Banner: sunset over Knocknarea.
Cairn K
Cairn K on the summit of Carrowkeel in County Sligo which was opened by Macalister and Praeger on 14 April 1911.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Report on the Exploration of Bronze-Age Cairns
on Carrowkeel Mountain, County Sligo.

by R. A. S. Macalister, E. C. E. Armstrong, and R. L. Praegar.

(Read November 30th 1911. Published January 25, 1912)

Section 1. — Introduction (R. L. P.).
Section 1a. — Relation of the Carns to the Peat (R. L. P.).
Section 2. — Narritive of the Investigations (R. L. P.).
First Visit.
Second Visit.
Third Visit.
Section 3. — Description of the Carns, &c. (R. A. S. M.).
I. The Cairns.
—— Tulach. — ("Tully"') Townland.
—— Trian Scrabbagh. — ("Treanscrabbagh") Townland.
—— Ceathramhadh Caol. — ("Carrowkeel“) Townland.
——— Cairn E.
——— Cairn F.
——— Cairn G.
——— Cairn H.
——— Cairn K.
—— Carraig na hEorna. — ("Carricknahorna") Townland.
—— Dun na bhFioradh. — ("Doonaveeragh") Townland.
II Dolmens.
III. Remains of a Settlement.
Section 4. — Account of the Objects discovered (E. C. R. A.).
Description of the Implements.
Beads and Pendants.
Section 5. — Report on the human remains (Professor A. Macalister).
Section 6. — Summary.
Section 6a. — Conclusions (R. A. S. M., E. C. R. A., and R. L. P.).

Section 5 has been written by Professor Alexander Macalister, of Cambridge, who accompanied the party on their first visit to the site, and Section 6 is the joint work of the three authors, whose several shares in the earlier sections are denoted in the above table by their initials. It should, however, be said that every detail has been discussed as thoroughly as possible, both on the spot and subsequently, and that the contribution of each author has been read and criticised by both his colleagues. All three collaborators, therefore, may accept joint responsibility for every statement and deduction made throughout the report.

Macalister photographed by Green in 1911.
R. A. S. Macalister sitting on Cairn B.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.


Immediately to the north of the anticline forming the Curlew Mountains, which rise on the border of the counties of Roscommon and Sligo, stands the hill of Carrowkeel (Ceathramhadh Caol, "the narrow quarter"). It looks down on Lough Arrow, which lies at the western base, while the well-known hill of Keshcorran (1185 feet) rises a couple of miles to the north-west (O.S. one-inch map, sheet 66; six-inch Sligo sheet 40). Carrowkeel is an extensive flat-topped hill, with a maximum elevation of 1029 feet. The area above 500 feet is approximately circular in plan, and 2.5 miles in diameter. Inside this area the ground generally rises steeply to a height of 700 to 1000 feet, and the flat heather-clad summit which ensues slopes gently from north to south.

The hill is formed, like its neighbour, Keshcorran, of the Upper Limestone of the Carboniferous formation, resting almost horizontally, and the slight southward slope represents the dip of the beds. The continuity of the flat top of the hill is broken by a series of remarkable cliff-walled rifts which cut across it from North-northwest to South-southeast. These rifts are about 100 to 300 yards across, and 100 to 200 feet in depth, and they produce a singular and picturesque effect. They appear to be the result of weathering along a series of strong vertical joints; and the presence of the same series of joints in the surrounding country may be seen in the parallel ridges and hollows of the country to the northward, and the consequent direction of streams and roads; and also in the prevailing directions of the shores of the island-studded Lough Arrow.

The country surrounding Carrowkeel is generally fertile, and no doubt supported a large population since early times. These people have left abundant monuments of their occupation, and carns are unusually numerous in the district, ranging in size from the gigantic monument which crowns the summit of Knocknarea, 16 miles to the north-west of Carrowkeel, to small mounds a few yards in diameter.

Queen Maeve's cairn on the summit of Knocknarea by Robert Welch.
Queen Maeve's cairn on the summit of Knocknarea.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

The series of carns which rise among the heather on the summit of Carrowkeel, and with which the present report is concerned, have been referred to, but no more, by previous writers. Rev. C. Cosgrave, P.P., alludes to them in the Proceedings of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, vol. iii, p, 58 (1854-5), and Colonel Wood-Martin in “Rude Stone Monuments of Ireland," p. 207 (1888), makes a passing mention of them.

