This is a slide from my first trip to Carrowkeel about 1994, and I immediately decided I was moving there! The view is to the northwest north from the standing stone south of Cairn K.. Cairn F, the largest cairn with the most elaborate chamber, including standing stone, is to the left. On the horizon is Croughan in the Ox Mountains and Queen Maeve's cairn on Knocknarea. Beyond you can make out the sea.
But the gem of this great cemetery was the cairn which we called F. This contained a magnificent chamber of unique and complicated design. It consisted of a well-built entrance passage, a polygonal chamber with recesses cut off by sills, and a second larger chamber beyond with three seperated recesses, and in this, most remarkable of all, a slender pillar-stone in the centre-line, 5 feet in height, and 7.5 by 9 inches in section. Over this the roof rose to its greatest height, some 16 feet above the floor. The unfortunate fracture of a large slab at some bygone time had brought about a great collapse, and we had to remove tons of stuff to clear the chamber. Another accident had snapped the standing stone across, near its base, but had not impaired the sanctity which apparently was attached to it, for we found the ashes of a burnt human body laid on the butt end of the prostrate part. The architecture of this monument was of most massive character, slabs up to four tons in weight being used in its construction; and its design, and its inner sanctuary with the standing-stone, is without parallel.
R. L. Praeger - The Way That I Went, 1937
Cairn F greets the visitor to Carrowkeel, along with Cairn B, one on each side of the valley as they proceed up the Bricklieve Gap. Majestically located on the left cliff-top on the ridge called Carn Mór, Cairn F is the largest and most important of the cairns at Carrowkeel. It has a diameter of 26 metres and probably stood 8 - 10 metres high. It is located about 200 meters south of Cairn E at an altitude of 310 metres.
Right, the entrance to Cairn F prior to digging in 1911. The large slab above the entrance was the capstone of the chamber, with a walking stick for scale. The workers smashed this slab since it was too heavy to lift.
The roof had collapsed by the time Macalister arrived to excavate it and the chamber was full of cairn material. A huge lintel had cracked under the strain of the roof, allowing spalls and small stones to fall in and fill the chamber. The massive 4 ton capstone had fallen inside and lay on its edge. The work crew broke it up and removed it to make room for their excavation.
The cairn contains a very large well built chamber formed from massive squared limestone slabs (see next two pages for Macalister's plans), with five compartments, two at each side and an end recess. Round pieces of sandstone were used in places in an effort to relieve stress. Most interesting was the discovery of a fallen standing stone 1.5 metres long within the chamber.
Macalister estimated the original height of the corbelled roof to be 5 metres; he found this 'one of the most impressive and interesting ancient structures remaining in Ireland'. The flagstones which all came from the same quarry were trimmed and squared to a uniform shape, a characteristic trademark of the Carrowkeel builders.
Looking north from the ruined chamber of Cairn F, across Cairn E.
The presence of a standing stone in Cairn F is very unusual and will probably prove to be of great significance is the site is ever cleared up. This pillar-stone must have broken some time before the collapse of the roof, since ashes were found spread across the stump. When and how the stone fell is a mystery; it must have cracked the sill stone of the south recess. There is a large hunk of sandstone outside the entrance to Cairn E that has been split in two. Perhaps it was broken at the same time.
Praeger sitting on Cairn F before the excavations began in 1911.
Cairns C & D
Cairns M & N
Cairns O & P
The Caves of Kesh
Sections of Cairn F
Section of Cairn G
Astronomy at Cairn G
Sections & plans
Panorama from Carrowkeel
The earliest antiquarian reports stated that Newgrange had a fallen pillar-stone in the chamber, although no evidence has come to light since. It may be that it was a dislodged section from a roof corbel. Cairn L at Loughcrew has a pillar in its chamber, known as the Whispering Stone or Speaking Stone, and it is likely that the chamber cairn were constructed around this special standing stone. The Loughcrew Whispering Stone is struck by a beam of light from the rising sun on the November and February cross-quarter days, a truly amazing sight to behold.
More sections and dimensions of Cairn F (not visible today) from 1911. Below, eight water-rolled limestone pebbles from the chamber of Cairn F. The stones were buried beside the limestone pillar or standing stone within the chamber.
In 1911 the chamber was completely cleared of all the loose stones and corbel flags. The inner structure of this cairn is an amazing piece of architecture, as can be seen from the excavation drawings. This chamber is approaching the scale of the larger cairns in the Boyne Valley. Today the passage and chamber of Cairn F are completely caved in and choked with cairn material. The sight of this majestic structure left in such neglect presents a sad sight to the visitor. The passage is about 8 meters long from entrance to backstone. The first set of recesses are 3 meters across, and the second larger set are 4.5 meters across. The capstone is estimated to be over 5 meters above the floor. The passage and chamber are aligned due north across Cairn E, in the direction of the Deerpark monuments on the northern side of Lough Gill.
Cairn F is one of a small group of Irish cairns concerned with the pole star and/or the direction north. This position marker was used to measure the angle of the lunar standstill to Knocknarea from Cairns E & K and the summer solstice sunsets at Cairns E & G. Another possible function is to observe the pole star at noon during solar eclipses.