William Wakeman's 1879 watercolour of two circles to the south of Carrowmore, possibly sites 36 and 37. The notched hills to the south east are the summits of Sliabh Da Ean, where four neolithic cairns cap the summits. Image copyright Sligo County Library.
The monuments at Carrowmore appear to have survived pretty much intact until the early 19th century. Although the site appears somewhat out of the way by todays standards, earliest access was from the sea, as the monuments were built by a seafaring people. It was more like the centre of a crossroads in the past, when people used the strand-passes over the beaches around the peninsula as a shortcut when traveling around the coast. There are references in the Annals to armies from Donegal camping near Carrowmore to avoid the garrisons in Sligo during the middle ages.
The first recorded mention of Carrowmore is found in Reverand Henry's history of Sligo, where he mentions the circles and speculates that they are the graves of warriors killed in the Battle of Moytura. This was published in 1739.
Carrowmore was mapped by the Dutch antiquarian artist Gabriel Beranger, who was comissioned to illustrate monuments in Connaught, and who visited the site in 1779. Beranger and his companion, the French artist Bigari were guests of Col Cooper of Markree Castle, and they visited and drew many monuments in the Sligo area including Tawnatruffan, Heapstown and Inishmurray. An excellent book on their tour was published by Peter Harbison in the 1990's.
Queen Maeve's Cairn by Gabriel Beranger, 1779.
Local landlord Rodger Walker was the first known person to dig into the sites at Carrowmore. Walker, who was one of Sligo's leading Freemasons, kept poor records of his activities, and it has been said that his excavations were more in the line of treasure hunting. When he died at the age of 48, he had been planning to 'ransack' Queen Maeve's Cairn. His poorly catalogued collection of finds was sold off to private collectors in England after his death, and some still remain abroad.
George Peitrie is the main name associated with Carrowmore. Peitrie is considered the founding father of Irish archaeology, and he did great work during his time with the Ordinance Survey, where among other things, he collected lots of music. He came to Sligo in the 1830's and stayed with his friend, 'the notorious' R. C. Walker.
Peitrie arrived just as the Carrowmore circles were being destroyed. Though he was in poor health while he was in Sligo, he made the first systematic record of the Carrowmore sites, and produced drawings of some of the monuments. He devised the numbering system which is still in use today, and he interviewed local people and landowners to record those sites which were destroyed before he got here. His comments were published by Borlase in his 1895 book, The Dolmens of Ireland, and are reproduced here on the individual site pages.
Col. Richard Wood Martin, a landlord from Woodville House close to Carrowmore was fascinated by the circles, and was the next major researcher to investigate the site. He excavated several of the monuments, and made finds which were missed by Walker and Petrie. He published his findings in his book, Rude Stone Monuments.
The artist William Wakeman was commissoned to visit Sligo and record monuments in the late 1870's. He produced two sketchbooks, one of the monuments on Inishmurray Island, and one of sites throughout the county. Several of his beautiful watercolours are reproduced on this site.
The site has more recently been excavated by archeologists from Sweden who have made a number of interesting discoveries. No major research had taken place since Wood-Martin's time; Prof M. J. O'Kelly of Newgrange fame had a group of Swedish archaeologists down in Sligo on a tour, and he suggested it might be a good site for them to investigate, since there are similar monuments in Sweden.
Beranger's 1779 map of Carrowmore.
Dr. Goran Burenhult and his team came to Sligo and undertook intensive research and excavation, and brought Carrowmore into the modern archaeological era. During the first season four sites (Sites 4, 7, 26 and 27) were excavated and a range of very contraversial early dates were produced. A second season concentrated on the central monument, the cairn of Listoghil (Site 51), which has since been reconstructed by the O.P.W. In 2001 a conference called Stones and Bones, dedicated to Carrowmore was held in Sligo.
Dr. Goran Burenhult, the chief excavator of Carrowmore, at Listoghil, the central monument during the Stones and Bones conference in 2001. The site was undergoing 'restoration' at the time.