Equinox sunset over Knocknarea.
Circle 17 at Carrowmore.
Carrowmore 17 is tucked in a corner behind a hedge, and several of it's boulders are built into the nearby wall.

Circle 17

Site 17 at Carrowmore is easy enough to miss, as it is hidden in the corner of the large field which also contains a portion of Circle 57. The site is not accessible to the public. It is found by the road south of the visitor centre, tucked in behind the hedge before the cottage on the right. Circle 17 is part of a largly intact chain of big circles on the east side of Carrowmore, including Circles 18, 19, 26 and 27.

Circle 17 is eleven meters in diameter, with the eastern portion partly destroyed by the road. Twelve fairly large gneiss boulders remain in the circle, and several others can be seen built into the wall nearby. The stones would have looked quite imposing when they stood upright, but all are now lying fallen flat. Circle 17, missing only it's burial chamber, is a classic early passage-grave or tertre, a style of monument which appears to have been imported to Sligo from neolithic Brittany.

Circle 7 at Carrowmore during the Equinox; photo copyright Ken williams.
The Kissing Stone or Circle 7 at Carrowmore is a perfect example of a classic early passage-grave or tertre. Photo © Ken williams.

Carrowmore style tertres are circular raised platforms of earth and stone which support a five-sided dolmen or burial chamber, usually for cremated human remains. The capstones at Carrowmore were usually triangular-shaped split boulders, and the platform is ringed and contained by a stone circle or kerb, which is often supported by stone packing to keep the tops of the stones level.

A symbolic passage of stones set in the ground completes the arrangement, and Circle 17 has one of the best examples remaining at Carrowmore. Wood-Martin found the passage to be two meters long and half a meter wide, with six stones to each side. The passage, which opens to the west, leads to an unusually long chamber which was segmented into two compartments. Sometimes one or more inner circles, which appear to be symbolic boundaries or barriers, are found in these early monuments, and both Petrie and Wood-Martin noted a fine inner ring, here at Circle 17, which is no longer visible today.

Petrie observed a smaller inner circle, a common feature at both Carrowmore and Knowth which seems to indicate that these early passage-graves were free-standing monuments without covering cairns. The passage and what is left of the chamber open to the west, towards the centre of the complex, and it is highly likely that this monument is aligned towards the equinox sunsets. There is a large slab, which Petrie took to be a displaced roof-slab lying nearby.

Circle 17 at Carrowmore, looking west to Knocknarea.
Circle 17 at Carrowmore, looking west to Queen Maeve's cairn and Knocknarea. The chamber seems to be aligned on the mountain and the equinox sunset. Note how the farm building is almost touching the circle.

It seems certain that this monument was excavated by Petrie and Roger Walker. Petrie posessed a bronze age pin which he stated had come from this monument. The location of the site so close to the road would have made it an easy monument to access. Finds by Walker included a beautiful urn, illustrated below, which again clearly demonstrate the bronze age reuse of Carrowmore, and 0.5 kg of cremated human remains. He also found a bone or antler pin in five fragments, three pieces of quartz, eight shells and a fossel Borlase, at the end of his long comment, below, defends Petrie, indicating that there was some doubt as to the provenence of the bronze age pin in his collection.

Circle 17 at Carrowmore, looking west to Knocknarea.
Circle 17 can be seen beside the shed in the distance in this photograph of Circles 56 and 57 on the grounds of the OPW compound. Circle 17 remains on private property, as does a slice of Circle 57.

Circle 17 - Borlase

No. I7. Situated on the other (or west) side of the road, south of 13 (dolmen-circle). "This circle is in part destroyed by the road. It appears to have been a double circle, with an external diameter of 40 feet. The covering stone of the cromleac has been displaced. Within its enclosure Mr. Walker found human bones and fragments of an urn. The grave, as usual, had been opened previously. The covering-stone is 12 feet in circumference."

- Petrie.

The fragments of the urn found here, which constituted the upper portion of it, were presented by Mr. Walker to Petrie, and are now in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy. Col. Wood-Martin thus describes the vessel, of which he succeeded in finding three other small portions: "The diameter of the vessel at its mouth is 14 inches. Its height originally must be a matter of conjecture, a part of the lower extremity being modern, and having been attached to it merely as a stand.

The neck and upper portions have been divided by a narrow, raised band into two members, each of which is decorated with a chevron or wavy pattern, and a number of raised, circular bosses." The following remarks upon its construction are curious: "There would seem to have been at least three stages in the manufacture of this remarkable urn.

First, a vessel of coarse, gritty matter was fashioned. This was baked in a strong fire, and burnt almost to blackness. It seems then to have been overlaid with finer material, of a buff or brick-dust colour, upon which were laid strips of the same composition, just as a modern cook would embellish a pie-crust. There can be no question but that it was in this manner that the raised ornamentation was formed. Some portion of the wavy pattern, and many of the little bosses, have fallen off. The interior of the vessel would seem to have been coated or veneered with matter less fine than that which appears on the outside. These coatings, and the attached raised patterns, were presented to the influence of a moderate degree of heat from a fire of wood or peat".

Bronze age pottery from Carrowmore 17.
William Wakeman's illustration of the Bronze age pot from Carrowmore 17.

The writer compares the manner in which he thinks this urn was formed with what he considers also to have been the mode employed in making urns found respectively at Toom in the Co. Cavan, and at Drumnakilly in the County Tyrone. In the case of an elaborately decorated urn found by me in a cairn on Morvah Hill, in West Cornwall, in a cist, with a coin of Constantius II., I observed that the raised pattern was liable to fall off and that it was of a fine yellow paste, which left exposed underneath the coarse black pottery of which the interior of the vessel had been formed. The view I formed of its construction was precisely that of Colonol Wood-Martin in regard to the Carrowmore vessel.

During his further exploration on the site of the dolmen in this circle, Colonol Wood-Martin also found portions of a dagger-like implement of cetaceous bone, similar to those found in 4 and 12, and which must have measured about 14 inches long; also a fossil of the limestone formation, three small fragments of white quartz, eight pieces of oyster and cockle-shells, and human and animal remains consisting of 1 lb. 2 oz. of fragmentary and calcined bones, amongst which were three human incisors, and two pieces of temporal bone (petrous portion) of skull.

Carrowmore Circle 17.
Carrowmore 17 looking south to Sliabh Da Ean in the Ox Mountains, six kilometers to the south east. This photo shows how the monument is cut by the road to the left. Circle 18 is on the other side of the cottage.

From the plan of this circle and its area, it will be evident at once that the dolmen, and its passage, extended across it from the southwest towards the northeast opening in the ring, and expanding as it reached the centre. I believe this to have been a common, if not an almost universal feature, in the Carrowmore series, and it is one which, as I have observed, connects these monuments rather with the dolmens proper than with the passage less cairns covering cists, wholly enclosed.

It was in this cromlech, if in any cromlech in Carrowmore, that the bronze-pin, or fibula, must have been found, which is stated, in the "Life of Petrie," to have been found in a cromlech at Carrowmore and in an urn. Discredit has been thrown, however, on the assertion attributed to the great Irish antiquary, and that there has been some mistake seems certain. (See Cloverhill).

Carrowmore 17.
Carrowmore 17, crouched under the hedge by the road in the corner of a field.