Banner: sunset over Knocknarea.
Cairn S and Cairn T at Loughcrew photograph by Robert Welch. Caption: The main chambered cairn, diameter 116 feet, on Loughcrew Hills, Meath. Contains 28 inscribed stones.
Cairn S and Cairn T at Loughcrew. Caption: The main chambered cairn, diameter 116 feet, on Loughcrew Hills, Meath. Contains 28 inscribed stones.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Ancient Sepulchral Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills

[Read June 26th,1866.]

On the 26th of February last, Eugene Alfred Conwell, Esquire, of Trim, Co. Meath, Inspector of National Schools under the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, British Association, and severai other learned societies, read a paper before the Royal Irish Academy, in Dublin, on his recent examination of the sepulchral cairns on the Loughcrew hills, County of Meath, Ireland, which embraced a minute account of thirty-one partially destroyed cairns, extending along a range of hills, two miles in extent, overlooking the beautiful demesne of Loughcrew, and about two miles distant from the town of Oldcastle.

In the extreme north west angle of the county of Meath commencing about two miles south east of the neat and flourishing little town of Oldcastle and directly overlooking the beautiful demesne of Loughcrew there runs from west to east a range of hills about two miles in extent The highest peak known as Sliabh na Caillighe attains the height of 904 feet and being the only eminence in the county assuming the name or character of a mountain forms a prominent feature in the landscape.

The whole range consists of Lower Silurian rocks which occupy a large extent of country in the neighbourhood On the north the slate rocks form the low grounds round Lough Ramor while to the south and west lie the comparatively low undulating limestone plains of Meath and Westmeath. The prospect from the summit of any of the peaks is not to be surpassed in any other locality in the country. For pastoral beauty it is unrivalled while for comprehensive extent of view perhaps no other point in the kingdom could have been so well selected for the necropolis of the chiefs who inhabited the central prairies of Ireland.

The mountains overhanging the bays of Carlingford and Sligo are visible giving a telescopic view of Ireland from sea to sea about its narrowest part. Persons knowing the country well are accustomed with the aid of a clear horizon to point out from these hills elevations in eighteen out of the thirty two counties in Ireland. This is not surprising as it can be easily shown by trigonometry that the square root of once and a half the height in feet of any elevation on the globe's surface is equal to the distance of the offing or sensible horizon in miles and thus Sliabh na Caillighe having an altitude of 904 feet commands a view of at least thirty seven miles all round in a perfectly clear atmosphere not taking into account that atmospheric refraction would increase this distance by about three miles. Now a circle of thirty seven miles in radius swept round Sliabh na Caillighe on the map will include within its range or nearly touch the counties of Fermanagh Tyrone Monaghan Armagh Down Louth Meath Dublin Wicklow Kildare King's County Queen's County Westmeath Roscommon Sligo Longford Leitrim and Cavan.

Following up this line of calculation any mountain attaining the height of 2000 feet under favourable circumstances might be visible if not more than ninety two miles distant which would include every mountain of 2000 feet in height and upwards in every county in Ireland except in Cork and Kerry Such a site however was no doubt selected in order that these great tombs might form conspicuous objects in the horizon from the greatest possible number of places

My first visit to these remarkable hills was on a picnic excursion accompanied by my wife and was made on Tuesday the 9th of June 1863 when to my great astonishment I found this commanding site studded with the remains of a necropolis of prehistoric age greater in extent than anything of the kind yet thoroughly examined in Europe.

Although at a distance of about twenty miles from my home I soon afterwards paid as many visits to the place as my limited time and the inconvenient distance permitted me to do some of the results of which I have already had the honour of laying before this Academy on two former occasions.

The Hag's Chair, an engraved kerbstone at Cairn T in Loughcrew. Illustration by George Du Noyer.
TThe Hag's Chair, an engraved kerbstone at Cairn T in Loughcrew.
Illustration by George Du Noyer.

When I first stated that I had discovered a series of hitherto unnoticed and undescribed cairns extending for two miles along a range of hills within forty miles of the city of Dublin, I was laughed at, naturally enough. I can only attribute their being left for me to investigate to the fact that up to the time the omission was drawn attention to by me the only indication of their existence on the Ordnance Survey Maps was a mere dot or two with the word Stones appended; and the local knowledge of their origin and use went no further than what the late eminent Dr O'Donovan so humorously describes in one of his Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the County of Meath collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey of which I submit a copy writing of the parish of Loughcrew Kells 30th July 1836.

John O'Donovan

There are three hills about a mile asunder in this parish having three heaps (carns) of stones on their summits with which the following wild legend is connected. A famous old hag of antiquity called Cailleach Bhéartha, (Calliagh Vera) came one time from the north to perform a magical feat in this neighbourhood by which she was to obtain great power if she succeeded.

She took an apron full of stones and dropped a carn on Carnbane from this she jumped to the summit of Slieve Na Cally a mile distant and dropped a second carn there from this hill she made a second jump and dropped a carn on another hill about a mile distant. If she could make another leap and drop the fourth carn it appears that the magical feat would be accomplished but in giving the jump she slipped and fell in the townland of Patrickstown in the parish of Diamor where she broke her neck. Here she was buried and her grave was to be seen not many years ago in the field called Cúl an m%oacute;ta (i.e. back of the moat), about two hundred perches to the east of the moat in that townland but it is now destroyed.

"This is the very old lady whose shade still haunts the lake and carn of Slieve Guillion in the county of Armagh. Her name was Evlin, and it would appear from some legends about her that she was of De Danannite origin. She is now a Banshee in some parts of Ireland and is represented in some elegies as appearing before the deaths of some persons. I know nothing more about her but that on one occasion she turned the celebrated Finn Mac Cool into a grey old man but his soldiers dug through the mountain of Slieve Guillion in Armagh until they drove her out of her cave and forced her to restore Finn to his former beauty and symmetry.

Does her name, Eiblín Bheurta ingin Ghuilinn appear in the genealogies of the Tuatha De Dananns?

A quatrain of her poetic composition is yet repeated at Carnbane, but I calculate it is a post-original:—

I am poor Cailleach Bera,
Many a wonder I have ever seen—
I have seen Carnbane a lake,
Though now a mountain green.

What a pity that she is not alive now to throw light upon geology! Could Mr. Curry from his vast knowledge of fairyology and hagiology, give me any account of the old hag who left her name on this range and on Slieve Guillion?

There is an eminence in the townland of Knocklough called Slieve Guillion, and a rude stone chair on the summit of Slieve Nacally called Cataoir na Caillige Bera, ie: Calliagh Bera's Chair. It is a large stone, about two tons weight, ornamented with a cross sunk (cut) into the seat of the chair, in which three might sit together. This hollow seems to have been made in the stone with a hammer: the cross is probably the work of a modern stonecutter. The back of the chair was broken by some human enemy to old Evlin.

That this enumeration of the cairns was very imperfect we shall see presently and it may not be uninteresting in this place to allude to some broken stanzas with which I have heen furnished having the following local tradition associated with their authorship.