The carns were examined by R. L. Praeger in 1896, while he was engaged on botanical survey work; and as several of them appeared to be intact, and as the group promised to repay well the labour of opening them, the present investigation has after some years been undertaken.

While on the drift-covered lowlands such cairns are frequently formed of clay, here on the hill-top they are formed entirely of local limestone, which is a splintery rock with much chert irregularly disposed No doubt as originally built they were constructed of blocks such as a man could lift conveniently. But three to four thousand years exposure to heat and cold, rain and frost, have shattered the already splintery boulders, so that the carns are now mounds formed to a considerable extent of material like coarse road metal, with large blocks between, material difficult to excavate, being too coarse and interlocked for spade work, and too much broken up for convenient pitching by hand.

View from Cairn G south to Cairn H and Cairn K.
E. C. R. Armstrong of the National Museum of Ireland contemplates the view from Cairn G south to Cairn H and Cairn K. Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Relation of the Carns to the Peat.

At present the greater part of the flat summit of Carrowkeel is densely heather-clad, the heather growing on a layer of peat several feet in thickness. Bog much deeper than this is met with in many places on the hill, especially in the rifts, but not in the proximity of the carns on the cliff-walled ridges. There the rock shows through the peat only occasionally, though sink-holes are numerous; one fine open cave-mouth, called Poll na gColum, lies close to one of the groups of carns.

Around the edges of the carns, and also where the rock shows through, the peat shrinks back, so to speak, leaving a depression between the heather and the limestone; in other words, much, if not all, of the peat has grown since the carns were built. In some places, indeed, the peat has crept up the side of the earn (as on the north side of Carn G), or has completely overwhelmed it (as is the case with the ruined Carn L). But in any case the late age of the peat as compared with the cams is evident. This fact helps us to account for the abundance of material used in the construction of the carns, and the large choice which was evidently available in the selection of the monoliths used for the chambers.

Within the chamber of Cairn G, looking to the end recess.
The recently opened chamber of Cairn G, looking to the end recess. Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

It may be assumed that when the carns were constructed, the summit of the hill was more or less devoid of covering, presenting an appearance similar to that of the bare limestone country of Clare and south-east Galway; and that from this old surface, heavily strewn with blocks of all sizes, now buried under the peat, the carn-builders were able to select materials suitable to their needs. The growth of peat in the vicinity of the carns has now stopped; the vegetation consists characteristically of shaggy heath, with hypnums, rather than sphagnums. In consideration of the general acceptance of the view that the "age of peat" is now in most places at a close, the the late date of the growth peat on these well-drained ridges is of special interest.

The investigation of the was carried out during three visits in April, June, and October, 1911. On the first occasion we had the advantage of the assistance of Professor Alexander Macalister, M.D., of Cambridge, which was especially opportune in view of the large quantity of human remains that we found. His report on the human remains obtained during all three visits appears as a section of the present paper.

The greater number of the carns are situated on the land of Mr. R. S. S. Gardiner, J. P., and our best thanks are due to him, not only for granting permission to excavate, but for rendering valuable assistance in many different ways. We desire also to thank the Misses Ffolliott, of Hollybrook House, and Mr. Richard Gorman, for permission to open carns situated upon their land. Mr. W. A. Green, of Belfast, very kindly came down with us on our second visit, and many of his excellent photographs are used for illustrating this paper. Portion of the expense of the work was borne by the Royal Irish Academy, whose generous assistance we would here also gratefully acknowledge. Our thanks are also due to the Director of the National Museum for assistance in the matter of transport and other facilities.

Circles 56 and 57 at Carrowmore.
Circles 56 and 57 at Carrowmore, Ireland's largest and oldest complex of passage-graves, 16 miles north-west of Carrowkeel.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

2. Narrative of the Investigations.

First Visit.

We assembled at Tower Hill House on the afternoon of April 13th. Professor Alexander Macalister and R. A. S. Macalister had gone down a few days before that, and had surveyed some fifty of the ring-forts, of which a remarkable number occurs in the district.

On the first afternoon we walked over the hill, examined the different carns, and decided upon our plan of operations. We began work on the morning of April 14th, with two labourers, beginning with the nearest carn (Carn G). Like most of the others, it is a conical mound of angular limestone blocks, shattered by weather into material road-metal on the outside; but inside the blocks were intact, many of them being as large as a man could lift. Some indications of an entrance were found about half-way up the slope on the west side, and an hour's work here revealed a deep fissure, caused by the upright slab which blocked the door way having fallen a little outwards. On removing a cover-stone immediately adjoining a block measuring about 2 feet 6 inches long by 12 inches broad by 9 inches deep, we were able to enter.

