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The Hag's Chair
The Hag's Chair or Throne, a massive engraved kerbstone on the north side of Cairn T.
Picture © Padraig Conway.

Cairn T at Loughcrew

From the carpark a short steep 10 minute walk (marked with poles) brings you to the summit, which appears suddenly. Cairn U appears first then the large imposing mound of Cairn T, which caps the top of the hill.

As you approach the cairn, the Hag's Chair, a large decorated kerbstone, calls out to be sat upon. From this seat on the north side of the cairn, which is the highest peak at Loughcrew, there is a magnificant view which is said to extend over 18 counties - one of the best views in Ireland.

Plan of Cairn T by Conwell
A plan of Cairn T by Eugene Conwell, from his Report on the Loughcrew passage-graves.

To the northwest the south end of the Braulieve Mountains in County Leitrim is visible. Sliabh Gullion in County Armagh stands out 60 km due north.

The mound or cairn of Cairn T is more or less complete, missing only the capstone of its fine beehive corbelled chamber. A small grill covers the hole where the keystone should be, admitting light and rain. Also missing is the thick mantle of white quartz which was much commented upon by early visitors, so that it was known as Carn Ban, the White Cairn.

A circle of 38 large kerbstones bounds the base of the mound of stones. One stone was sometimes split in half to make two kerbs The kerbstones are a mixed bunch, of all shapes and sizes, and as usual getting larger towaerd the entrance, the largest stones being placed on each side of the door. The Hags Chair stands out as the only kerbstone with megalithic art remaining at Loughcrew, though there were surely many more.

Plan of the chamber of Cairn T by Jean McMann.
Plan of the chamber of Cairn T by Jean McMann.

The Hag's Chair is a huge horned kerbstone on the north side of the cairn, where, according to tradition, the Cailleach Garavogue used to sit and watch the stars. The stone is placed facing due north, towards the stellar pole, and is positioned due north of the chamber.

A stunning image of the passage-graves on Carnbane at Loughcrew. Photo © Liam Kenny of Suas Media.
A stunning image of the passage-graves on Carnbane at Loughcrew. Photo © Liam Kenny of Suas Media.

Local lore says a great dish carved from a huge piece of quartz and filled with cremated bone is buiried near here. A cross carved on the seat dates from the Penal times in the 17th Century when priests were hunted and masses were held in the open air. There is another cross carved on the side of the standing stone near the remains of Cairn N down the south side of the hill.

Cairn T, Loughcrew.
Cairn T viewed from the chamber of Cairn V.

The remains of six smaller cairns, known as satellites, surround Cairn T. Sites R1, R2 and W are much disturbed and little remains of them. A large, wide vessel was discovered in Cairn W which is oriented to the south. Cairn U, missing its top half, is oriented to the Samhain/Imbolc sunrise like Cairn L. The chamber and passage stones survive but no roof remains. All the remaining chamber stones are engraved. Cairn S has passage, chamber and kerbstones but the cairn stones are gone. There are several truely massive fieldwalls in the Loughcrew Mountains which accounts for a lot of the missing stone.

Spiders and megalithic art
Spiders on the ceiling of the end precess of Cairn T, echoing the patterns in the eight pointed neolithic engravings.

The interior of Cairn T is closed to the public due to structural damage to the roof. Upon entry to the mound, the visitor is immediately confronted by engraved stones on both sides of the passage. One of the wonders of Loughcrew is the abundance of ancient carvings - among the first writing in this country. As you proceed you cross a sill stone - an upright projection which seperates the passage from the chamber.

Within this ancient corbelled room you are presented with the classic cruciform chamber of an Irish Passage Cairn. This is among the oldest free-standing buildings in Irelan and may date from as early as 3,500 BC. There are many small engravings on the chamber stones, in particular the west sill. Three small cells, seperated from the central space by sillstones open off the main chamber, to the south, west and north. The backstone of the west recess is richly carved with symbols which resemble combs and flowers. This is the Sliabh na Caillí Equinox Stone.

The end recess of Cairn T.
The keystone within the end recess of Cairn T, the most elabourate of the many carvings within the chamber.
Photo © Padraig Conway.