A old woman sitting on the Wishing Chair at the Giant's Causeway.
A old woman sitting on the Wishing Chair at the Giant's Causeway, in much the same way as the Cailleach named Garavogue used to sit on her throne, the Hag's Chair at Cairn T.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Mr Winslow a gentleman of antiquarian tastes was living in the early part of the last century near Fore about seven miles west of Sliabh na Caillighe. On one occasion he invited Dean Swift who was then sojourning with his friend Dr Thomas Sheridan at Quilca in an adjoining district of the county of Cavan to join him in visiting Sliabh na Caillighe in order to collect the fables related about the place and the monster woman Garvogue who formerly reigned there. Sheridan who was of the party availing himself of his knowledge of Irish acted as interpreter and Mr Winslow prevailed upon the Dean to turn into verse the legends collected on the ground. The following is all that could be deciphered from the manuscript of Thomas Farrelly who was gardener at Quilca at that time:

Twelve giant elks trained to the car
Had brought the warlike dame from far
Bengore where reigned the dreadful war
When morning dawned the board was spread
With cresses nuts and berries red
And Garvogue left her heather bed
Black Ramor Crewe and glassy Sheel
Sent up the bream the brae and eel
At mid day for her ample meal
Twelve haunches of the fattest elk
Twelve measures of the richest milk
Twelve breasts of eagles from the height
Composed the meal for eve or night
Ere Finn and Gall had raised the spear
Ere Caolta chased the mountain deer
Titanic Garvogue held her sway
The feast at night the chase by day
Her pack just numbered threescore ten
No fleeter ever crossed a glen
Red Spidogue with her broad full chest
And Isogue round ribbed and the best
Determined now her tomb to build
Her ample skirt with stones she filled
And dropped a heap on Carnmore
Then stepped one thousand yards to Loar
And dropped another goodly heap
And then with one prodigious leap
Gained Carnbeg and on its height
Displayed the wonders of her might
And when approached death's awful doom
Her chair was placed within the womb
Of hills whose tops with heather bloom

I have also heard these lines attributed to Miss Brooke daughter of Henry Brooke a pupil of Dr Sheridan's who was then living at Mullagh about two miles from Quilca. As possessing local interest I submit them although I suppose they have been corrupted since they were originally written.

During the course of the past summer I have had the good fortune to secure the valuable co operation and indispensable assistance of the owner of the property, James Lenox William Naper Esq DL, Loughcrew by which means I have been enabled to make a more thorough examination than I had hitherto done of these archaic remains. Mr Naper communicated with his agent Charles William Hamilton Esq JP, Hamwood, Clonee, accompanied by whom and by my friend George V Du Noyer Esq I again visited the Loughcrew Hills and on consultation with Mr Naper who in the most generous and enlightened manner supplied the material aid in labour a systematic plan of examining all the cairns on the hills was determined upon.

My own personal thanks are very eminently due to Mr Naper and to Mr Hamilton for the great interest they evinced in the progress of the work visiting the hills nearly daily and supplying during the latter half of the month of September as many men as with safety and convenience could be employed.

Mr Hamilton communicated with Colonel Sir Henry James RE as to the omission of these cairns on the Ordnance Survey Maps and during the time that I recently spent in their investigation a sapper was sent from the Ordnance Department Phoenix Park with instructions to remeasure the hills and to insert the cairns on a map. A copy of this map is now before the Academy and having in my former description of the place only roughly measured distances &c by stepping them I now avail myself of the more accurate measurements of this map in the details which are to follow.

The Hag's Chair photographed by William A. Green.
The Hag's Chair at Cairn T in Loughcrew.
Photograph by William A. Green, © NMNI.

The Loughcrew Cairns

The map accompanying this paper has been reduced from the large map to a scale of 2.64 inches to a statute mile In my first notice of these hills I made use of the letters of the alphabet in naming the cairns but having since found that there are remains of others not included in that description I am now obliged to mark these with index figures to some of the letters in order that the same letters as formerly used may still apply as the names of the cairns. The hill on the western extremity of the range attaining a height of 842 feet is situated in the parish of Loughcrew and is called Carnbawn. Here I have commenced to describe the relative positions and dimensions of the cairns

Cairn A

Nearly all the stones which formed this cairn have been removed. Its present remains are seven yards in diameter and are situated sixty six yards south east of Cairn D. Four large stones still remain marking out the circumference of its base.

Cairn A2

In a plantation at a distance of 130 yards south of Cairn D the remains of a cairn are visible but nearly level with the ground. It is nine yards in diameter. One large stone still stands upright on the circumference and bears some evidences of apparently ancient sculpturing but as they are doubtful. I have not taken further notice of the markings.

Cairn A3

On the southern scalp of the hill in a most conspicuous position sixty yards south west from Cairn D and nearly close to the southern side of the present deer park wall once stood a cairn twenty two yards in diameter. Its present remains are not more than a foot or two in height consisting of small rubble stones the debris of the former cairn which is now covered with green grass.

Cairn B

Forty six yards to the west of Cairn D are the remains of a cairn seven yards in diameter. The loose stones which formed it are nearly all gone leaving in the centre three large flags laid on edge forming a chamber twelve feet in length and two feet in breadth pointing in the direction of east 20° south.

In clearing out this chamber several fragments of charred bones were found mixed with the earth at the bottom. Two of these I present as specimens as they appear as well as all the others found here to have assumed an unusual degree of heaviness.

Cairn C

Sixty yards to the south west of Cairn D will be found the remains of a cairn five yards in diameter. Nearly all the stones have been removed leaving only four large stones still marking the site. At the distance of twenty five feet to the north of the cairn now lies prostrate a pillar stone which like the celebrated Menhir of Quintin Cotes du Nord which is nine metres over ground formerly stood upon its smaller end. It measures seven feet long three feet six inches broad and one foot thick

Cairn C at Loughcrew.
Cairn C at Loughcrew.

Cairn D

This has been the largest of all the cairns in the range the diameter of its base being sixty yards. The north and east sides have been left untouched but on the south and west for nearly 100 yards round the base and extending inwards to a distance of twenty four yards from the circumference towards the centre the dry loose stones composing the cairn have been entirely removed.

The height of what remained of the cairn before commencing any operations upon it measured twenty eight paces in sloping ascent from the base to the summit. The original circle of fifty four large flag stones laid on edge round its base is still perfect and on the eastern side towards a point indicated by E 20° S denoting the entrance or passage to the interior chambers; these marginal stones curve inwards for twelve paces in length.

As the cairn at this point which judging from analogy would indicate the direction of the passage or entrance appeared not to have suffered previous injury. Mr Naper and Mr Hamilton from the first had strong hopes of finding the interior chambers and their contents in their originial state. Accordingly about a dozen labouring men commenced to remove the stones and to make a passage inwards from this point.

As they advanced in this way into the cairn the loose stones composing it occasionally fell in dangerous masses filling up excavations already made so that it was at length determined to make a cutting right through the cairn running east and west and commencing on the top.

Conwell's attempt to find a chamber within Cairn D.
Conwell's fruitess attempt to find a chamber within Cairn D left a massive crater in the fabric of the monument.