Early photograph of the Chamber of Cairn G by William A. Green.
The Chamber of Cairn G. Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

To our delight, the chamber proved to be not a simple cist, but a large cruciform structure formed of tall slabs, high enough to stand upright in, and consisting of an entrance passage, a central chamber, and three side chambers resembling in general structure the type of monument which in the British Islands was not known previously to exist except in the County of Meath. The chamber, which is described later, proved intact, and evidently had never been opened since the last sepulture in Bronze-age times. The floor was quite clean, save for a few stones apparently left there by chance.

A careful examination of every corner of the passage and chamber was made before any of the bones or stones were removed. Then the materials, burnt bones, earth, and stones, from the three side chambers were brought out into the open air, sifted, and carefully examined. By the time the work was finished the light was fading.

Meanwhile, two of us, with the two men, had begun work on the promising carn higher up the hill, marked Carn K. No indication of the probable position of the doorway could be detected, so, reasoning from analogy, an extensive excavation was made half way up the western slope, by pitching out the ragged lumps of limestone. This proved fruitless, but an attempt on the northern side was more successful, and three hours after commencing work we had repeated the experience of Carn G, and had effected an entrance immediately behind and above the large upright slab which had closed the passage, and which had sagged outwards. The chamber of this carn proved to be similar to that of Carn G, but larger, having a height of no less than 12 feet. But though no actual displacement had taken place, its condition was not satisfactory, the heavy lintels over all three side chambers being cracked across. The approach of darkness now compelled a cessation of work.

The entrance to Cairn K in 1911.
The entrance to the newly opened Cairn K.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

On the morning of the 15th, while Professor A. Macalister and Armstrong commenced the transfer and examination of the material from Carn K, R. A. S. Macalister and Praeger were engaged on the plans and sections of Carn G. Our men were at first turned on the excavations of what looked like a dilapidated carn a little to the east of Carn H, but it proved to be a natural mound of limestone blocks. Accordingly, they were set to clear out Carn H from the entrance, which, unlike all the others, was open. A large slab blocking the lower part of the mouth had to be broken up and removed, as also the first roof-stone.

The passage was full of small stones, and when these were cleared out we were stopped by a fall some 12 feet in, which effectually barred further progress. However, this carn had already given promise of good results, for when the loose stones in the passage were cleared out, indications of a rough floor of flat stones were seen, below which were obtained a skull and a large number of human bones, many of them burned unlike those from Carns G and K. There was nothing for it but to work down from the top of the carn and so uncover the passage and chamber, a laborious process, involving the removal of many tons of loose limestone, most of which had to be pitched out by hand. Daylight was fading by the time that the line of cover stones was cleared ready for raising.

On Monday, 17th, we again divided our forces. Professor A. Macalister and Armstrong continued and concluded the transfer and examination of the large quantity of bones, earth, and stones from Carn K a task occupying the greater part of the day. The extreme inconvenience of the narrow entrance passage made this work more laborious than might be expected. The rest of the party were variously engaged in examining and mapping some of the minor monuments, and completing the plans and elevations of the larger chambers.

Next morning R. A. S. Macalister and the workmen finished the opening of Carn H (which proved to contain a square cist at the end of a curved passage), and Praeger did surveying work. In the afternoon the material from the passage and chamber of H was removed and examined, a difficult task on account of the extreme narrowness of the passage, and one which engaged the whole party. An essay was made at the very fine Carn F on map, but to our great disappointment it became apparent that some structural fault had caused a collapse of the roof and possibly also of the walls of the chamber.

The remainder of the day was devoted to making plans and elevations of Carn K, and in mapping various outlying monuments. The flagstones forming the floor of Carns G and K were raised, but nothing was found underneath. The 19th was ushered in by heavy rain, but it cleared partially, and we were at work on the mountain-top by 11.30. Some further surveying was done, and the examination of the material from Carn H was finished. The men were set at clearing out the south end of the interesting long Carn E.

