Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Listoghil and Queen Maeve's cairn on Knocknarea.
The view from Listoghil, the central monument at Carrowmore, looking up to the great cairn on Knocknarea.

Listoghil—Carrowmore 51

This is the most important monument of the entire series, and evidently, both from its magnitude and central situation, marks the sepulchre of the most distinguished person entombed in this great cemetery.

George Petrie

The largest monument at Carrowmore with a diameter of thirty-four meters, is known as Listoghil and has a long and interesting history. Listoghil is the central or focal structure of Carrowmore—the other monuments are arranged around it in a huge oval pattern like a huge wheel, and many of the smaller chambers are directed towards it. It would appear that the Carrowmore monuments and the wider Cuil Iorra megalithic region constitute a formally designed neolithic landscape.

Listoghil was excavated between 1996 and 1998, and afterwards somewhat controversially restored by the Office of Public Works.

The view from the central monument at Carrowmore looking up to the great cairn on Knocknaea by William Wakeman about 1880.
The view from Listoghil at Carrowmore to the great cairn on Knocknaea; image by William Wakeman from about 1880.

Listoghil differs from the other monuments in several respects. It has a long sequence of use and development, beginning with the massive platform or tertre, which is surely the oldest feature at Carrowmore. The stone circle, the largest within the site, and the large burial chamber would seem to be several hundred years younger than the platform. The chamber is the only monument at Carrowmore roofed with a limestone slab, the only monument bearing megalithic art, and the only chamber where the people who were buried there were not cremated.

The Platform

The oldest constructed monument at Carrowmore is the platform or tertre at Listoghil. This feature was not obvious before the monument was excavated between 1996 and 1998. The platform seems to be composed of clay and rocks. It is 50 meters in diameter and 0.3 to 0.5 meters high. Burenhult found charcoal on the surface of the platform under a large boulder on the south side of the circle, and this sample yielded dates of about 4,100 BC, giving a possible construction date for the tertre.

Aerial view of the massive platform under Listoghil.
Aerial view of the massive platform under Listoghil. Source: Pintrest.

The platform seems to be much older than the chamber and circle, and it seems likely that it was the focus of events and rituals which we will never know about. Burenhult recorded that a thick layer of sterile yellow soil was found under the chamber, and that there was an extensive area where fires had been lit in the middle of the platform, though these do not seem to have been used for cremation.

Early reports from both George Petrie and Charles Elcock mention an exterior stone circle around the outer edge of the platform. Petrie noticed five or six stones of this outer ring. However, today only one such stone can be seen on the west side of the monument. A large white gneiss boulder built into the field-wall beside Listoghil may be another stone from this outer circle. An outer circle would be fitting for the most important of the monuments at Carrowmore, and the stones may have served an astronomical function, marking out important rising positions of the sun and moon.

The Stone Circle

The circle at Listoghil is the largest found at Carrowmore with a diameter of 34 meters. There are 101 stones in the circle, almost all glacial gneiss boulders, and most are recumbent, which means they were found lying flat on the ground. The exceptions are four chunks of limestone, one of which is standing in a socket to the south of the circle. The largest boulder in the circle is found on the side facing Knocknarea, and seems to be an intentional marker pointing towards the mountain. This large boulder was one of the few stones visible prior to the Swedish excavations.

The kerbstone known as the 'footprint stone' marks the entrance to Listoghil.
The kerbstone known as the 'footprint stone' marks the entrance to Listoghil.

The large kerbstone facing the central chamber has been dubbed the 'footprint stone' because of the intrusion, a formation in the surface of the stone, which is shaped like a footprint. This stone was probably chosen to mark the entrance to the circle in the neolithic. It is speculated that in later times the stone played a part in inauguration and kingship rituals.

There were also a number of inner stone circles found at Listoghil, possibly as many as three. These features are commonly found in Irish passage graves. A number of the Carrowmore circles have them, and numerous examples are known from Knowth and quite a complex example was found at Townleyhall all in the Boyne valley. It would seem that these inner circles reflect divisions of time and space within the monuments, which seem to be designed as simulations or representations of the world of the dead.

The circle and chamber at Listoghil during excavations in 1998.
The circle and chamber at Listoghil during excavations in 1998, showing some of the inner circles.

The Chamber

The chamber at Listoghil is the largest of the series at Carrowmore. It seems that the circle and chamber were constructed at about the same time—around 3,600 BC, and that the chamber was free-standing within its circle like the smaller monuments. It seems likely that the chamber had some kind of small cairn to support and stabilize the structure.

The chamber is formed of seven stones: six to create the burial space and a huge slab of limestone to cover the entire structure. Three of the chamber stones are gneiss glacial erratics, the remaining three are of limestone. When the chamber was excavated in 1997, it was found that the chamber stones were sitting on the surface of the platform, not in sockets as might be expected. The only stone deeply buried is the large slab of limestone which forms the back-stone of the chamber. It is hard to imagine that the monument could have stood freely without a supporting cairn, and indeed packing stones were found around the chamber during excavations.

The chamber at Listoghil..
The chamber at Listoghil.