After two weeks spent in this labour and with as many men as could be conveniently engaged at it I regret to say as I could not then remain longer that we did not come upon any of the interior chambers but at the same time the cutting had not reached the bottom though nearly so of the cairn and I have little doubt that at no very distant date Mr Naper will continue the exploration. This however is now the only one of all the cairns left unexamined.

As the cutting proceeded about midway down among the loose stones were found portions of a large skull and twelve teeth of a graminivorous animal probably of an ox sacrificed on the pile.

At a distance of 105 feet to the north west of this cairn and on the very point of the escarpment of the hill stood a pillar of quartz eight feet high three feet broad and two feet thick. How far it may have entered the ground when being placed there I have not ascertained. At present it is broken across a little above the ground and now lies as it fell. It might be interesting to consider whence it could have been brought.

The distance of the nearest native beds of quartz rock would be at Howth about fifty miles south-east; Wicklow south-east sixty miles; Donegal north ninety miles; Sligo north-west ninety miles Galway west 110 miles. Most probably it has been a glacial deposit from Donegal.

Cairn D photographed by Robert Welch.
Cairn D, the largest of the monuments at Loughcrew.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Cairn E

Traces of this cairn only sufficient to indicate the site remain and these show it to have been about five yards in diameter.

Cairn F

About five feet in height of the original cairn still remain. Its diameter is 16 yards. Clearing away the loose stones and earth which filled the centre showed the arrangement of the interior chambers to be in the form of a cross the shaft denoting the passage to the chambers represented by the top and arms of the cross having a bearing of east 10° north.

The length of the passage is eight feet and it is two feet two inches broad The entire length from the commencement of the passage to the extremity of the opposite chamber is fifteen feet and the breadth from the extremity of the southern to the extremity of the northern chamber is nine feet four inches. The commencement of the passage is not closed up by a block of stone but merely by small loose stones laid against it.

Only one of the roofing flags covering the commencement of the passage remains in its original position Across the entrances of the southern and western chambers are laid stones about a foot in height and from four to five inches in thickness. On the floor of the northern crypt rests a rude sepulchral stone basin three feet five inches long two feet four inches broad and five inches thick. Under this basin were found a portion of a bone pin and a flake of flint.

In the south western corner of the southern chamber at a and about a foot from the bottom was found imbedded among the clay and stones which filled it up a brown ironstone ball three inches in diameter and well rounded Several fragments of bones lay scattered indiscriminately here and there upon the floor At a distance of about two feet outside the circumference stand three pillar stones Seven of the stones in these chambers are sculptured.

Cairn G

Is 21 yards in diameter and is only one yard from Cairn F and 34 yards from Cairn D. Eight large stones stand in the margin Traces only sufficient to indicate the site of the cairn remain all the interior chamber stones having disappeared.

An engraved chamber-stone in Cairn T at Loughcrew. Illustration by George Du Noyer.
An engraved chamber-stone in Cairn T at Loughcrew. Illustration by George Du Noyer.

Cairn H

The present remains of this cairn are between 5 and 6 feet in height and 18 yards in diameter; it is 16 yards from Cairn L the second largest cairn on the western hill. Some curious attempts at dry masonry will be found at the northern and southern extremities of the chambers. The covering of the interior chambers had entirely disappeared with the exception of about half a dozen large overlapping flags giving a good example of the mode of roofing which are still to be seen in their places over the western and northern crypts and what remained of the loose stones forming the cairn had become entirely overgrown with grass.

After carefully clearing out the central chambers the plan was found to be cruciform nearly similar to Cairn F except that the central chamber might be considered a rude octagon. The passage which has a bearing of east 10° south is 13 feet long 2 feet wide at the commencement and 4 feet wide at the extremity. The entire length from the beginning of the passage to the extremity of the opposite or western chamber is 24 feet and the distance across the other two chambers from stones marked 6 to 19 is 16 feet.

The breadth of the southern chamber is 2 feet 7 inches of the western chamber 4 feet at rear diminishing towards its entrance to 3 feet 2 inches of the northern chamber 4 feet 2 inches on the floor of which rests a rude stone basin 4 feet 3 inches long 4 feet broad and about 6 inches thick. Loose stones and earth filled the chambers and passage for about a foot and a half in depth. The passage itself from that to the bottom a depth of about 3 feet was completely packed with bones in a fragmentary state nearly all showing evidences of having been burnt and were found mixed with several small fragments of quartz. From the human remains found in the passage and crypts of this cairn I have collected:

150 different pieces of bones
50 portions of limb bones
30 other bones shoulder blades
48 portions of skulls 8 portions of jaws with teeth remaining
14 separate teeth

The three chambers were found filled with an indiscriminate mixture of stones broken bones and earth the latter in a soft stiff retentive state although the weather had been previously very fine. This mixture was picked and removed with great care and in it were obtained apparently without having been placed there in any definite order: one end of a bone bodkin; one half of a bone ferrule; six pieces of bone pins; one tine of an antler three inches long; fourteen fragments of very rude brown earthenware or pottery evidently portions of urns much blackened by fire particularly on the inside surface; ten pieces of flint; 155 sea shells in a tolerably perfect state of preservation and 110 other shells in a broken state; eight varieties of small lustrous or shining stones; 100 white sea pebbles and sixty others of different shades of colour.

At a was found a small brown stone ball and at i a flake of bone measuring six by four inches which appears to have been polished on one side and may probably have been used as a dish. Underneath the stone basin in the northern chamber were found imbedded in damp earth and mixed with small splinters of burnt bones, six stone balls the largest about an inch in diameter but in so soft a state that they could scarcely be touched without injuring them. Five of these appear to be white carbonate of lime and the other porphyry.

Chiefly in the southern chamber and about the entrance to it for the most part imbedded in wet stiff earth I got the most remarkable collection of bone implements glass amber bronze and iron which probably has ever been found together under similar circumstances.

Megalithic art on the back of the back of the Hag's Chair is visible in this early image. Photograph by William A Green.
Megalithic art on the back of the back of the Hag's Chair at Cairn T is visible in this early image.
Photograph by William A. Green, © NMNI.

In some few instances where the bone implements chanced to be protected by an overlying stone their original polish is still perfect in all other cases they were found in a state as soft as cheese and could with difficulty be extracted from the stiff earth without breaking them. Such indeed was their soft state that I believe they could not have been preserved for many years longer and probably many have become entirely decomposed.

The shapes of several will be found peculiar and different and well worth the careful study of the antiquary. Many of them resemble in size and shape the flint knives of Scandinavia.

I have been enabled to save 4071 fragments of these in a plain state once polished but without further ornamentation 108 nearly perfect in shape 60 where the bone material is little decomposed and still retains the original polish 27 fragments which appear to have been stained 11 plain fragments perforated for suspension by a single hole near the end 501 fragments ornamented with rows of fine transverse lines and two others similarly ornamented and perforated near the end 13 combs seven of which are engraved on both sides the heads only and the roots of the teeth of the combs now remaining 91 implements engraved by compass and in a very high order of art with circles curves ornamental puncturings and twelve of these decorated on both sides.

