County Sligo is home to the largest and oldest collection of stone circles and dolmens known from neolithic Ireland. These are found at Carrowmore, a collection of burial monuments at the centre of the Cuil Iorra peninsula three kilometers west of Sligo town.
A slideshow of the monuments at Carrowmore.
is located at the heart of the Cuil Irra peninsula, a spit of land bounded by water
on three sides. Ballisodare Bay lies to the south, the Atlantic ocean to the
west and Sligo Bay to the north. Lough Gill is to the east beyond Carns Hill, connected to the sea by the short shelly Sligo river, the Garavogue.
The stunning cairn topped mountain of Knocknarea is 4 km to the west of Carrowmore, while the smaller, but equally important Carns
Hill is 4 km to the east. There are more neolithic buildings on the summits
of the Ox Mountains to the south.
Thirty monuments remain at Carrowmore today, in varying states of preservation and completion, the most perfect being Number 7. The antiquarian George Petrie
noted 65 monuments during his visit for the Ordinance Survey in 1837, but today the number is thought to be considerably lower at a probable maximum of forty circles. The sites
were badly damaged in the early years of the nineteenth century
by land clearance and gravel quarrying.
This website provides a virtual tour of the monuments at Carrowmore, with a page
for each monument and its history of research. New information from ancient DNA suggests that the monuments were built and used by people who came by sea from Brittany in north-western France slightly over 6,000 years ago.
These voyagers brought the first cattle to Ireland, and existed by herding their cattle through the forested landscape. It seems that they also re-introduced the red deer to Ireland, the native species of Irish elk having become extinct after the last ice age.
Because so many of the monuments have been destroyed, the only remaining records of some
circles are the comments by Petrie and Wood-Martin and the illustrations
of William Wakeman.
The type of monuments found at Carrowmore are boulder circles with central dolmens and sometimes rudimentary passages. They are among the earliest megalithic of chambers built in Ireland; information from carbon dated red deer antlers show that the chambers were used between 5,800 and 5,000 years ago. Originally each of the sites had a raised platform which was up to
a meter above the surrounding ground level, sometimes with one or more inner circles of smaller stones.
stones used to construct the monuments are a very hard form of glacial rock
called gneiss, which comes from the nearby Ox Mountains. There are an
average of 30 - 35 stones per circle, set side by side and placed standing upright.
The average diameters of the Carrowmore circles are 10 - 12 meters, though a few monuments such as 19,
22, 27 and 51 are larger.
number 7, the Kissing Stone, or Leaba na Fian is the most intact example remaining today. It consists of a circle
of boulders about 11 meters in diameter, and has a beautifully graceful
dolmen, or stone table at the centre. The Kissing Stone is built on a slope and has an amazing view west to Knocknarea Mountain.
The sockets of missing stones were
found during the excavations, which show that there was once a short passage
leading into the chamber. About 14 of the monuments have passages at Carrowmore.