Equinox sunset over Queen Maeve's cairn on Knocknarea in County Sligo.
The Phantom Stone, dolmen 4, Carrowmore, County Sligo.

The Phantom Stones, dolmen number 4 at Carrowmore, the great megalithic complex in County Sligo.
Photograph by Robert Welch, 1896, © NMNI.

Art, Astronomy and Archaeology in Ancient Ireland

This website began as a small guidebook about the mysterious neolithic chambered passage graves at Carrowkeel in County Sligo. While the guide book has yet to be completed, the website has expanded beyond Carrowkeel to embrace various aspects of Irish archaeology, megalithic art and mythology, religion, history and music—in essence the culture of Ireland—which is one long, fascinating and interwoven story spanning thousands of years.

Parke's Castle viewed from the air.
The fortified manor house at Parke's Castle viewed from the air. The foundations of the original O'Rourke towerhouse, Newtown castle which was discovered in 1971, are visible in the courtyard.

In more recent times I have become very interested in Irish history, especially through researching the Rebel Sinn Féin priest, Father Michael O'Flanagan. For the last few years I worked as a guide at the Carrowmore complex three kilometers west of Sligo Town. Now I am based at the beautiful historical site of Parke's Castle on the shores of Lough Gill in County Leitrim. This restored fortified manor house is built from the stones of the earlier Newtown castle, residence of Sir Brian O'Rourke, the Prince of Breifne, who was drawn, hung and quartered in London by order of Queen Elizabeth in 1591.

Carrowmore and Knocknarea viewed from the air.

I began my research into Irish megaliths at Loughcrew, inspired by the writings of American researcher Martin Brennan, author of The Boyne Valley Vision and The Stars and the Stones. Following that, I spent many years living at Carrowkeel in South Sligo, close to the shores of Lough Arrow, a beautiful landscape filled with neolithic remains, mythology, folklore and an area renowned for superb traditional Irish music. The poet William Butler Yeats, said to be buried at Drumcliffe, referred to Sligo as The Land of Hearts Desire.

Sunrise at Cairn T, Loughcrew, County Meath.
Sunrise at Cairn T, Loughcrew, County Meath.

The great megalithic sites of South Sligo are Carrowkeel, Kesh Corran, Heapstown cairn and Moytura. Carrowkeel is a spectacular megalithic complex high on the northern plateaus of the Bricklieve Mountains. Several of the chambers at Carrowkeel are illuminated on occasion by the light of the sun and moon. Sadly, the monuments at Carrowkeel are suffering from erosion due to careless modern mass tourism and graffiti.

Moytura

Moytura, the low ridge on the east shore of Lough Arrow, has a wonderful collection of myths and legends. The tale of the Second Battle of Moytura, a myth that has inspired the plots of both The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, is traditionally set here. In an interesting article from 1928, Henry Morris suggests that both the First and Second battles of Moytura took place in County Sligo, the first event being transplanted to Cong through a fifteenth century scribal error.

The Coming of Lugh illustrated by Maude Gonne.
The Coming of Lugh by Ella Young; illustration by Maude Gonne.

There are many more monuments on the summits of the surrounding hills, with neolithic cairns on Knocknashee, Muckelty Hill, Doomore, Croughan and the Ballygawly Mountains.

Bunduff Lake neac Cliffoney at sunset.
Cairn L at Loughcrew contains a large chamber with a spectacular alignment towards the sunrises at Samhain and Imbolc. Photograph by William A. Green © NMNI.

County Sligo

County Sligo is one of the most beautiful areas of Ireland, with rugged mountains, beautiful lakes, and fabulous coastlines. It has also proven to be one of the earliest landfalls of neolithic settlers, with dates from more than 6,000 years ago from along the River Garavogue, a river named after the local neolithic goddess.

The oldest causewayed enclosure currently known in either Ireland and England, which dates to 4,150 BC, was discovered at Magheraboy during roadworks two decades ago, and many dates with similar horizons have been discovered in more recent times.

The slightly surreal Abbeyquarter passage-grave, by the banks of the Garavogue near Sligo town may be one of the earliest such monuments to built in Ireland.

Sunset at Creevykeel.
Sunset at Creevykeel, the great megalithic court-cairn near Cliffoney.

Megalithic Monuments

Carrowmore, close to Sligo town, is the largest and oldest megalithic complex in Ireland. There were possibly as many as forty stone circles with central dolmen chambers on raised platforms or tertres, but many of the monuments have been destroyed by land-clearance and quarrying. These are some of the oldest monuments in Ireland, an early form of passage-grave built by some of the very first farmers to arrive on this island.

For the past number of years I have been working as a seasonal guide at the Carrowmore visitor centre.

View a 2020 lockdown lecture I gave on observations at ancient monuments.

The central chamber at Carrowmore, known as Listoghil, has an alignment towards the sunrises in early November and Februrary. The chamber points towards the Ballygawley Mountains, where the sun rises over the magical bottomless lake, Lough Da Gé each Samhain and Imbolc, the effect being that the Cailleach or Earth-goddess named the Garavogue, is giving birth to the solar orb. Any attempt to understand why the first farmers built these monuments will always come back to the Religion of the Stone Age.

Samhain sunrise viewed from within the chamber of Listoghil at Carrowmore.
Samhain sunrise viewed from within the chamber of Listoghil at Carrowmore.

Creevykeel

One of the largest and best preserved court cairns in Ireland, Creevykeel, just north of Cliffoney Village, and also one of the easiest to access, as it is situated beside the N15. Creevykeel was built in several phases, having been extended several times during the neolithic.

The monument was completely excavated in 1936 in a dig directed by Hugh O'Neill Hencken leader of the Harvard Archaeological Mission. In 2019 a local Cliffoney resident discovered that the chamber of Creevykeel is somewhat aligned to the sunrises on the spring and autumn equinoxes.

Another huge but much more ruined court-cairn can be visited at Deerpark on a plateau above the north shore of Lough Gill.

Irish Traditional Muisc at Creevykeel, the great megalithic monument near Cliffoney.
Irish Traditional Music at Creevykeel, County Sligo.

Traditional Irish Music

County Sligo is one of the best places in Ireland to hear fine Irish Traditional Music. Since moving here I have taken up fiddle, banjo, and now enjoy playing a fantastic set of uilleann pipes made by Mickey Dunne.

Planxty Irwin played on the wire-sturng Irish harp, the clarseach.

Our music group, the Trad Counsel, played regular sessions every week, and also play at care homes, community centers and the local Cliffoney Country Market. We also hosted a traditional session in O'Donnell's Bar on the last Saturday of each month in memory of the rebel Catholic priest, Fr. Michael O'Flanagan. However, all sessions are on pause during the current Covid pandemic, until further notice.

Meg's tune channel on Youtube.

Fr. Michael O'Flanagan
Fr. Michael O'Flanagan in 1921.

Father Michael O'Flanagan was stationed in Cliffoney in 1914. He soon won the hearts and minds of the villagers with his ardent socialism and nationalism, and became a local hero when he led the people up to Cloonerco Bog to cut turf in July of 1915. I run the Fr. O'Flanagan website and Facebook page, which are both attached to these pages.

Knocknarea from Circle 7
A super photograph of a group at the Kissing Stone, the most complete monument remaining at Carrowmore. Photo © Edward Lynch.