The large slab of limestone covering the chamber is believed to have been quarried in the Glen of Knocknarea some three kilometers west of Carrowmore. The fossils in the capstone match those found in the limestone at the Glen. This great rock measures three x three meters and is 30 to 40 cm thick. It weighs an estimated ten tonnes and would have been transported to Carrowmore using log rollers and ropes.

The slab is carefully positioned and is elevated six degrees above horizontal. To achieve this sloped roof, small chock stones or spalls of sandstone were inserted. These blocks of sandstone are thought to have been quarried in Scardan to the north of Carrowmore. Similar use of sandstone supports at load-bearing points are found in Cairn F at Carrowkeel.

Evidence of a possible passage leading to the chamber was discovered in 1997—three large boulders were found at the entrance to the chamber. Burenhult interpreted them as the remains of another megalithic structure, but it seems much more likely that they are the remnants of a funnel-shaped passage. No sockets were found during the excavation.

The original spalls (small stones) can
        be seen between the orthostats and the roof-slab.
The original spalls (small stones) can be seen between the orthostats and the roof-slab.

Burials in Listoghil

The monuments in Carrowmore have a poor record of surviving human remains, mainly because of the treasure-hunting activities of Roger Walker, the local landlord who cleared out many of the chambers between 1830 and 1850. We know from records that Walker cleared out the chamber of Listoghil some time in 1840. As usual, having no interest in human remains, he threw them out of the chamber and they were discovered by both Wood-Martin and Burenhult scattered around the front of the chamber.

It seems that a minimum of seven individuals were buried within the chamber, which had a flagged stone floor. In all the other monuments at Carrowmore, the burials consisted of cremated bone, and it is estimated that 40 to 50 people may have been interred in each chamber. The people who were buried in the chamber of Listoghil received different treatment: their skeletons were disarticulated, or dismantled into component parts, and a sharp implement, possibly a flint or chert knife was used to deflesh the bones.

The chamber is dated to about 3,550 BC, the date coming from the skull of an elderly man buried within the chamber: he was about 54 years of age, extremely old for a neolithic farmer. Another of the individuals within the chamber was a 23 year old man. There were two children aged approximately nine and seven years old. The remains of the other three bodies were too fragmentary to reconstruct either their age or sex.

Megalithic art from the capstone of Listoghil may be a representation of the sun rising over the Ballygawley mountains, an event which occurs twice every year
Megalithic art from the capstone of Listoghil may be a representation of the sun rising over the Ballygawley mountains, an event which occurs twice every year.

The Swedish archaeologists who excavated Listoghil kept the human remains for further research and analysis. In early 2019 an article was published: they had undertaken an aDNA (ancient DNA) study of the human remains. The results concluded that it was mainly male leaders who were buried in the important or focal monuments, and also hinted at family relationships between different monuments. One of the more interesting observations made was that some of the offspring of the twenty-three year old man in Listoghil were interred in the court cairn at Primrose Grange about two kilometers west of Carrowmore and close to the Glen, where the roof-slab was quarried.

American researcher Martin Brennan and the massive 10 tonne capstone, covered with a sprinkle of snow in 2009.
American researcher Martin Brennan and the massive ten tonne capstone, covered with a sprinkle of snow in 2009.

Megalithic art at Listoghil

In 1993, local artist Patricia Mulligan was giving a lecture on Carrowmore which included some infra-red images of the monuments. Michael Roberts, who was in the audience, noticed carvings on the edge of the roof-slab of Listoghil. The design is a set of three arcs and a circle above the entry. Interestingly enough, several antiquarians had claimed to have noticed engravings in this structure in the past—Charles Elcock in 1883 and Breuil in 1921 reported to have discovered lozenges and concentric circles within the chamber. The designs are very faint and are generally only really visible at noon in June and July when the rays of the sun highlight the carvings.

The Listoghil carving was one of the first pieces of megalithic art discovered west of the River Shannon. Two more examples have since been discovered, on at Heapstown cairn by Lough Arrow, the other within the chamber of Cairn B at Carrowkeel. It seems likely that the Listoghil carvings represent the peaks of the Ballygawley mountains, where a number of neolithic monuments crown the summits.

Sunrise at Samhain illuminates the chamber of Listoghil.
Megalithic art highlighted on the capstone of Listoghil.

Finds from Listoghil

A number of artifacts were discovered during the excavations at Listoghil. As mentioned above, the chamber was cleared out around 1840 by Roger Walker, an amateur archaeologist and avid treasure hunter. He found a fine flint spear-head or javelin point which had a broken tip. Shortly before his death in 1854, Walker sold his entire collection of artifacts to the Duke of Northumberland, and the Carrowmore javelin was among the items sold.

The flint javelin found in the chamber of Listoghil.
The flint javelin found in the chamber of Listoghil.

The Duke of Northumberland sold many of the artifacts back to the Royal Irish Academy, but the fine javelin-head was among the items he retained and it is still part of the private collection housed in Alnwick castle in Northumberland.

The landscape to the north viewed from the main monument at Carrowmore.
The landscape to the north viewed from Listoghil, the main monument at Carrowmore.