'Carrowkeel - Cairn E' : Court Tomb

TownlandCarrowkeel
CountySligo
Grid RefG 749 116
GPSG 74921 11617 (8m)
Longitude8° 22' 58.69" W
Latitude54° 3' 10.97" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownBallymote (9.6 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, 16th March 2003

I didn't get across to this magnificent looking cairn today, but the lack of fog at least allowed a view of it from cairn K. It looks amazing, sited on the end of a rocky promontory overlooking the valley below.

Sunday, 7th March 2004

For me this is probably the best monument on the site. Unlike the other tombs here this one is not in a round cairn , but in a long cairn. The north end has a cruciform chamber set into it and teh side chambers still have their roofstones. The passage is very short and divided by low sill stones.

Sitting against the backstone of the passage you can clearly see that it is pointing directly at Maeve's Cairn (County Sligo). When you stand on top of the cairn towards the rear and look along it towards Knocknarea you notice that it doesn't point at it - the passage is not aligned with the main axis of its cairn.

At the rear of the cairn is one of the reasons why this monument is classified as a court tomb , but it isn't! The feature is a recess formed by huge slabs. This does resemble a court of sorts, but it doesn't lead to a gallery - it is a dead-end. There is a small sub-chamber just behind it, but it's not related.

This recess is more reminscient of English long barrows, such as Belas Knap which has the same sort of feature. Because these tombs resemble a figure when viewed from above they have odten been said to represent the ever-present Mother Goddess.

This false entrance, the passage tomb at the far end and the evidence of a flat faŃade make this more related to the English long barrow tradition than anything in Ireland. The court tomb classification only came about because it was ascribed by Irish-centric archaeologists, who like so many in that profession think in very insular terms.

A cairn is a large pile of stones, quite often (but not always) containing a burial. Sometimes they have a kerb around the base.

Most cairns are hemi-spherical (like half a football), but the piles of stones used to cover wedge tombs, court tombs and portal tombs are also called cairns. When associated with these types of monument they are not always round, but sometimes rectangular or trapezoidal.

Court tombs have several distinctive characteristics that allow easy identification when in fair condition. One key feature that is a great help, no matter what the condition, is that court tombs are nearly always aligned north to south. They were all originally covered by a cairn, but in most instances this is now missing, or at best only remain to a height of one or two metres. The easiest feature to identify (when intact) is obviously the court. The rest of the tomb is occupied by a long, divided, passage-like gallery.

Galleries:
Galleries of court tombs can usually be identified by their characteristic boat-shaped plan, i.e. the gallery, when viewed from above, is flat at the entrance and tapers to a point or narrow width at the rear. The gallery may be segmented into up to five chambers by jambs, the walls normally being made of large slabs. The roofs were created by laying large slabs across the gallery, either directly on to the tops of the wall slabs or resting on corbel stones. Two large stones, with smooth forward-facing faces, usually create the entrance and it is possible to identify a court tomb when only these stones remain. The gallery would have been covered by a cairn of stones, sometimes with a kerb.

Single Gallery Variations:
Most often called a 'Single Court Tombs, usually this style has a half-court, a horseshoe-shaped arrangement of stones in front of the gallery (see Ballymacdermot (County Armagh)). This is usually, but not always, symmetrical about the centre line of the gallery, although occasionally the centre line of the court forms a slight angle with the centre line of the gallery. The other option is a full-court formed a complete circle of stones (see Creevykeel (County Sligo)). These full-courts mainly have one entrance allowing access, which is usually opposite the entrance to the gallery.

Double Gallery Variations:
Double-gallery court tombs come in three styles, the last of which is very unusual. The first is where the chambers are built facing away from each other. These are usually referred to as ŽDouble Court TombsŪ (see Cohaw (County Cavan)). The galleries sometimes share the same rear stone, but more often there is some distance between them Ů ranging from one to ten metres. This style has a half-court at each end of the monument, one facing north and the other facing south. In this style both galleries would have been covered by the same cairn.

Tuning round the two tombs and placing the two galleries so that the entrances face each other, across a full court, creates another style, known as a Centre-Court Tomb. Access to this court is gained through entrances placed (usually) in the east and west sides of the court. Here there would have been two cairns, one at each end, but they would have been joined down the sides of the court by a low cairn.

The third and very uncommon form is where the two galleries are located side-by-side facing into a full court with an entrance opposite (e.g. Malin More).


Subsidiary Chambers:
Quite often you will find other chambers built into the cairn. In single-gallery tombs and double court tombs these are invariably located to the rear of the gallery. Centre court tombs often have them placed near to the entrances.

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Random Gazetteer

A Selection of Other Court 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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