Equinox sunset over Knocknarea.
Circle 1 at Carrowmore. This monument has an intact stone circle with a small inner circle around a level platform.

Circle 1

Circle 1 is located directly across the street from the visitor's centre. There are 35 boulders in a complete circle, surrounding a raised platform or tertre. The circle measures twelve meters in diameter, and has a smaller inner circle or setting which is eight meters across. This feature is found at a number of sites in Carrowmore, but this is the best example that can be seen today; circular settings were also found at Knowth under the smaller satellite monuments.

Circle 1 at Carrowmore, looking west.

The stones at Circle 1 originally stood upright in a complete unbroken ring. Today, most of the stones have fallen over and are lying flat. The monument was excavated by W. G. Wood-Martin in 1888 and again more than a century later by Göran Burenhult in 1994 and 1995 (see below). Drystone packing was found under some of the boulders on the west side, a technique which was used on a number of Carrowmore monuments, to keep the tops of the circle stones level. Stone packings were noted at several of the Carrowmore circles.

This boulder is probably the capstone of Circle 1.
This large boulder inside the gate opposite the Visitor Centre is probably the capstone of Circle 1.

Borlase's report, 1895

Borlase's notes on Carrowmore, which are really a summary of the investigations by Petrie and Wood-Martin, from his mammoth three volume Dolmens of Ireland. No. 1 (dolmen-circle), "the most western of the chain of circles north of the road leading from Seafield to Sligo."

This forms an elevated platform, and has an inner circle of smaller stones with a broken cromleac in the centre. The stones of the outer circle, which is 40 feet in diameter, are of very large size, and 35 in number; but two of them have fallen from their places. Bones were found beneath the cromleac.

- Petrie.

Boulders at Circle 1 at Carrowmore.
The large gneiss boulders on the south side of Circle 1. The stone on the right was replaced upright after the excavation.

The elevated platform is several feet above the surface of the surrounding soil, rising as much as 6 feet to the west. The outer circle is 43 feet in diameter, and is formed of 36 stones. There were 25 of the stones of the inner circle. One support of the cromleac was in situ.

An excavation was made to the west of this, and a few inches beneath the surface some greyish-white, and seemingly highly calcined fragments of bone, were dug up. Dr. Frazer pronounced them to be all human, and identified parts of a skull, and thigh and leg bones. With the calcined remains was discovered the upper portion of a rude pin seemingly made of horn, in several fragments. A larger fragment may have formed part of a larger pin or small dagger. There was a semicircular piece of a bone object, and two small portions of an urn.

- Wood-Martin.

Circle 3 by W. A Green, 1910.
Circle 3 photographed by W. A Green in 1910. The cottage standing beside Circle 1 is visible, as is Mary Parkes, who is standing on the tertre and looking across the hedge at the photographer.

Burenhult's Excavation, 1995

An area covering 88.5 square meters at Circle 1 was excavated by Göran Burenhult's Swedish team in 1995 followed by 19 square meters during the 1996 season. This monument was located in a cottage garden beside the Seafield road, and unsurprisingly yielded large amounts of domestic rubbish from the adjacent dwelling belonging to the Parke's family. The remenants of the cottage, which appears on Beranger's 1779 map, was demolished twenty years ago as part of a clearance and sanitization of parts of the complex by the OPW.

Excavation of Circle 1.
Göran Burenhult's excavation at Circle 1 in 1994, showing the building belonging to the cottage beside the circle.

The following is a short section from the excavation report, which has been published online. The full report is available for download here.

The excavation of Tomb No. 1 was commenced during the 1995 season. Tomb No. 1 in Carrowmore was the first monument to be considered in the chain of monuments north to the road leading from Seafield to Sligo. The construction forms an elevated platform, and consists of an almost intact boulder circle of 33 stones (31 gneis, 2 limestone) with a diameter of 13 meters. To the northeast and south many stones have fallen outwards. An inner stone circle, consisting of 24 stones (8.25 meters in diameter), was partly visible before the excavation. One limestone slab is standing east of the centre of the monument. There were no visible remains of any chamber before the excavation.

An excavation was made in the 1830’s by Walker, according to Petrie 1837: ”...bones were found beneath the cromleac” (Petrie 1837, p. 434). Another excavation was made by Wood-Martin in 1887: ”There are very distinct traces of an inner circle, represented now by twenty-five smaller-sized stones; towards the centre there is one support of the destroyed cromleac in situ. An excavation was made to the west of this, and a few inches beneath the surface, some greyish-white, and seemingly highly-calcinated fragments of bone were dug up” (Wood-Martin 1888, p. 540).

Finds from this excavation included cremated human bones, parts of a skull, part of a circular bone object and two fragments of a cinerary urn. It is obvious from Petrie’s and Wood-Martin’s records, that, since no chamber was in existence in 1887, the severe destruction of Tomb no. 1, that was recorded during the 1995 excavation, must have taken place between 1830 and 1887.

Quadrants I, II and IV were chosen for excavation, while quadrant III has been left as a future control area. Quadrant IV was completely documented during the 1995 season, while only parts of quadrants I and II were excavated. They were, together with the remaining cross- sections, excavated during the 1996 season. The system of co-ordinates was placed with the origin of co-ordinates in the center of the monument, with the X-axis north-south and the Y- axis west-east, thereby dividing the monument into 4 quadrants, quadrants I-IV (QI being the southwestern one, QII the northwestern, QIII the northeastern and QIV the southeastern). See plan on page 4. A fixed point (Z+55.47 m.a.s.l.) was chosen at the highest point of one of the stones in the boulder circle to the adjacent monument Tomb no. 2.

Stone in a wall.
Many of the stones from the Carrowmore circles were used to build field walls, like this example close to the central monument.

In addition to and inside the two previous stone-circles a semi-circular construction was found containing smaller stones. It appears as if most of the stones in the semi-circular construction were blue sandstone, which is not found naturally in the Sligo area. Two large stone slabs, found in the centre of the monument, may prove to be the remaining parts of a destroyed central chamber. A considerable amount of cremated human bones were found in the area around the two slabs. The largest concentration of cremated bones was, however, found in the north-east corner of Quadrant I.

The area excavated in 1996 was 19 square meters. As could be shown in the quadrants excavated in 1995, most documented parts had been completely destroyed due to the high degree of recent disturbance inside the monument during the 19:th century. Also in Quadrant II, modern material (porcelaine, iron nails, glass etc.) was found throughout the construction down to a considerable depth. In addition to, and inside the two stone-circles, remains of the semi-circular construction containing smaller stones, found in Quadrant I during the 1995 excavation, could be documented also in Quadrant II. Most of these stones were blue sandstone, as was the case in Quadrant I.

Excavation of Circle 1.
Göran Burenhult's excavation at Circle 1 in 1995.

Three large limestone slabs, found in Quadrant II, may, together with the ones found in Quadrant I during the 1995 season, prove to be the remaining parts of a destroyed central chamber. Five small weathered lime-stones with a diameter of about 25 cm were found at the 54.80-54.88 m. level. Four of them seem to have formed part of a circular construction, one was documented below one of the large limestone slabs. No recent disturbance was found at this level. No finds were made in quadrant II during the 1996 excavation season.

Carrowmore 1 looking southeast.
Carrowmore 1 looking southeast. The smaller boulders within the ring are the inner circle. The peaks of Sliabh Dá Eán are visible in the distance. The cottage on the right houses the visitor centre. Circles 56 and 57 are visible just above the roof.