Tour 3 Carrowkeel Megalithic Tombs
The Bricklieve Mountains
Carrowkeel is a townland in the northern end of the Bricklieve mountains. Its name in Irish is Ceathru Caol, which means Narrow Quarter, and it is the highest point of the Bricklieves: between 100m and 300m above sea level.
The road from the gate up to the top of the mountain is rough but stunning, with marvellous views below and the steep mountain slopes rising around you. The mountains were formed c.340 million years ago, and the steep sided rift valleys are typical of ice age geology. The mountains are mainly composed of limestone, which over long periods of water action, formed the caves and underground chambers of the area.
This is one of two major passage-tomb cemeteries in County Sligo which date from the late Neolithic: between 3800 BC and 3300 BC. There are 13 round cairns or mounds, a long cairn, and a megalithic cist, and six further cairns to the west, nearer Keash. On a plateau immediately below the cemetery at the north-east is a dense cluster of hut sites, possibly the largest stone age village so far discovered in Ireland.
Burnt bone, pendants, bone pins, beads and pottery fragments were among the items found here when a number of the cairns were excavated in 1911, although, unlike New Grange, no megalithic art is known from this cemetery.
Megalithic tombs

They are characteristic of Neolithic farming communities in all the lands of Europe's Atlantic coastline, from Portugal in the south to Scandinavia in the north. They mainly consist of a burial chamber usually constructed of megaliths (large, unhewn stones) and are covered with a mound of earth or stones. These monuments were for collective burial over a long period, and the remains, both cremated and buried, were accompanied by grave-goods, including stone implements and pottery vessels.
The custom of building these monuments persisted in Ireland for about 2,000 years, from about 4000 BC. The precise origin and function of the tombs are still matters of debate. The recurring forms point to a settled way of life and a firm social structure - although perhaps not static or bound by convention. Although they were tombs, they may have had other purposes, and may not all have been built for the same reasons. The most extraordinary feature of the tombs is that they were as much 'monuments for the living' as 'monuments for the dead'.
Together with the Boyne Valley and Slieve na Cailligh (Loughcrew), in County Meath, Carrowkeel and Carrowmore (just south of Sligo town), rank among the most important Neolithic sites in Europe.

All the photos were taken inside and outside 'Cairn G', the first tomb you come to. The second picture from top is taken from the inside; you can see a gap above the lintel which is said to be a 'roof box', which lets in the midsummer solstice sun (June 21) at sunset. The beams are reputed to hit the orthostat (the large upright stone to the left of the chamber in the top picture), although the earth's axis has shifted slightly over time, so the beam may have originally hit the recess behind.



From Gurteen, go towards Boyle on the R294. At the Boyle turnoff (R295), turn left towards Ballymote. Go about 9.7 km (6 miles), take the right turnoff signposted Castlebaldwin, and finger signs direct you to Carrowkeel Tombs and Templevanny Burial Ground. Follow the signs and you will come to a metal farm gate and cattle grid. You can drive up to the top, but the road is poor after the first half mile, where you will come to a flattened piece of ground. This is a car park, and if you look to your left, you will see a sign directing you to the burial site. The site is 1 km (0.7 miles) from the car park. There may not be signs at the top, they may have blown down (it can be very windy there) or been removed. If you park at the flat ground and look right, you can walk up a path where you will come across the tombs.

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