Dernish Island off Milk Haven, Moneygold, County Sligo.

The Sacred Island - ancient sites, history & music of Ireland

This website began as a small guidebook to the mysterious chambered neolithic monuments at Carrowkeel, a dramatically fissured limestone upland area by the shores of Lough Arrow in County Sligo. I moved from Galway to Carrowkeel in the mid 1990's, having become enchanted with the landscape, mythology, traditional music and archaeology of Lough Arrow and south Sligo. Lucky enough, I found a home on the slopes of the Mountain, at the Sai Sanctuary for Donkeys, a charitable animal sanctuary run by Sue Paling, which was located close to the main group of cairns at Carrowkeel.

The first photo of the misdummer sunset entering the chamber of Cairn G in 1998.

Over the next decade, as I became familiar with the monuments and mythology, I noted that the majority of the plot of Star Wars IV A New Hope is closely based on the myth of the Second Battle of Moytura. I documented the midsummer sunsets at Carrowkeel and at Moytura across the Lake, where the sinking sun represents Balor's Evil Eye (the 'Death Star' of Star Wars). Leading guided tours evolved from showing the wonders of Carrowkeel to friends and travellers who came to visit; such ancient sites tend to attract interesting visitors from all parts of the World.

A Moytura sunset: summer solstice viewed from Shee Lugh. The sun is dropping behind Knocknarea.

Now I live in Cliffoney, close to Creevykeel, the huge neolithic court cairn looking over the Head of Mullaghmore on the Wild Atlantic Way. North Sligo can boast some big personalities and in recent years my interests have included: St Columbkille, St Molaise, Lord Palmerston, Father Michael O'Flanagan, Countess Markievtz, W. B. Yeats, and Lord Mountbatten, all of whom have connections to the area.

The huge neolithic temple at Creevykeel with the surrounding walls digitally removed.

St Columbkille fought the Battle of Cul Dreimhne (the Battle of the Books) on the slopes of Benbulben; and his banishment from Ireland took place at Ahamlish by St Molasie of Innishmurray and Devenish. This is said to be why he left Ireland for Iona and the Scots.

Benbulben viewed from the ancient highway as it passes through the area where the Battle of the Books was fought in 555.

Lord Mountbatten's connections with Mullaghmore are well known, but how he came to Sligo is a more obscure story. The roads, Catholic church, both schools, hotel the R.I.C barracks in short Cliffoney village; the huge harbour at Mullaghmore, and Classiebawn Castle (below) were all constructed by Lord Palmerston, (Henry Mount Temple), the English landlord, who owned a large portion of north Sligo.

The east facade of Classiebawn Castle from the Fairy Rocks.

Palmerston (1784 - 1865) had a long career in government spanning sixty years; from spats with Wellington in during his tenure in the War Office, he moved to the Foreign Office where he was notorious for his 'intermeddling', 'gunboat diplomacy', and spats with Queen Victoria. He ended a long and colourful career twice prime minister and was one of the most popular politicians of the Victorian era.

The Eye of Horus, a Masonic symbol, is a strange thing to find in a Catholic church; this example is in Cliffoney, built by Lord Palmerston in 1828.

His response to the Great Famine was completely inadequate, and many of the tenants he assisted to emigrate to Canada arrived in dreadful conditions. His prosecution of both the so-called Opium wars against China were disgraceful episodes of Liberal Colonial barbarity. It is alleged that he was one of Europes highest Freemasons who initiated the wave of revolutions in 1848, a Russian agent, and he was known to some leading assasins of the day.

Father Michael O'Flanagan, the Rebel Priest, spent 15 months in Cliffoney in 1914 - 1915.

In 1914 Fr Michael O'Flanagan was sent to Cliffoney. A radical and outspoken social critic, who had spent many years fundraising in America, Fr Michael was held in great esteem by his parishoners in Cliffoney. At the end of June 1915 he led a group of locals to Cloonerco bog, defying the bishop, R.I.C. and the Congested Districts Board. As a punishment for this and other misdemeanors, the bishop removed the Rebel Priest without informing the locals; in response the people of Cliffoney locked the church for ten weeks. from October to Christmas 1915. In 2015 we organised a Fr Michael O'Flanagan centenary weekend; read more at

Tunes for some filming at Creevykeel with Aindieas de Staic during the 2015 Sligo Fleadh Ceol. I love playing music at megalithic monuments.

A 32 minute slideshow of Irish megalithic chambers and cairns, photos by Martin Byrne and Padraig Conway; music - Lament for the Harp by Ann Heymann.

There are many sites in the west of Ireland that are not as well known as they could be, and many are listed here. Most of the photos and text by Martin Byrne.


A day spent with Martin is a day that will be remembered.

If you have an appreciation of history and archaeology, beautiful landscapes and music, stories of the old days and the language of stones, then a day spent with Martin Byrne as your guide will surely rank as a high point, and one your most interesting days. We spent a fine day tootling around the countryside, ducking down little lanes and being shown marvelous things we never would have found on our own, and all the while entertained with stories and comments, drawn equally from ancient history or just a few years back. From court cairns to caves, portal tombs to standing stones, Martin was a perfect guide for us - very knowledgeable yet easy going, his deep familiarity with, and obvious care for, the historic sites nicely seasoned with wit.

We were lucky to have found him as our guide, and I would go back in a shot to spend another such day.

Rachel Kane, Vermont, USA

Irish monuments
Court cairns
wedge-shaped chambers
Chambered cairns
Megalithic art

Map of Irish sites
Map of County Sligo
Map of the Coolera area
Map of Lough Arrow
Map of Carrowkeel

Heapstown cairn
Kesh Cairn
Queen Maeve's cairn
Cairns Hill
The Labby Rock
Caves of Kesh
Neolithic village
Classiebawn Castle
Croagh Patrick
The Burren
Equinoxes at Cairn T
Quarter days at Cairn L
Winter Solstice
East chamber
West chamber

Of all European lands I venture to say that Ireland is the most mystical, and, in the eyes of true Irishmen, as much the Magic Island of Gods and Initiates now as it was when the Sacred Fires flashed from its purple, heather-covered mountain-tops and mysterious round towers, and the Greater Mysteries drew to its hallowed shrines neophytes from the West as well as from the East, from India and Egypt as well as from Atlantis; and Erin's mystic-seeing sons still watch and wait for the relighting of the Fires and the restoration of the old Druidic Mysteries. Herein I but imperfectly echo the mystic message Ireland's seers gave me, a pilgrim to their Sacred Isle. And until this mystic message is interpreted, men cannot discover the secret of Gaelic myth and song in olden or in modern times, they cannot drink at the ever-flowing fountain of Gaelic genius, the perennial source of inspiration which lies behind the new revival of literature and art in Ireland, nor understand the seeming reality of the fairy races.

W. Y Evans Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, 1911.


Special attention is given to the monuments of County Sligo where I live, especially the great sites of Knocknarea, Carrowmore, Carrowkeel, Moytura and Kesh Corran, as well as many lesser known sites around the county.

Places I know well, such as Loughcrew and the Boyne Valley mounds of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth are covered in detail; early research on sunbeams illuminating ancient art is presented on the Loughcrew pages.

A radio documentary about our traditional group the Trad Counsel can be found here.


Easter Monday 2016, Benbulben, County Sligo.