Cairn H photographed by William A. Green in 1911.
The entrance to Cairn H.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

In the afternoon the plans and elevations of Carn K were completed by R. A. S. Macalister and Praeger. The south end of Carn E proving barren, the half-exposed cists at its northern end were partially cleared out. Then, in heavy wind and rain, a cut was made across the middle of this monument, again without result, and work had to be abandoned at 6 p.m. On the 20th, our last day, work was begun early on the lower of the two carns O and P, situated on the eastern spur of the mountain, on the Misses Ffolliott's property.

On our way up to these structures the remarkable village site described below was discovered. There was no indication of an opening in either carn. We had to work nearly all round Carn O, before we unearthed a cover-stone, and discovered a pentagonal chamber containing a complete urn and some bones; it was covered by a single slab, and had a small ante chamber. Carn P, situated on the spur overlooking Carn O, was then attacked. It occupied us almost the whole afternoon, and the entire upper part of it was removed without anything being discovered; we continued work till it became clear that no chamber was present. The weather, especially in the latter part of the day, was miserably cold and wet, and added considerably to the difficulty of the work.

A photo of Cairn E from the 1911 excavation. Armstrong, left and Praegar, right, are about 25 meters apart. .
A photo of Cairn E from the 1911 excavation. Armstrong, left and Praegar, right, are about 25 meters apart.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Second Visit.

We resumed work on June 20th, the party consisting of R. A. S. Macalister, E. C. R. Armstrong, W. A. Green, and R. L. Praegar. On that afternoon further excavations were made at Carn E without result; subsequently we divided, and while Macalister and Green photographed at Carns G, H, and K by flashlight and daylight, Armstrong superintended a new attack on the large ruined Carn F, and Praeger surveyed the southern portions of Carrowkeel, traversing some miles of rough ground, and finding one small additional carn, lettered A. The position of the great cap-stone of Carn F, impending over the excavations, compelled a cessation of work at this carn after a few hours.

The morning of the 21st saw us start work on Carn B (Mr. Gorman's), a very fine carn, magnificently situated on a cliff-walled spur. During the whole of that day, and half of the next, we toiled in steady rain. Commencing on the north side, about one-third way up the slope; we cut a trench, which eventually ran completely round the carn, but without findinga doorway. This work revealed two small secondary interments, and also a remarkable semi-circular wall, which details are described elsewhere. In the end we were beginning to cut right down into the carn from the top, a serious undertaking, when almost by chance we discovered the doorway, situated unusually high up on the north side, and well above the top of our trench.

The entrance to Cairn B in 1911.
The entrance to Cairn B is uncovered during the 1911 excavations. Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

The remainder of the 22nd was devoted to removing and examining the bones, etc., from the chamber, and also to an examination of the small Carn A, discovered on the previous day; but this we decided was not worth the labour of opening, as it appeared too small to contain a chamber.

Friday, June 23rd, was occupied in making a plane-table survey of the old village site discovered on the plateau below Carns O and P; and on account of the roughness of the ground, the number of the hut-sites, and the inclemency of the weather, this work occupied the whole day.

On the morning of Saturday, 24th, Macalister and Praeger checked measurements and photographed, while Armstrong was engaged in packing the bones and other objects for transport; and in the afternoon the party returned to Dublin.

Third Visit.

We again assembled at Tower Hill House on the afternoon of October 10th, and next morning started with four men at the group of ruined cists at the north end of Carn E. By the afternoon we had cleared out two almost uninjured side-chambers, which still contained burned bones and some other remains, and had laid bare the whole series of cists. Attention was then directed to the great Carn F, of which, as already mentioned, it was evident that the chamber-roof had collapsed; but the indications of a structure of noble proportions were so pronounced that we had determined to attempt to remove the many tons of material, great slabs mixed with rubble that had poured into the chamber. The first operation, the breaking up and removal of a huge slab, measuring 9 feet by 6 feet, which impended over the rim of the excavation, was successfully accomplished.

Next morning work was resumed, and the whole day was spent in clearing out the large antechamber inside the doorway, which was by degrees uncovered, and in measuring and photographing it.

Hut sites at Carrowkeel, image from Bing.
Neolithic hut sites on the plateau of Doonaveeragh at Carrowkeel.

The morning of the third day saw us at work clearing the inner chamber, which had become visible behind the antechamber, Some very large blocks had to be removed, and it was decided to drop them into the antechamber, now thoroughly explored, as the labour of removing them entirely from the excavtions would have been extremely heavy. Eventually, all the remaining material from the inner chamber was piled into the antechamber, filling it to a height of 10 feet, and by evening the inner chamber, which proved of very exceptional interest, as will be seen later, stood completely out of the material. Burned bones etc., which were found, were as usual carefully removed for examination.