On one in cross hatch lines is the representation of an antlered stag being the only attempt in the collection to depict any living thing In some instances the perforations near the end appear to have been countersunk In all there are 4884 pieces Of the earth which adhered to them I have preserved a package which it might be very desirable to submit to analyzation.

Of amber I have collected seven small beads the largest scarcely a quarter of an inch in diameter and another small oblong bead of uncertain material. Of glass I obtained three small beads of different shapes and different shades of colour two fragments of glass a curious molten drop one inch long trumpet shaped at one end and tapering towards the other extremity.

Of bronze I found six rings slightly open or rather not closed or cemented into one solid piece varying from a quarter to three quarters of an inch in diameter a portion of another which is hollow and formed by overlapping a thin plate of bronze portions of eight other small rings in a less perfect state. Of iron I found not lying together but mixed up with the earth and debris which filled the southern chamber in all seven specimens each of which as might be expected is thickly coated with rust.

One is an open ring about half an inch in diameter one half of another somewhat larger two pieces each about an inch long and a quarter of an inch thick of uncertain use one thin piece probably a portion of a knife or of a saw three quarters of an inch long and half an inch broad one piece an inch and a half long which I think presents all the appearance of having been one leg of a compass with which the bone implements may have been inscribed and lastly an iron punch or pick five inches long with chisel shaped point and head that bears evidences of the use of the mallet.

The circular symbols and the greater part of the other figures found upon the sculptured stones have all been punched or picked out and afford every appearance of having been executed with such a tool as this. In this cairn there are five inscribed stones.

The chamber of Cairn I at Loughcrew. Photograph by William A. Green.
The chamber of Cairn I at Loughcrew.
Photograph by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Cairn I

This cairn is 64 yards to the east of Cairn F 53 yards Southwest of Cairn L and is 21 yards in diameter. The apex of the cairn itself has disappeared leaving from four to five feet only in height of the original structure wanting the slabs by which the interior chambers had been covered. These crypts had become filled up with small stones by the removal of the roof.

Directly over the chambers a thick crop of luxuriant nettles flourished and struck their roots down into the interstices of some of the laminated flagstones forming the chambers.

During the progress of clearing out the interior I had thus the mortification of seeing portions of some of the engraved stones crumble down forced, out by these nettle roots before I was able to make any record of the devices on them. The direction of the entrance is due east.

The chamber of Cairn I at Loughcrew. Photograph by Robert Welch.
The chamber of Cairn I at Loughcrew.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

The passage alone is eight feet six inches long and four feet six inches wide and the distance from the commencement of the passage to the back of the opposite chamber is twenty two feet the diameter across the chambers north and south measures thirteen feet. The interior arrangement consists of seven compartments marked a b c d e and are formed by flagstones standing out towards the centre of the structure. The breadth of a is two feet eight inches; of b three feet six inches; of c three feet seven inches; of d three feet eight inches; of e three feet seven inches at rear narrowing considerably towards the entrance of three feet ten inches; of g two feet eight inches.

On each of the floors of a b d and e rested a square flag about two square feet in area and two inches thick. A quantity of charred bones was found on each of these flags but in such a crushed state from the falling in of the stones upon them that it would be difficult to determine to what portion of the frame they belonged.

On lifting up the flag on which the bones had been placed in each of these four compartments I found immediately underneath a layer about four inches in depth of dry small stones the surface portion of the layer broken very fine from a quarter of an inch to an inch in size and having some fragments of charred bones scattered on top, the lower portion of the layer consisting of larger stones.

In compartment a which exactly faces the east and on the surface of these finely broken stones I found two stone ornaments a bead and a pendant. The bead lay about the centre of the space covered by the flag and the pendant under but close to the extremity of the flag on the right hand side and near the back of the compartment. The bead has been highly polished and its being narrower on one side than on the other will show that it was intended to be worn in a circular form. I conjecture that both are portions of a necklace such as has been found in 1864 by M L Galles in the tumulus of Tumiac in Morbihan.

The greatest diameter of the bead is three quarters of an inch and the pendant perforated by a single hole for suspension is one inch and a quarter long. Both appear to have suffered from the action of fire and have become so decomposed that it is somewhat hazardous to name the materials of which they are formed. The bead however resembles pale gray earthy grit which has become soft from the decomposition of the felspathic part of the stone or more probably is blue carboniferous limestone and the pendant yellow shale mixed with whitish particles.

The floor of compartment was covered with a closely fitting flag three feet ten inches long three feet three inches broad and nine inches thick. I found no bones resting on its surface as I had done on the other floor flags in the other compartments furnished with a slab but on raising it I observed that it covered a layer of finely broken stones mixed with splinters of charred bones and having a depression of nearly a couple of inches in the centre.

This stone as it rested on the floor concealed the sculpturing on the lower portion of the stone numbered fourteen to a height of twenty two inches from its base. Nine of the stones in this cairn are inscribed.

The entrance to Cairn L at Loughcrew by Robert Welch.
The entrance to Cairn L at Loughcrew.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Cairn J

This cairn is twenty three yards north-east of Cairn H and only three yards distant from Cairn L. It is 15 yards in diameter and its present remains from four to five feet in height with twelve large stones still in the circumference. The interior had been much disturbed but left filled up with loose stones and rubbish. The passage having a bearing of east 10° south is seven feet six inches in length without any upright stone closing its entrance. A roughly finished brown stone ball about an inch in diameter was found near the opening of the passage into the interior chambers. Three of the stones in this cairn are inscribed.

Cairn K

Is 12 yards East from Cairn L and is 16 yards in diameter. When the interior was cleared out the large flagstones forming the central chambers were found in a rather disorderly condition. The bearing of the entrance is east 15° north. Thirteen stones remain round the margin and no object of antiquarian interest was found here.

At a distance of twenty feet to the south east now lies a pillar stone six feet long two feet broad and one foot thick. Two of the chamber stones are inscribed.

Cairn L at the Loughcrew cairns by William A. Green.
Cairn L at the Loughcrew cairns.
Photograph by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Cairn L

Is 45 yards in diameter surrounded by 42 large stones laid length-wise on their edges and varying from six to twelve feet in length and from four to five feet high. Great quantities of the loose stones which formed the apex of this cairn have been removed of which there are very visible evidences. A curve inwards in the circumference of ten yards in length on each side of a point having a bearing of east 20° south indicates the direction of the entrance or passage which commences at a distance of eighteen feet inward from the circumference.

Finding a large flag on the top of the mutilated cairn we removed it and two others before I observed that I was actually taking to pieces what remained of the original construction of the roof.

The principal portion of the overlapping flags which formed the roof over the chambers had disappeared leaving them filled up with the loose stones which had fallen in. When the chambers were carefully cleared of these small stones they exhibited in situ about forty of the large plinths which formed the matchless dry Cyclopean masonry of the roof.

The entrance to Cairn L photographed by William A. Green.
The entrance to Cairn L.
Photograph by William A. Green, © NMNI.

This dome was constructed of large slabs overlapping one another and bevelled slightly upwards having most ingeniously inserted between them thinner slabs which on receiving the superincumbent weight became crushed and formed a bond for the whole.

