The Dublin Forteans follow in the footsteps of the great and powerful Blather on a day trip to Carrowkeel.
‘Is it much further?’
‘Dunno, I can’t see anything other than sheep and fields.’
‘Well the mountain is back that way. Who’s got the directions?’
‘Umm, I do, blather says he turned right up the hill.’
‘We went left.’
‘So really, we’re just walking around some farmers field at the moment.’
It turns out when we got to the third and final parking lot we should have turned right straight up to the top of the mountain, and not gone left down the gently meandering path. Back up the path, we’ve added an extra half hour onto our walk, but it’s all in the name of fun and the pursuit of knowledge so we don’t mind.
At the top, the wind is unrelenting. We balance and lean into the wind, boots slurruping through peat and muck. Cairn G provides brief cover from the wind. Sheltering in front of the entrance stone we crawl in one by one past the entrance stone to the central chamber. The entrance is narrow enough that we’ve had to leave our belongings outside. All of us inside the grave with only a couple of bags and cameras on top of the entrance stone as proof that we are there. Acts like these are the inspiration for too many made-for-TV movies. Inside there are a number of peat briquettes and a 5L bottle of water prompting speculation about what type of person would come up here to drink water and light a fire.
Cairn H looks messier. A construction site, if the builders hadn’t bothered to clean up. There’s a 5 or 6-foot hill of loose stone in front of the entrance but it’s far too small for any of us to crawl inside. There is little or no shelter here; even hunkered down the wind is pushing us off the mountain. We move on towards cairn K, we’re on the crest of the mountain and there is very little shelter in the dips, so the going is quite rough, if we’d left it any later in the year chances are good we wouldn’t have made it past the second parking lot. Cairn K turns out to be the most impressive. With no entrance stone the opening is low and narrow but it opens into a high central chamber. Very little light seeps down the tunnel and this grave has no lightbox. Without a torch we are forced to use the light from our mobile phones to map the interior dimensions.
Outside we encounter a sprightly white-haired American. He’s lepping about the hill like a mountain goat in stark contrast to our laboured wheezing. Damn these energetic Floridians; too many years of golf and shuffleboard.
Away to the east a strange shaped stone pokes above the peaty soil. It’s pictured on blather’s report so we decide to take a look at it, although the effort expended in reaching the stone is akin to that of Ted and Dougal going to look at St. Kevin’s Stump. There is no shelter to be found anywhere around the stone so we wander for a bit, hopping the fence to take a look at the view across Lough Arrow. It starts to spit rain so the decision is made to leg it back to the cars before we’re stuck up here in a storm. We parked down at the bottom gate, a good kilometre and a half away down that awful road. It meant that we’d saved the shocks but put a little more wear on our knees and ankles. There had been moans of disgust on the way up when we reached the ‘official’ carpark and realised there was still a 1k walk up the mountain. Cars continued to pass us, attempting the extremely car-unfriendly surface, jouncing on springs that would probably never sproing again, and we moved to the side to let these ‘amateurs’ through. They weren’t walking up? Pah! They weren’t dedicated! Not like us!
The way down wasn’t quite as bad, although the atmosphere became more oppressive as we moved into the darkening valley. The sky was that strange muddy yellow that comes just before a tornado. The mountains curled in over our heads, crowding us through the valley and down the road. We munched chocolate and slugged water – our own, not the stuff in the bottle above, mind – to keep our spirits up and stumbled down to the front gate, weary, but wired and wondering what next?
‘Next’ turned out to be Carrowmore, a much more civilised type of place. Obviously the people who used this cemetery weren’t quite as masochistic as the lads up in Carrowkeel. Rolling, gentle fields, with pretty dolmens and stone circles speckled across the landscape in between barns and houses. Knocknarea looms above the scene with Queen Meabh’s tomb visible on top, watching for invaders from the North. Carrowmore is a Dï¿½chas site so there was a helpful ticket man (‘Ah sure, we’ll give you the group rate’) and a tour (‘the English speaking tour has just left, if you walk quickly you can catch up before they go into Tomb 51.’)
Tomb 51 was in the process of being rebuilt as evidenced by the JCB hovering precariously on the roof, although it hasn’t been completed and is still open to the elements. Locals in the 18th century were unaware that it was a tomb and dismantled it over the years, using the rocks as wall building material in the surrounding fields. It wasn’t until the tomb had been scavenged down to the cairn stone that it was recognised as a tomb resulting in red faces all around. According to local legend Tomb 51 or ‘Listoghil’ was the burial place of Fionn Mac Cumhail, which would put paid to the tale that he’s ‘not dead, only sleeping.’ I can’t imagine that anyone – even the semi-mythical leader of the Fianna – could sleep through the noise of a JCB moving through his bedroom.
Crossing the road, we took a quick look at Tombs 1, 2 and 13. The first two are in very bad shape, almost completely collapsed. The stone circles have fallen in and neither tomb has a burial chamber. In contrast Tomb 13 is only a burial chamber on a low mound with no evidence of any surrounding structure. We stumbled around in the rain for a bit, conditions had deteriorated so much by now that we could no longer use the cameras and our intended third stop up to Knocknarea was cancelled. Our megalith hunting over for the day, all we wanted now was hot tea, warm food and dry feet.
daev’s visit to Carrowkeel » s
Megalithomania: Carrowmore »
Tomb 51: Before excavation (1973) »
Dúchas Vs. the Megaliths »