On the morning of the 14th October, further human remains were removed and examined, and the inner chamber was measured, sketched and photographed; and about mid-day our party broke up.

Cairn F in 1911.
Cairn F, the largest cairn at Carrowkeel in County Sligo which was excavated by Macalister and Praegar on October 11th 1911. Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

3. Description of the Carns.

The structures described in this report are situated on an area comprising part of seven townlands, called respectively Tully ("mound"), Trian Scrabbagh ("rugged third"), Ceathramhadh Caol ("narrow quarter"), Mullach Fearna ("summit of the alder," also, and I suspect more correctly, called Mullach Borna, "summit of barley"), Dun na bhFioradh ("fortress of the ridges"), and the East and West Carraig na hEorna ("rock of the barley"). The Anglicized spelling of these simple words is of the usual ugly and cumbrous appearance: both forms will be found marked on the map.

This map has been designed and drawn in a form meant to show as clearly as possible, to a reader unfamiliar with the ground, its remarkable character. The summits are left white, the long, straight valleys being deeply shaded. The precipitous walls of rock which line the valleys for the greater part of their length are marked by specially shaded lines which are easily distinguished.

Macalister's map of Carrowkeel, 1911.
Macalister's map of Carrowkeel, 1911.

Each of the ridges and the valleys between them have names. The name of the furthest ridge, on which Carn A stands, we did not obtain, nor yet that of the valley which runs to the east of it. The next is called Howley's Rocks, from a former owner, though it is now being named Gorman's Rocks, after its present proprietor. This phenomenon of the change of a geographical name with a change of owner is known to occur elsewhere in Ireland. The wide valley to the east of Gorman's Rocks is called "Shroich," which is a name we cannot explain with any certainty. At the lower end of this valley is a tarn in the bog, known as "Lough Availe." Possibly this is meant for Loch Aidhbhil, the "vast" or ‘terrible" loch, a name wholly unsuitable for this quiet little sheet of water, notwithstanding a "water-horse" traditionally said to haunt its depths. (More likely, however, it may be simply Loch an Beal, the lake of the (valley) mouth, as Mr. O'Klaffe has suggested to us.) Round this lake the valley assumes the name of "Shroich Availe."

A boulder in the bottom of the valley, quite natural, is called "the old gate" by the local people. The next ridge, on which stands the important carns E and F, is still called Carn Mor (carn being here always pronounced corran); but in English, which is usurping the place of Irish in this place-name, it is called "Big Carns," in the plural. The next ridge, on which the smaller carns stand, is always called "Little Carns," the Irish name being lost.

The view across Lough Availe from the erratic boulder known as the Old Gate, to Gorman's Rocks and Cairn B.
The view across Lough Availe from the erratic boulder known as the Old Gate, to Gorman's Rocks and Cairn B. Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Between these two ridges is a long, narrow, and cliff-walled valley, called "Keelcoon," that is Caol Cuan, "the narrow inlet"—a very suitable name. The low-lying boggy tract at the mouth of this valley is called Loch a’Bhaithte, pronounced "Lough Awatia" (the last word rhyming exactly with "caught ye"). It is now dry, except after rains, when a little water stands in the hollows. Professor MacNeill has suggested, in conversation, that the name ("Lake of the Drowning") might indicate that the death penalty by drowning had been inflicted here. There are several springs hereabout.

On the ridge of "Little Carns" is a huge and picturesque swallow-hole, which we explored without any result of special interest, known as Poll na Gollum, "the hole of the pigeons,"; though, strange to say, an idea seems to have got abroad in the district that the name means "hole of the foxes." It must be admitted that the latter is amore suitable name. A broad shelf on the east side of this ridge, above one precipice and below another, is called Bothar na Beinne, "the way of the hill-top" this is possibly a tradition of a road followed by the ancient inhabitants. It is not a natural way to follow, but that is not a conclusive objection: there might have been a ritual significance in the road. The precipice below this "road"is called Caiseal "Castle."