Wherever this precaution of placing thinner slabs or smaller stones between the larger ones was omitted the larger slabs themselves are now found cracked across. What at present remains of this unique roofing rises twelve feet above the level of the floor which is even with the ordinary surface of the ground.

The breadth of the passage at the commencement is 1 foot 10 inches which increases to upwards of 3 feet about the middle and contracts again to 1 foot 9 inches where it terminates. The passage itself is 12 feet long and the entire length from the commencement of the passage to the extremity of the western chamber is 29 feet.

The greatest breadth across the chambers is 13 feet 2 inches measured from stones 8 to 21 and from 6 to 24 the distance is 10 feet 4 inches. Cist a is 4 feet 8 inches in breadth. From among the loose stones which filled up the chamber I collected 1010 portions of bones two pieces of bone apparently silicified; a spear point in bone and portion of a polished bone javelin; 154 fragments of very rude pottery having the appearance of being only sun dried but which is really owing to the imperfect method of firing and varying in size from 1 to 30 square inches.

Some fragments retain their original brown colour but the generality of them are much blackened by fire on the inside surface and for a distance round the exterior of the lip or upper rim of the urns of which they were parts. One piece a portion of the upper edge of an urn about 3 inches long and 3 broad is very rudely ornamented with three slight ridges and about an inch from the top is perforated by a single hole. Another larger piece ornamented with four slightly raised ridges is perforated by two holes one an inch and a half below the other.

Bateman in his Ten Years Diggings mentions urns with similar perforations which he supposes were for suspension and which he classes as incense urns but I believe the specimens now found are new in this country at least I have not seen nor have I heard of any such having been found in Ireland before this date.

Cairn L photographed by Robert Welch.
The Whispering Stone and corbelled roof within Cairn L.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Extending along the floor of the passage completely covering it and inclining a little way into the space surrounded by the interior chambers seven in number lies a flag 8 feet 9 inches long 3 feet 6 inches broad and about 6 inches thick. Close around the western end of this stone the earth on the floor to a depth of about 2 inches was perfectly black arising it appeared to me from the presence of blackened ashes from which it may probably be inferred that the process of cremation was performed on this stone.

On the floor of the chamber formed by stones marked 7 and 9 and shut in by an upright stone of a foot high and 4 inches thick rested a quadrangular stone basin hollowed out from the sides towards the centre to a depth of 3 inches and having a piece taken out of one of its sides It measures 2 feet 1 1 inches in length by 2 feet broad and is about 6 inches in thickness Mixed with the earth under this sepulchral basin were found many fragments of charred bones and several human teeth.

Completely filling up the length of the opposite chamber entered through a space only two feet wide between two upright stone pillars rests an oval shaped stone dish or basin probably the largest yet discovered in a cairn. The broader end points to the east the narrower to the west. Its greatest length is 5 feet 9 inches at a distance of 18 inches from the narrower extremity it is 3 feet 1 inch broad and at 18 inches from the other extremity it is 7 inches broader where on the side facing the chambers a curve of about four inches broad has been scooped out of the side of the stone.

A raised rim running all round it varies from two to four inches in breadth rising about an inch above the otherwise perfectly level surface of the stone. The exquisite tooled or picked workmanship of this stone will amply repay a careful examination.

On raising this stone several splinters of blackened charred bones were observable and on carefully picking the stiff wet earth underneath it I found imbedded in it upwards of 900 pieces of charred bones here presented with about a dozen pieces of charcoal lying in various directions;
48 human teeth in a very perfect state of preservation;
the pointed end of a bone pin 5 inches long and a quarter of an inch thick;
a piece about an inch in length of a similar bone pin;
a most perfectly rounded syenite ball still preserving its original polish: a most beautiful object nearly 2 inches in diameter;
another perfectly round stone ball streaked with white and purple layers probably a pebble and about an inch in diameter;
another stone ball upwards of three quarters of an inch in diameter of a brown colour dashed with dark spots;
a finely polished oval jet ornament an inch and a quarter in length and three quarters of an inch broad;
eight other white stone balls probably carbonate of lime which from lying for ages in their damp bed had become quite soft, but which gradually dried on exposure to a sufficient degree of hardness to enable me to take them away in a tolerable state of preservation.

I should perhaps have previously observed that the large flagstones alluded to in this paper are as to material of a uniform character consisting of compact sandy grit the natural rock of the locality. The stone however marked No 18 in this cairn is an exception being a good specimen of a water washed column of blue limestone probably from some of the adjoining lakes and the stone marked No 2 in Cairn W is a similar stone.

Cairn L at the Loughcrew cairns by William A. Green.
The Whispering Stone, a mysterious limestone pillar within the chamber of Cairn L at Loughcrew.
Photograph by William A. Green, © NMNI.

It is also worthy of remark that the stone No 25 in this cairn for which there does not appear to be any particular necessity in the construction of the chamber there being already a stone placed there to form the back is a diamond shaped slab placed on one of its angles and the stone abutting on it is elaborately carved on both sides with diamond shaped figures.

A Celtic drinking cup with handle was discovered by Mr Bateman in 1850 in a cairn about a mile north of Pickering which was found to be decorated with this same diamond shaped pattern. Of it he says "The ornamentation of the vessel is peculiar consisting chiefly of angularly pointed cartouches filled with a reticulated pattern and having a band of the same encircling the upper part."

On the lower surface of the second large roofing flag above the upright numbered 21 having two layers of thin stones intervening and looking directly down upon the large sepulchral basin is a reticulated pattern finely cut nine inches long and varying from three to four inches in breadth formed by twelve short lines crossing in a slanting direction eight other nearly parallel lines having at present about fifty meshes varying from half an inch to an inch in breadth and from an inch to an inch and a half in length.

Cairn L at the Loughcrew cairns by William A. Green.
Cairn L at Loughcrew.
Photograph by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Cairn M

About 650 yards to the south-east of Cairn L and crowning the next knoll called Carrickbrac from the speckled nature of the rock which forms the hill are the remains of a cairn 22 yards in diameter at present only about four feet high and wanting the usual boundary ring of large stones.

Cairn N

On the top of a second knoll 572 yards due east from M are the debris of a cairn 22 yards in diameter At present not more than two feet in height of the small stones which composed it remain. Four large stones outside this cairn mark an avenue pointing due east of 16 yards long 7 yards wide at the entrance and diminishing to 4 yards wide as it approaches the cairn. One stone stands upwards of six feet above the surface.

Plans of the chambers of some of the Loughcrew cairns by Eugene A. Conwell.
Plans of the chambers of some of the Loughcrew cairns by Eugene A. Conwell.

Cairn O

In the valley below the two knolls 352 yards north-east from Cairn M and 279 yards north-west from Cairn N are the remains of a cairn 11 yards in diameter. Three large prostrate stones each measuring about 4 x 3 feet mark the site. One upright stone 3 feet 9 inches high 3 feet 9 inches broad and about 1 foot thick is still standing apparently in the circumference of the original cairn. On its western face arranged principally in four groups are 28 cups varying from a half to three quarters of an inch in diameter and about a quarter of an inch deep. Probably these may have been intended to represent some of the constellations.

