholes bigger than a car. Twenty one neolithic cairns stretch from Doonaveragh Mountain alongside Lough Arrow in the east, to the cairn known as The Pinnacle atop Kesh Corann in the west. The cairns are built with locally quarried limestone are visible from many miles around as small bumps on the ridges of the Bricklieves, particularly from the other mounds and monuments around the county.

The summit of Carrowkeel, Co Sligo. The view is towards Knocknarea in the northwest, 20 km away with the massive Queen Maeve's Cairn, on it's summit. In the foreground are cairns H and G at Carrowkeel. To the left is a small broken dolmen, a very interesting little monument. The green patch is some kind of ancient mound.


Carrowkeel
Cairn A
Cairns C & D
Cairn F
Cairn G
Cairn H
Cairn K
Cairn L
Cairns M & N
Cairns O & P
Doonaveeragh
Treanmacmurtagh
Sheecor
Lough na Leibe
Treanmor
Cairnanweeleen
The Caves of Kesh
Kesh Corran
Kesh Mythology
Kesh Cairn
Sections of Cairn F
More sections from F
Section of Cairn G
Astronomy at Cairn G
More astronomy
Sections & plans
Panorama from Carrowkeel
 

Neolithic landscape

Over to the west, the landscape is equally spectacular with grass covered cairn-topped hills, steep valleys and Kesh Corann looming like a great crouched beast in the distance. A local myth tells that Kesh was formed from the body of a gaint sow, and that the smaller hills, Treanmor, Sheecor, Treanmacmurtagh on the east side are her piglets. The Bricklieve mountains have many kinds of monuments and settlements scattered about. There are several caves around Carrowkeel and many more in the sides of Kesh Corran.

Millions of years ago all of this land was ocean floor and tiny fossil creatures and corals can be seen in the rocks. Over most of the Bricklieves a thick layer of bog, up to 3 meters deep in places, has crept up to cover the limestone and gives the mountains a wild and rugged appearance. The peat began to form about 1,500 BC, many years after the cairns were built, when the climate cooled and became damp. At the time Carrowkeel was in use, the naked limestone, now so similar to the Burren in Co. Clare, was covered with grass and stood out from the forests. It is hard for us today to imagine how different the landscape was 6,000 years ago.

The Bricklieve Mountains and Lough Arrow, seen in an aerial shot from 60,000 feet.

The monuments were used throughout all time periods - from the bronze age, when pottery was placed in some of the chambers - to the late medieval period, when Red Hugh O'Donnell used Doonaveeragh plateau as a camp for his army during the Nine Years War (1592 - 1601). There are many old empty cottages around Carrowkeel, some of which were inhabited until the 1960's. There is a fine example of a mountain cottage below Carrowkeel and across from Doonaveeragh, where good examples of potato 'lazy beds' can still be seen.

The view from Carrowkeel to the west. Croagh Patrick is visible 75 km away on the horizon, a sure sign of good weather in the Bricklieves if you can see it. At the Halloween and Imbolc quarter days the sun drops behind the Reek when viewed from the summit of Carrowkeel. A stone within the chamber of Cairn K marks the alignment..