The next valley is called "Upper Clar,” a curious mixture of English and Irish: it means "Upper table," i.e. "Upper flat land." In the precipice that bounds this valley on the western side, a short distance north of the mearing between Ceathramhadh Caol and Mullach Feama townlands, is a curious rift in the rock, which gives easy access to the top of the precipice. It is about fifty-six feet in length, and perhaps on an average five feet wide: the cliff bounds it on the west, and a great isolated wall of rock forms its eastern wall. It is locally called Boithin an tSagairt, “the priest's hut," and probably was used during the penal times as a hiding-place for some priest, a purpose which it would well serve, being out of tne line of traffic, and quite invisible to anyone not acquainted with the district. The Irish name is being lost, however, and an incorrect English name, "the priest's grave" substituted: to explain which a story about Cromwell shooting a priest and burying him here has evolved itself. A small pile of stones, lying apparently directly on the rock, in a recess just inside the lower entrance to the passage and on the eastern side, is pointed out as the "grave”.

The easternmost spur consists of two parts, the towering crest of Dun na bhFioradh and the flat table-land on which stands the settlement to be described, called Corr Logach, "the hollowy hill," or Clar Corrach, "the marshy (or level) table-land."

In the valleys there is nothing of archaeological interest to be seen. On the ridges are the following:—

I. Fourteen burial carns.
II. Two ruined dolmens, or dolmen-like structures.
III. A group of circular enclosures, apparently the remains of an ancient village.

It may here be stated that of the carns only three (C, G, and H) are recorded as such on the Ordnance Map, and none of the other structures; and that of the twenty-three place-names (Counting alternative names for one place as one only.) in the square mile of country mapped in Plate X, only nine (the seven townland names and two others, all in phonetic spelling) are recorded. Nothing could more clearly indicate the absolute necessity, for scientific or historical purposes, of a thorough re-survey, under expert superintendence, of the archaeology and the fast-corrupting place-names of the country.

We now proceed to a description of the structures.

R. A. S. Macalister sitting on Gorman's cairn.
R. A. S. Macalister sitting on Gorman's cairn.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

The Cairns.

The typical carns are conical mounds of stone, erected on a base more or less circular. They are composed entirely of the limestone native to the spot, save for occasional fragments of calcite, or of the erratic blocks of sand stone that are strewn about in the neighbourhood. The only earth in the carns is a little peat which has evidently been blown over them as dust, and then been washed by rain into the interstices between the stones. Except in the case of two or three of the carns, very little vegetation has found root them.

The internal structure, as will be seen from the detailed description that upon follows, is not uniform. In the concluding summary the various types are enumerated. As at Brugh na Boinne, the chambers are never centred exactly presently in the heart of the mound, but are rather to one side. Once for all we may here state that although we searched for sculptured ornament, such as is to be seen at Brugh na Boinne, with the most scrupulous care, not a single decorated stone came to light anywhere, either outside or inside the carns. The carns are denoted by letters in order from A to P (excluding the letters I, J, which are inconveniently apt to be confused with numerals): they are taken from north to south on each of the ridges in turn, beginning with the most westerly.

It is devoutly to be wished that the pointless modern label of this structure ("New Grange") should be abandoned in favour of its ancient Irish name.

Tulach ("Tully"') Townland.

Cairn A. — A small grass-grown carn, about 6 to 8 feet high, and 40 feet in diameter. It appears to be a cenotaph, there being no room for any internal structure. The greater part of its bulk consists of two natural knobs or bosses of rock which have been utilized in its construction. There are traces of a kerb surrounding the base. There is an Ordnance Survey beacon erected on the carn, the height of which is given as 821 feet, but the carn itself is not recorded. It is possible that this structure, which, though small, is prominent, owing to its commanding position, gives its name to the townland.

Trian Scrabbagh ("Treanscrabbagh") Townland.

Cairn B. — This fine carn stands near the northern extremity of the bold, cliff walled spur overlooking, on its eastern side, Lough Availe. The commanding situation of the carn is well shown in Plate XI, fig 2. The carn itself is the largest and best-formed of the entire series, with the exception of E. Its appearance, after the opening of the entrance, is shown in Plate XI. The entrance faces north, and was completely concealed: no trace or indication was visible before the excavation began, and in search for it we cut a trench completely round the carn. Even then it was only discovered afterwards almost by chance.

The structure measures 21 feet in height (15 feet if measured from the south side, as there the surface of the ground rises), and the diameter of the base is about 74 feet. The top is slightly flattened, and an Ordnance Survey beacon was erected upon it, the height of which is given as 936 feet. It is passing strange that the carn itself, though an object so conspicuous and striking, is not recorded on the map as an ancient monument.