Cairn P1

143 yards north-east from Cairn N are the remains of a cairn eight yards in diameter. Sufficient stones only remain to denote the original basis of the cairn.

Cairn P2

Carved slips of cattle-bone from Cairn H.
Carved slips of cattle-bone from Cairn H.

About 22 yards northwards are six large stones probably the remains of another cairn.

One of these stones 6 feet 6 inches long 5 feet 6 inches broad and about 2 feet thick rests at present in an inclining position and has its eastern face thickly covered with small cup like hollows; but as these may possibly have been created by the action of rain water, I do not think it right to take further notice of them.

Cairn Q

Thirty eight yards northward from Cairn P2 are the remains of another cairn four and a half yards in diameter. Nearly all the stones which composed it have been carried away.

Cairn R

Passing up the hill in an easterly direction and at a distance of 242 yards from Cairn Q we come to the remains of a cairn eleven yards in diameter. All that now remains of the original pile varies from two to three feet in height.

Items carved from red deer antler from the chambers of some of the Loughcrew cairns by Eugene A. Conwell.
Items carved from red deer antler from the chambers of some of the Loughcrew cairns by Eugene A. Conwell.

Cairn R2

Sixteen yards to the south of Cairn R1 and fifty five yards south-west from Cairn T are the remains of another cairn nine yards in diameter and about two feet in height Ten of the stones forming its circular boundary still remain and outside the cairn at a distance of from three to four yards lie five large stones.

Cairn S

Is only five yards to the west of Cairn T and fifty one yards from R1 Thirty three large stones standing on ends form a circle 18J yards in diameter round the present remains The apex of this cairn is completely gone leaving exposed the tops of the upright stones forming the chambers the arrangement of which here differs from the others in having the passage or entrance from the west exact bearing west 10° north The entire length of the passage and chambers taken together is fifteen feet. The passage itself which varies in breadth from two feet three inches to two feet seven inches is divided by transverse upright stones into two compartments each about two feet square.

Outside the entrance of the passage at the spot marked e was found a perfect specimen of a white flint arrow head an inch and a half long and nearly three quarters of an inch broad. Compartments a and i in the passage were filled up to the height of eighteen inches with charred bones broken into small fragments on the top of which in chamber was found a rude bone dagger seven inches long and nearly an inch broad and in a similar position in chamber a piece of bone nine inches long tooled and rounded at one end apparently a portion of a bow and now silicified. Nearly covering the floor of each compartment a and b rested a thin flag underneath which were found splinters of burned bones intermixed with small stones and pieces of charcoal. Six of the chamber stones here are inscribed.

Cairn T at Loughcrew, photograph by William A. Green.
Cairn T at Loughcrew.
Photograph by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Cairn T

In the distance this is the most conspicuous of all the cairns crowning the summit of the highest of all the peaks in the range that one especially known as Sliabh na Caillighe. The original shape of the cairn is still very perfect having an elevation of twenty one paces in slant height from base to summit. It is 38 yards in diameter and is inclosed by a circle of thirty seven stones laid on edge and varying in length from six to twelve feet.

Exactly facing the north and set about four feet inwards from the circumference of the cairn is a large stone popularly called The Hag's Chair It is about ten tons in weight measuring ten feet long six feet high and two feet thick and has a rude seat hollowed out of the centre. The ends are elevated nine inches above the seat and the back has fallen away by a natural fracture of the stone. The cross carved upon the seat of this chair as well as others which will be found on the upright marginal stones here and in Cairn S were cut for trigonometrical purposes by the men formerly engaged in the triangulation survey of the country.

The cross cut into the seat of the Hag's Chair.
The cross cut into the seat of the Hag's Chair.

Underneath the seat the stone appears to have been rounded off or beaded for ornament for nearly its entire breadth below which are a considerable number of small cup hollows which I did not enumerate as they become much defaced by the action of time and the weather down on the face of the stone will be found a double zigzag inches long a figure consisting of six concentric arches seven high and seven inches broad three concentric circles seven across a cup surrounded by three concentric circles six inches across. On that portion of the original back of the chair which has not away will be found a cup with two concentric circles four across and in another place two separate cups. In front of round the base of the chair considerable quantities of quartz into small lumps were strewn about.

On the eastern side the stones forming the periphery of the cairn inwards for eight or nine yards on each side of a point where the passage to the interior chambers commences on the very margin of the cairn the bearing of the passage being east 10° south. The entrance to the passage was closed by two irregular blocks of stone inside of which were dropped three other large blocks of stone filling up the passage for five or six in length. On the outside of the entrance was placed a loose layer lumps of quartz. All the roofing flags covering the passage and more than two thirds of what originally covered in the central octagonal chamber had disappeared leaving the passage and central chambers completely filled up with stones. Among the loose stones over the central octagonal chamber were found three large bones probably belonging to a deer. The imperfect portion of the roof that remains formed by about thirty large flags overlapping one another rises to ten feet above the level of the floor.

Cairn T at Loughcrew. Illustration by George Du Noyer.
Plan of Cairn T at Loughcrew. Illustration by George Du Noyer.

The floor of the central octagonal chamber was covered by two large and three small flags. The largest I have not been able to raise but underneath the others were found fragments of charred bones small broken stones and pieces of charcoal. The three cists a b and e are each about four feet square. Above the upright stones forming the walls of each chamber about half a dozen large flags overlapping one another are covered in by a horizontal slab forming a chamber about five feet in height across the entrance into each of which stands a stone about two feet high leaving an opening over it of three feet. These three cists were nearly but not entirely filled up with dry loose stones from the uncovering of the central chamber round which they are placed.

The earth on the floor of each was mixed with splinters of burned bones while in the centre of cist b a circle of earth a foot in diameter inclosed about a hatful of charred bones which were covered with a flag above which were raised for about two feet alternate layers of finely broken and larger stones among which were found some human teeth and twenty four bones here presented with the ends apparently ornamented with crossed lines. Among tbe loose stones at the bottom of the central chamber and close to the entrance of cist c was found a bronze pin two and a half inches long with head ornamented and stem slightly so and still preserving a beautiful green polish.

The entire length of the passage is seventeen feet and from the commencement of the passage to the western extremity of the opposite chamber is twenty eight feet. The distance from the back of cist a to that of cist c is sixteen feet four inches while the distance between their entrances is seven feet and from the termination of the passage to the entrance of cist 5 is six feet three inches. The breadth of the passage at its termination is three feet one inch of cist two feet eight inches of cist b three feet five inches of cist e three feet six inches.

The Keystone Stone within the chamber of Cairn T at Loughcrew. Illustration by George Du Noyer.
The Keystone Stone within the chamber of Cairn T at Loughcrew. Illustration by George Du Noyer.

