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Cairn L at Loughcrew
Cairn L, one of the two large focal monuments on Cairnbane West, the other being the huge Cairn D . There are four smaller satellite monuments around Cairn L: Cairns E, F, G and Cairn H , which probably predate Cairn L.

Cairn L

A 20 minute walk west across the fields from the Loughcrew carpark brings you to Cairnbane West. In recent years visitors have not been allowed to visit this hill by the landowner, which is a great shame as there are many wonderful monuments on the summit. There are many sheep on the fine farmlands between Carnbane east and west.

Just inside the gate, you can see a low round mound, like a barrow some 12 meters in diameter and a recently erected decorated stone slab. This is one of two destroyed mounds. Walking west, you pass the smaller hill, Sliabh Rua, with Cairn M on the summit, and then a large circle of stone slabs which looks like a cashel from the late Iron age. There is another large circle similar to this on the other side of the central hill.

A cashel at Loughcrew
View up to Carnbane west from the large medieval cashel in the valley.

Cairn L, sits perched on the eastern slope of the hill, the second largest mound of the fifteen sites on this summit. The site looms dramatically, and really is located in a spectacular position.

The gate to enter the cairn is locked, and at the time of writing the key is not available to the public, a sad situation since this chamber has some of the most impressive art at Loughcrew.

The cairn is about 40 meters in diameter, a little larger than Cairn T on the opposite summit. There are 41 kerbstones, several of which have fallen over, and none of which appear to be carved. As is quite common with these monuments, the kerb tends to flatten near the entrance.

A lot of the cairn material has been removed from inside the kerb, and about half of the outer part of the passage is missing, replaced with stone walls as can be seen in the picture above. The roof of this monument had collapsed, and was repaired with concrete by the Bord of Works in the late 1940's.

View from Cairn L
The view to the east from Cairn L to Cairn M. A mile away on the summit of Sliabh na Cailli is Cairn T, and beyond that is Patrickstown Hill.

Cairn L is one of the more unusual chambered cairns in Ireland, having a complex plan and internal standing stone within the chamber. The monument has only been excavated by Eugene Conwell. When Conwell arrived in 1865 the roof had collapsed and the chamber was full of rubble. He estimated that the capstone probably stood 5 or 6 meters above the floor of the chamber.

Cairn L at Loughcrew photographed by William Armstrong Green.
Cairn L at Loughcrew photographed by William A. Green. Photo © NMNI.

Conwell's finds in Cairn L

After the interior chambers had been cleared of all the loose stones, which had filled them up, on Tuesday evening, 19th September, 1865, in presence of Mr. Naper, Mr. Hamilton, Archbishop Errington, and a number of ladies, we turned up this remarkable stone basin, and beneath it were revealed to view several splinters of charred and blackened bones, with about a dozen small pieces of charcoal lying in various directions.

On carefully picking the damp stiff earth underneath it, we found embedded in it upwards of 900 pieces of charred bones;
forty-eight human teeth in a very perfect state of preservation;
the pointed end of a bone pin, five and a quarter inches long, and a quarter of an inch thick;
a fragment, about an inch in length, of a similar bone pin a most perfectly rounded syenite ball, still preserving its original polish two and three-quarter inches in diameter;
another perfectly round stone ball, streaked with white and purple layers, 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 jet-like object, oval in shape, an inch and a quarter in length, and three-quarters of an inch broad;
eight white balls (carbonate of lime), which had become quite soft; but which gradually dried, on exposure, to a sufficient degree of hardness to enable us to take them away in a tolerable state of preservation.

He made a large number of finds in Cairn L, including the two stone spheres below and several smaller chalk balls under the large basin in the right recess. These can be seen in the neolithic exhibit in the National Museum of Ireland.

Stone spheres from Cairn L
The two stone spheres from the right hand recess of Cairn L, now in the National Museum, image approximately life size.

The chamber has a stalled plan with seven recesses, three at each side and one at the end, similar to Cairn I nearby. The stalls or compartments are formed from upright slabs. There are 18 decorated stones within the chamber, and the tall pillar of limestone, which Martin Brennan has dubbed the Whispering Stone.

Within Cairn L photographed by William Green.
Within Cairn L photographed by William A. Green. Photo © NMNI.

The Whispering Stone stands outside the right-back recess which is much larger than the other recesses. The recess contains a massive stone basin, 2 x 1.5 meters with a shallow rim around the edge. Behind this basin is positioned one of the finest panels of engraved neolithic art at Loughcrew, which is illuminated by the light of the rising sun twice yearly.

The Chamber of Cairn L
Within the chamber of Cairn L The art and basin can be seen in the recess to the right, guarded by the Whispering stone, a mysterious limestone pillar. The green is a growth on the stones.
Photo © Padraig Conway.