Looking out along the passage of Cairn T with the ugly modern gate airbrushed out.
From the carpark a short steep walk (marked with poles) brings you to the summit, which appears suddenly. The large imposing mound of Cairn T caps the top of the hill. From the cairn, which is the highest peak at Loughcrew, there is a magnificant view which extends over 18 counties - one of the best views in Ireland. Cairn T is more or less complete, missing only the capstone of its chamber - replaced by a small grill - and its mantle of quartz which was much commented upon by early visitors. A circle of 38 kerbstones bounds the mound of stones. One stone was often split in half to make two kerbs.
The Hag's Chair, the decorated kerbstone on the north side of the cairn.
There is a huge horned kerbstone on the north side of the cairn. This is known as the Hag's Chair, where the Cailleach Garavogue used to sit and watch the stars - the stone faces the pole star and is positioned north of the chamber. Local lore says a great dish carved from a huge piece of quartz and filled with cremated bone is buiried near here. A cross carved on the seat may be from the Penal times when open-air masses were held here.
The remains of six smaller cairns surround Cairn T. Sites R1, R2 and W are much disturbed and little remains of them. A large, wide vessel was discovered in Cairn W which is oriented to the south. Cairn U, missing its top half, is oriented to the Samhain/Imbolc sunrise like Cairn L. The chamber and passige stones survive but no roof remains. All the remaining chamber stones are engraved. Cairn S has passage, chamber and kerbstones but the cairn stones are gone. There are several truely massive fieldwalls in the Loughcrew Mountains which accounts for a lot of the missing stone.
Decorated stone on the east side of the north recess of Cairn T.
Cairn T is closed by a gate, and a key can be collected for a €50 deposit and or a driving liscence/passport from the tea house at Loughcrew Gardens on the south side of the hill. Upon entry to the mound, the visitor is immediately confronted by engraved stones on both sides of the passage (above left). One of the wonders of Loughcrew is the abundance of ancient carvings - among the first writing in this country. As you proceed you cross a sill stone - an upright projection which seperates the passage from the chamber.
Decorated stone in the passage of Cairn T.
Within this ancient corbelled room you are presented with the classic cruciform chamber of an Irish Passage Cairn. This is among the oldest free-standing buildings in the world and may date from as early as 3,500 BC. There are many small engravings on the chamber stones, in particular the west sill. Three small cells, seperated from the central space by sillstones open off the main chamber, to the south, west and north. The backstone of the west recess is richly carved with symbols which resemble combs and flowers. This is the Sliabh na Caillí Equinox Stone.
Two illustrations of engraved stones within the chamber of Cairn T, from Eugene Conwell's 1870 report on Loughcrew.