Carrowkeel Passage Tombs
(Inside a Fairy Hill)

At Samhain, 2000 we traveled to the Northeast corner of Ireland to Carrowkeel, near the town of Sligo. This is an area of steep, rugged hills covered in what are referred to as upland bogs. The ground cover on these hills is composed mainly of heather and different types of mosses. The moss catches and holds every drop of rain, of which there is seldom a shortage. Over time this forms the ubiquitous Irish peat. Peat is slippery when wet. Very slippery! It seems the sure-footed local sheep are the only beings that remain dependably upright on these hillsides...

View from near summit of Carrowkeel, looking East to Lough Arrow. The rain actually
held off that day! The wind however, was pretty extreme. Note the lush, dark reindeer
moss and exposed peat in the foreground.


The Carrowkeel megalithic cemetery is located in the Bricklieve mountains near the town of Castlebaldwin, Co. Sligo. Dolmen, court and passage tombs can all be found in this necropolis, indicating constant use by a variety of cultures for a period as long as 4000 years. The site contains 14 passage tombs, or cairns. These are some of the earliest passage tombs in Ireland and have been dated to between 3500 and 3000 BCE. That makes them as much as 1500 years older than the pyramids at Giza!

Looking uphill toward the summit. Three tombs are visible here, the one in the extreme foreground having been destroyed by "treasure hunters" at the turn of the 20th century, and the second tomb badly damaged. The third was remarkably well preserved however, both inside and out!

Closer view of the third tomb. Most scholars agree passage graves of this type we originally covered with earth. It is felt by many however, that this is not the case at Carrowkeel. The excellent condition of the interiors here would indicate little need for any protection other than that provided by the present covering of loose, broken limestone.

The entrance to the third tomb. Note the small kerb stone directly in front of the entrance. This is one of many features seen further developed at Newgrange, a much later passage tomb. Although this kerb is undecorated (as are all the tombs at Carrowkeel), a small vertical slit has been laboriously cut through it. The purpose of the slit is unknown.
Interior view of the third tomb, as pictured above. This clearly shows the corbelled roofing technique that has kept the inside of these structures bone dry for thousands of years. The two columns are not only roof supports, but serve also to separate the interior of the tomb into its typical cruciform shape. This is a view of the back of the tomb, as viewed from just inside the entrance.

View of the entrance, from within the tomb. Note the "light box" above the door. As is the case with all the passage graves at Carrowkeel, this tomb is aligned with the Summer Solstice. At sunrise on Solstice Day, the sun appears in the exact center of this window, causing a shaft of light to penetrate to and illuminate the rear wall of the tomb. This light box also catches the light of the full moon near the Winter Solstice. Carowkeel clearly was built during a transitional period in the architecture of Irish passage tombs as not all of the tombs here have the light box feature.


All Photos 2000 by Alphaeus