'Carrowkeel - Cairn G' : Passage Tomb

TownlandCarrowkeel
CountySligo
Grid RefG 753 119
GPSG 75316 11943 (5m)
Longitude8° 22' 37.07" W
Latitude54° 3' 21.58" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownBallymote (9.9 Km)
OS Sheet25
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192

This is a subsite of:

Carrowkeel - Passage Tomb Cemetery
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Visit Notes

Sunday, 29th December 2002

Probably the most amazing passage tomb in Ireland! And that is no mean claim, is it?

Now half buried in the peat (the plateau here would have been limestone pavements, like those found in the Burren), entry to this tomb is gained by squeezing in behind the displaced door stone and crawling along a short passage into the polygonal chamber. This is roofed by a single, massive slab of nobbly limestone.

There are three recesses or sub-chambers forming a cruciform layout. Each of these is also polygonal. The chamber opposite the passage is guarded by two very closely set orthostats , making it a very secure place to sit once you've squeezed in.

The sub-chambers are all lintelled with large, square-cut slabs. The one of the rear chamber is set down from the roof, forming a gap, as if to echo the most incredible feature of this tomb .... the light box!!! Wow! What an amazing thing that is. A narrow slit above the doorway that allows a small amount of light to penetrate the depths of the sepulchre. This is similar to the light-box at Newgrange (County Meath), but possibly 700 years older.

The only disappointment is the amount of litter and rubbish left inside by people ... tea-lights, candles, flowers and other stuff. I came away with a bag full of the stuff! Why do people leave their crap behind them!? .. excuse my language, but I get quite angry about this sort of irresponsibility.

Passage tombs are perhaps the most celebrated style of tombs, mainly due to the fantastic examples at Newgrange (County Meath), Knowth (County Meath) and Dowth (County Meath) in the Boyne Valley as well as those at Loughcrew (County Meath), which is by far the best place to experience these wonders.

The classical form of passage tomb is the cruciform style, where a long passage leads to a main chamber with 3 small chambers off, forming a cross when viewed from above. However, there are many other styles, some don't even have a passage! These other forms are with a round chamber (see Fourknocks (County Meath)), a polygonal chamber or in the form of a cross of Lorraine, which can be found at Seefin Hill (County Wicklow).

There is one form known as an undifferentiated passage tomb wherein the chamber is simply a broadening of the passage, such as at Matthewstown (County Waterford).

The passage and chamber was, once constructed, covered in a mound of earth or a stone cairn, which was in turn held in place with a kerb around its perimeter.

Perhaps what Irish passage tombs are most known for is the form of rock art more commonly called passage grave art, which can be seen in abundance along the Boyne Valley in the many cemeteries.

A compartment in a tomb in which burials were placed. In court tombs and wedge tombs a chamber is a sub-division of the burial gallery. Portal tombs have single chambers and passage tombs can have anything from one to five chambers, although usually passage tombs are considered to have a main chamber with extra subsidary chambers.

A barrow is essentially a mound of earth over one or more burials. They are more usually to be dated to the Bronze Age. There are many forms of barrow including ring, bowl, long and bell barrows.

Ring barrows are formed by digging a circular trench or fosse around a central burial, with no mound.

Bowl barrows are formed by heaping up soil over the burial(s) from a surrounding fosse, these often have an external bank too (see Ballyremon Commons (County Wicklow)).

Bell barows are simply round mounds with no fosse or external bank.

Long barrows are rare in Ireland and are more common in southwest England. Their shape is basically ovoid rather than round (see Ballynoe (County Down))

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Saturday, 3rd May 2003

We finally made it to Cairn G. It was still raining heavily. I was hoping to give julian his first distant glimpse of Knocknarea, but it was not to be.

We scrambled into the inner sanctum of the tomb and waited for a while to see if the weather would ease ... no! Being soaked through we soon started to get cold and so decided it was time to cut our losses and head back to the car. A quick change of clothes and a drive around to the shop in Castlebaldwin for supplies (try some Brack - it's a sweet bread with currents and stuff ... completely wonderful) and then off to Carrowmore (County Sligo).

Sunday, 7th March 2004

I actually stopped at Cairn G twice during the day. The first time I climbed inside and ate my dinner - don't worry, I took all my rubbish away with me. I was pleasantly surprised to see no one else had left anything in there either. I think on each of my previous visits I have taken somebody else's crap away with me.

The reason I stopped by a second time was so that the sun would be more on the passage entrance, which because it faces westward gets very little at this time of year.

During the half hour I spent inside I had chance to study the wonderful textures of the limestone slabs used in its construction - each one a mini-landscape of hills and valleys. Very relaxing.

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Saturday, 19th June 2010

Cairn G shares a very special feature with the most well-known passage tomb in the world - Newgrange (County Meath) - the lightbox above the entrance. This feature is a slot that allows the sun to shine into the chamber at a certain time of year. At Newgrange the alignment is with the Winter Solstice sunrise, whereas here it is with the Summer Solstice sunset.

Although today is not the Summer Solstice you are able to witness the event, assuming the weather is good enough. You can experience the spectacle for 3 or 4 days either side of the Solstice.

This event is not as over-subscribed as that at Newgrange where hundreds of people turn up. At Carrowkeel a small number gather to try to witness the event. Today there were about 15 people there, all crammed inside to see what turned out to be a great show. Unfortunately, I wondered off and missed the final moments, because I arrived back 5 minutes too late. I did get some photos of the start of the event, though.

I saw a couple of photos on my return to the cairn and I'm a bit miffed that I missed it. Today was a great sunset. It's a rare thing to see this properly - there were people there who have gone up for the last three years and not witnessed it because of cloud cover.

I did see something else quite wonderful instead though.

Like this monument

Marked Sites

Site Plans

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Random Gazetteer

A Selection of Other Passage Tombs

About Coordinates Displayed

This is an explanation of (and a bit of a disclaimer for) the coordinates I provide.

Where a GPS figure is given this is the master for all other coordinates. According to my Garmin these are quite accurate.

Where there is no GPS figure the 6 figure grid reference is master for the others. This may not be very accurate as it could have come from the OS maps and could have been read by eye. Consequently, all other cordinates are going to have inaccuracies.

The calculation of Longitude and Latitude uses an algorithm that is not 100% accurate. The long/lat figures are used as a basis for calculating the UTM & ITM coordinates. Consequently, UTM & ITM coordinates are slightly out.

UTM is a global coordinate system - Universal Transverse Mercator - that is at the core of the GPS system.

ITM is the new coordinate system - Irish Transverse Mercator - that is more accurate and more GPS friendly than the Irish Grid Reference system. This will be used on the next generation of Irish OS maps.

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