The entrance, which is shown in Plate XI, is unusually high up on the side of the mound. It gives access to the chamber by a low passage, to which additional head-room is given by a drop in the floor, about a couple of feet in from the threshold. The chamber itself expands inward like a wedge in breadth, and to a lesser degree in height: the total length, measured from the back wall to the inner face of the sill at the entrance, is 9 feet 8 inches; the maximum height of the chamber is 5 feet 3 inches. The construction is very rough, and altogether unworthy of the fine external appearance of the carn: the massive boulders of which the walls and roof of the chamber are made are less carefully selected than in some other carns of the series.

Plan and elevation of Cairn B from 1911.
Plan and elevation of Cairn B from 1911

At the left-hand side of the chamber, at its inner end, is erected a cist, open at the side, in shape almost like a rude altar. This will be seen in the plans and sections of the structure. It measures 3 feet 6 inches long, 2 feet broad, and 2 feet 2 inches high. Very probably it was intended originally as the burial-place proper, but as the interments increased in number it was found impossible to restrict them to this part of the structure: in point of fact, they were found actually to cover the floor of the whole chamber.

Round the outside of the carn there seems to have been a kerb of boulders a little larger than those of which the heap of stones itself is composed. From the disposition of the kerb-stones that remain (which will be understood from the plan of the carn) we may perhaps infer that the present diameter is rather wider than the original intention of the builders. Round the south-west side, for nearly half the circumference of the carn, there runs a vertical joint in the stone-heap, with a truly formed face about 2 feet to 2 feet 6 inches in height. The position of this face is marked on the plan by heavier lines. It seems as though this had been erected as a retaining wall, and the stones piled behind it, a covering shell by which it was concealed being added later.

On the South-east side, close to the end of this masonry-face, two subsidiary cists were found, just under the surface of the mound. There can be little doubt that these were to the original erection of the carn. They were small boxes formed of stone slabs about 3 inches thick. The northern cist measured 1 foot 7 inches by 8 inches by 1 foot 4 inches high. The southern cist was smaller, and was much dilapidated. They contained nothing but a handful of burnt bone-dust. These cists, and the masonry face above described, were found in cutting the trench in search of the entrance.

Plans of cairns G, H and O from 1911.
Plans of cairns G, H and O from 1911.

Ceathramhadh Caol ("Carrowkeel“) Townland.

Cairn C. — This structure is much ruined, having evidently been despoiled of stones to provide material for the field-fence that runs alongside of it. The chamber has apparently been wilfully destroyed, and the large stones of which it was composed are thrown about in confusion. It appears, however, to have been of the cruciform type, of which G and K, described below, are the most conspicuous examples now surviving in the group. But it is so injured that it is impossible to be certain about its original form. The Ordnance map, which omits nearly all the more conspicuous carns of the series, has recorded this comparatively insignificant example.

This carn has the distinction of being, so far as we could learn, the only structure of the group which has a distinctive name. This is English, "The Leprechaun's house". The name seems to indicate that it stood open, and fairly complete, so suggesting the idea of a "house," till it was wrecked by the fence-builders.

Cairn D. — This carn is about 50 feet to the south of C. It is ruined to its foundations. There are traces of a kerb of large stones, standing on end, and of a passage in the south-east face, running in a north-westerly direction into the carn, and ending in a cist. The carn, accordingly, seems to have affinities with H; but, being so ruined, satisfactory measurements cannot be taken, nor can it be planned with certainty.

Cairn D, the largest monument at Loughcrew.
Cairn D, the largest monument at Loughcrew, is roughly the same diameter as Heapstown cairn and Queen Maeve's cairn.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Cairn E

Cairn E. — This remarkable structure is quite different from all the other carns of the series, though the general appearance of the building, and the scanty remains found within it, forbid our referring it definitely to a different stratum of civilisation, as we were at first inclined to do. It is a long, low mound, 120 feet in length, and 35 feet in maximum breadth. The height is about 8 feet in the middle, but it decreases at each end. The long axis lies about North-northwest and South-southeast (the compass-bearing is 160 degrees). Traces of a kerb exist at the sides, as will appear from the plan.

At the South-southeast end is an arrangement of large slabs on end, the disposition of which can scarcely be described in words. A glance at the plan will, however, convey to the reader a good idea of the arrangement. The large slab at the inner end is 12 feet long, 9 inches thick, and stands about 3 feet high. It is difficult to explain this structure: it is not like a ruined cist or chamber, but looks as though it had been intended to represent a large porch. The horned long barrows, of which that at Uley is the typical example, are also distinctly recalled by this curious part of the carn.