There are twenty eight inscribed stones in this cairn. Chamber i has a beehive roof of seven flags capped by a large horizontal one on which is a figure formed of fourteen concentric circles as far as they can be counted extending out of sight under the structure where no tool could reach; one single circle two inches in diameter four cups each surrounded by a single circle two cups each surrounded by two circles a figure of two concentric circles; another of three concentric circles round a cup; a quadrilateral figure with four lines across a group of five waving lines adjoining which are six concentric circles a straight line running under the roof with eight short lines as far as they can be counted on each side of it eight lines in the form of a star three inches in diameter five concentric ovals running under the roof a straight line surmounted by three elliptical arcs a circle surrounded by ten rays making a figure six inches across a star of six rays a cup with eight rays surrounded by a circle six inches in diameter a cup and circle out of which rise eleven looped or arched rays making a figure six inches in diameter a spiral of four curves twelve inches in length having seven lines on each side at right angles to the two outer coils.

The Keystone Stone within the chamber of Cairn T at Loughcrew. Photograph by William A. Green.
The Keystone Stone within the chamber of Cairn T at Loughcrew.
Photograph by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Chamber e has a beehive roof formed by five flags covered in by a horizontal one on which are cut in fine lining less than a quarter of an inch asunder four chevron zigzag lines about one foot in length and terminated at one extremity by a single zigzag line at right angles to these a circle an inch and a half in diameter. On the lintel stone over the entrance to the southern chamber are twelve short lines along the edge of the stone and six others further down which probably are Ogham characters.

Cairn L at the Loughcrew cairns by William A. Green.
Kerbstones at Cairn L in Loughcrew.
Photograph by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Cairn U

Is situated fourteen yards north-east from Cairn T and forty six yards east of south. There are sixteen large stones still in the base and nearly two feet inside the circumference a stone measuring eight feet two inches long two feet four inches broad and one foot eight inches thick lies opposite the commencement of the passage. The present remains are only from four to five feet high and fourteen and a half yards in diameter.

The tops of the upright stones were left visible and the chambers themselves more than half filled up with loose stones and earth On removing these the interior arrangement of the chambers was found as in most other cases to be cruciform The length of the passage alone which has a bearing of east 20° south is nine feet and from the commencement of the passage to the extremity of the opposite chamber is twenty feet while the breadth across the chambers is ten feet. One of the chamber stones is wanting and another is displaced.

When the stones which filled up these chambers were removed the earth at the bottom in some places from twelve to eighteen inches in depth was found to be thickly mixed with splinters of burned bones. I was informed by an old herd on the mountain that he recollected the chambers in this cairn in their half cleared out state to have been used for culinary purposes by the men of the Ordnance Survey when encamped on Sliabh na Caillighe many years ago. There are thirteen inscribed stones in this cairn.

There are some appearances of a cairn having stood about midway between Cairn T and Cairn V.

Cairn V

Is thirty nine yards south east from Cairn T fifty one yards south of U and is eleven yards in diameter. All the smaller stones which originally formed the cairn have been carried away leaving quite bare the upright stones which formed the interior chambers. From present appearances these do not seem to have been arranged on any particular plan. The greatest length of the chambers having a bearing of east 20° south is twenty one feet and breadth ten feet.

About a yard outside the circumference on the north western side stands an upright pillar stone five feet above ground five feet six inches broad and one foot six inches thick Digging round the base of this stone in a fruitless search for engravings I turned up a long rounded white sea pebble which from appearances may have been used as a sling stone or a hammer.

Four of the upright stones in this cairn are inscribed.

Cairn W

Cairn W is 128 yards east of Cairn T Its present remains appear nearly level with the ground and are seven yards in diameter. The single interior chamber which this cairn contained is round or well shaped and unlike all the others which appear to have been erected on the bare surface of the ground the earth seems to have been dug away for the construction of this chamber six feet nine inches in diameter formed by eight flagstones placed on ends fitting closely together except in two instances and all having an inclination inwards at the bottom.

A layer of charred bones six inches in thickness was found to cover the of this chamber in the clearing out of which was brought to light resting on the floor a splendid stone urn two and a half feet square one foot thick and hollowed out from the sides towards the centre to depth varying from three to four inches. On raising this urn evidently occupied its original position some splinters of charred were found beneath it. The point which appears to have been the entrance to this chamber has a bearing due south. Five of the chamber stones in this cairn are inscribed.

Cairn X

Passing from the hill specially known as Sliabh na Caillighe and midway up the next or eastern peak called the Hill of Patrickstown are found together the remains of three stone circles. These are marked in the recently executed Ordnance Map as carns, but it is doubtful whether they are the boundary rings of large stones usually encircling cairns or merely simple stone circles.

The northern circle is the most perfect of the three the other two being in their present state little more than semicircles. The diameter of the northern circle is forty feet. The distance from stone No 1 to No 2 is four yards from 2 to 3 four yards from 3 to 4 one yard 4 and 5 nearly touch one another distance from 5 to 6 two yards 6 and 7 nearly touch one another distance from 7 to 8 three yards from 8 to 9 eight yards and from 9 to 10 seven yards.

Thirteen feet inwards from the circumference of the northern circle stands an upright stone marked on the plan No 10 upon the face of which pointing NW are inscribed a circle three inches in diameter a cup with thirteen rays surrounded by a circle six inches in diameter on which circle is another cup two inches in diameter and half an inch deep from which fall down nine rays varying from four to twelve inches in length and from half an inch to an inch in breadth five of which terminate in a cup a cup with nine rays six inches across over which are thirteen equidistant arcs of circles varying in length from two to twelve inches; along the lower part of the face of the stone are three circles one three ene four and one five inches in diameter. The designs on this stone can be only seen to advantage in a suitable shade of sunlight. In this I was most fortunate a little before sunset of an evening in the beginning of this month February 1866.

The Calendar Stone within the chamber of Cairn X1 at Loughcrew. Illustration by George Du Noyer.
The Calendar Stone within the chamber of Cairn X1 at Loughcrew.
Illustration by George Du Noyer.

The middle circle is nine yards south of the northern circle and is twelve yards in diameter. The distance from stone No 1 to No 2 is four yards from 2 to 3 one yard from 3 to 4 two yards from 4 to 5 two yards from 5 to 6 three yards In the centre of the circle are lying flat two stones numbered on the plan 7 and 8. No 5 is inscribed with a cup having ten others in a circle round it the circle measuring ten inches across and having four other cups in an incomplete circle round this again nearly eighteen inches across the cups being about an inch and a half in diameter and a quarter of an inch deep there are also 28 similar cups in one group on this stone.

No 8 contains a circular hole six and a half inches in diameter cut vertically with much precision and smoothness to a depth of three inches. For what use this may have been intended it would be difficult to conjecture if we do not suppose that the stone itself has been unfinished or not completely pierced through such as is described by Carro pp 47 and 48 Paris 1863 and again by Le Baron A de Bonstetten pp 15 and 16 Geneva 1865 as a rare instance occurring in cromleacs or dolmens in Palestine and in India and especially in that of Trie le Chateau near Gisors in France destined for giving access for fresh sepultures without removing any of the stones and through a space not sufficient to admit a human body.

The third or southern circle twelve yards south of the middle one and twenty three yards in diameter at present contains only seven stones with an eighth lying five yards west of its boundary The distance from No 1 to No 2 is seven yards from 2 to 3 fifteen yards from 3 to 4 four yards from 4 to 5 nine yards and Nos 5 6 and 7 adjoin one another Y Crowning the top of the Hill of Patrickstown which attains the height of 885 feet there stood until within the past few years one of the most conspicuous cairns in the range Its diameter is thirty three yards but only a few cartloads of the stones which formed it now remain the rest having been used up by Mr Edward Rotheram of Crossdrum the proprietor of the hill in the construction of adjoining fences

Cairn Z

At the base of the eastern peak on the south side stands the Moat of Patrickstown. It measures 115 paces round the base 45 feet in slant height and 40 paces round the circumference at the top, which is flattened. This tumulus is situated on the top of a small sloping eminence in a green field and is crowned by a mutilated whitethorn tree growing on its eastern border. It is covered with earth and grass but is said to contain stone chambers in the interior.

Carved slips of cattle-bone from Cairn H.
Carved slips of cattle-bone from Cairn H.

Megalithic Art at Loughcrew

Although the carved stones previously referred to exceed one hundred in number there are not two the decorations on which are similar. On the stones which have been long exposed to the destructive effects of the atmosphere the punched or other work is often much obliterated but on those lately exposed the work of the tool is almost as fresh and as distinct as at the period of its execution. At what remote or even recent period these ancient tombs have been subjected to demolition it would be difficult to determine I have heard however from old men who were engaged at the work of exploration that they recollected before quarries were generally opened in the country that persons were in the habit of coming from distances of twenty or thirty miles round about to procure from these archaic structures slabs suitable for domestic or other purposes.

Carvings on a passage stone in Cairn T.
Carvings on a passage stone in Cairn T.

Of what now remains deprived of most of the roofing flags the inscriptions on the sculptured chamber stones in thirteen chambers on the entire range may be thus summarized:

406 single cup like hollows some arranged in parallel lines some in circles and many of them scattered in groups probably intended to represent constellations 86 cups each surrounded by a single circle 30 by two circles 1 7 by three circles 4 by four circles 3 by five circles 4 cup hollows each surrounded by a spiral 35 star shaped figures varying from four to thirteen rays in each 22 circles with rays emanating from each 14 cups each surrounded by a circle with rays emanating from it 16 single ovals 1 figure of two concentric ovals 1 of six 114 single circles 32 figures of two concentric circles 10 of three 6 of four 4 of five 1 of six 68 semi elliptical or arched figures 12 spirals 14 quadrilateral figures 6 triangular figures formed by cross hatched lines 54 reticulated figures consisting in all of 138 diamonds nearly 300 single straight lines some of which may probably be Oghamic upwards of 80 zigzag or chevron lines 10 single curves 11 figures of two concentric curves 10 of three 8 of four 4 of five 4 of six 2 of seven 1 of eight 1 of nine and 2 of thirteen concentric curves.

In all so far as the explorations have gone I have laid bare 1393 separate devices which will be found to be many times more than had been previously supposed to exist in Ireland. From the existence of other sepulchral remains cairns moats &c extending from Sliabh na Caillighe in the direction of the town of Kells and continued thence towards Slane and Drogheda, I have little doubt that the cairns on the Loughcrew Hills are but a portion of a chain of such remains terminated on the east by the great mounds of Knowth New Grange and Dowth, and that a fuller and more careful examination of the country will prove that chain to have extended westward to the Atlantic.

Would it not be interesting to have all the tumuli in the neighbourhood of New Grange thoroughly explored and examined as those at Loughcrew have been, several of them being yet unopened. Their examination would probably afford if nothing else a considerable addition to our present knowledge of existing inscribed stone monuments.

I have a strong impression that a further investigation of cairns L and T on Sliabh na Caillighe will bring to light additional interior chambers in these two cairns but leaving this out of consideration for the present it will be readily seen that what I have already discovered and endeavoured here to describe far exceeds in extent all the carved megalithic chambers which were previously known to exist in the kingdom and these principally at Dowth and New Grange.

During the progress of the work of exploration at Loughcrew I furnished myself with paper sufficient to take rubbings of all the inscribed stones, some of which I actually rubbed but finding that in several instances accurate rubbings could not be taken at all and that in addition I could not devote the time neccssary for exeeuting a series of more than 100 inscribed faces with due care and accuracy; in this dilemma I urged upon my friend Mr Du Noyer who was then living in the neighbouring town of Kells to employ his ready pencil in drawing the devices on the carved stones.

After I left the hills he completed this great work and I am sure the Academy will agree with me that so important a task could not be intrusted to an abler antiquarian artist. In concluding this first part of my examination of these cairns which I have confined entirely to descriptive and statistical details I beg leave to make the following recommendations to the Academy.


I That the thanks of this Academy be voted to Mr Naper and to Mr Hamilton for the willing earnest and important aid which they afforded during the progress of these discoveries and for Mr Naper's patriotic generosity in allowing me to present everything found to this Academy where objects of antiquarian interest can be best studied and elucidated.

II That a separate case in the Museum be appropriated to the safe keeping of the various articles found with a suitable inscription recording the aid which Mr Naper gave in opening up and bringing to light these interesting remains of a prehistoric age in this country.

III That it would be all important that the particulars of a find so peculiarly national should be published by this Academy with full illustrations rather than allow its publication to appear in any other form or in any other place.

IV That the Committee of Antiquities should obtain from the most competent persons

1: An analysis of the earth in which the carved bone flakes iron bronze glass amber &c were found;

2: A descriptive report on the classification of the sea shells;

3: A similar report on the sea pebbles;

4: An analytic report on the human aand other bones and the various positions and places in which they were found;

5: A report on the apparent anachronisms in the admixture of the stone bronze iron glass amber &c found in cairn H and that these reports be given to me for insertion in my next and concluding paper on the examination of these ancient remains;

6: That some competent person be directed to make search for historical allusion to these ancient tombs as it is not probable that so remarkable a place could have escaped all notice in the bardic annals of the country. The Very Rev the President exhibited and described and made some observations upon the ornamented bone articles found in the cairns on the Loughcrew Hills and placed in his hands by Mr Conwell.

The marked thanks of the Academy were returned to JWL Naper Esq of Loughcrew for the liberality earnestness and zeal which he evinced in furthering the researches of Mr Conwell and for his consideration in presenting to the Museum of the Academy the large and varied amount of antiquarian remains which were obtained in the process of excavation of the Cairns on the Loughcrew Hills; as also to Charles Hamilton Esq for his kind and valuable services in giving effect to the measures adopted upon the occasion.

Mr George V Du Noyer exhibited a large collection of Drawings made by him of the Antiquarian Remains discovered and explored on the Loughcrew Hills. The thanks of the Academy were returned to Mr Du Noyer. The Secretary on the part of the Editor presented the Register of the King and Queen's College of Physicians in Ireland for 1866. The thanks of the Academy were voted to the donor.

The Rev Samuel Haughton MD read his second paper On the Semidiurnal Tides of the Coasts of Ireland at Castletownsend.

A superb aerial image of the Loughcrew cairns by Liam Kenny of Suas Media.
A superb aerial image of the Loughcrew cairns by Liam Kenny of Suas Media.