In any case, the "porch," if such it be, is blind, and the greater part of the carn consists simply of piled stones, as we proved by cutting several trenches across the mound. Just behind the porch, on the eastern slope of the carn, is a flagstone, 4 feet by 5 feet 6 inches, with some other stones underneath it, which has the appearance of being the cover-slab of a cist This we raised, but found no construction or deposit below. Only at the North-northwest end there is a small group of cists. This had long been open, and had fallen into ruin. Photo, below, represents it in the state in which we found it.

Cairn E in 1911.
R. L. Praegar sitting on Cairn E prior to the excavation of the chamber.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

At first sight this looked a hopeless complication of debris, promising neoither instructive remains nor even a satisfactory plan. But when we proceeded to clear out the floor, and then re-erected a couple of the side stones of the passage which had fallen forward, we had the satisfaction of recovering completely the original design, except at the entrance, where stones have apparently been removed. A bed of peat, several feet thick, covered some parts of the existing entrance. This had evidently accumulated after the structure had fallen into the condition of ruin in which we found it.

There may have here been a porch-like structure of large slabs or stones, resembling that at the other end. The stones that seem to suggest this are represented on the enlarged plan on Plate XVII. The chamber proper (which has lost all its cover-slabs) is a narrow passage, just under 12 feet long, and of irregular width, averaging about 3 feet. It is bounded by slabs of lime stone set on edge, four on one side, six (one of small size) on the other. The floor is divided by sill-stones, 6 to 8 inches high, into four compartments of unequal size, all of which contained the debris of interments. The side-slabs are between 4 and 5 feet in height.

Cairn E in 1911.
The chamber of Cairn E during the excavations.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

On each side, at the second floor-compartment, is a small cist, formed, like the main passage, of slabs on end though smaller than the slabs in the passage and each covered with a large more or less rectangular slab, which still remains intact. These cists also contained bone debris, lying in each case on a large floor-slab. They are pentagonal in shape, the dimensions every way being about 3 feet. The plan of a very similar structure, at Highwood, to the north of Lough Arrow, will be found in Wood-Martin's "Rude Stone Monuments of Ireland," page 181.

Cairn B at Carrowkeel.
Cairn B or Gorman's cairn above the valley of Lough Availe.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Cairn F.

Cairn F. — This structure was in some respects the most important of the entire series. As the photograph shows, it is of large size, and beautifully regular. It is indicated only by an indefinite symbol, not as an ancient monument, on the Ordnance map, though it is perhaps the most conspicuous of the whole series. It is 87 feet in diameter, and about 25 feet in height. The structure is built of stones rather smaller than are the other carns. The top is slightly hollowed, possibly as a result of the collapse of the chamber. A plan and section of the carn will be seen in Plate XIX.

The entrance, as in the others, is toward the north. It is of a much more monumental character than the small creep-holes which give admission to the other carns, being 4 feet 7 inches high, and lined by massive jamb-stones supporting lintels, one of which is 7 feet in length. Plate XIII shows this doorway.

Entrance to Cairn F before the capstone was smashed and the chamber cleared, 1911.
Entrance to Cairn F before the capstone was smashed and the chamber cleared.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

The chamber into which this doorway gives admittance is quite different in plan from any of the chambers in the other carns. It is in the form of a passage, 12 feet long and at the entrance 2 feet broad, but widening inwards, in a square recess, marked off by a sill-stone, 7 inches high, and having two similar recesses, with splayed sides, on either hand.

The plan of the chamber was marked all round by massive slabs of limestone, roughly brought to a square shape, and set on edge. These slabs were carefully selected, being all from one quarry-bed. Above these were laid either long stones or horizontal slabs. In the upper courses large slabs only were used, which gradually oversailed till they approximated close enough to bear cover-slabs roofing the whole chamber. These oversailing slabs were not horizontal. Packing of small stones was inserted over each, the face of the packing being flush with the edge of the slab below. This packing acted as a wedge tilting the slab backwards, so that rain-water that percolated between the small stones of the earn was shed off by the slabs and prevented from penetrating into the chamber. See the Plan and Sections.

The labour of erecting this chamber must have been enormous. The much simpler work of excavating it and removing the broken stones that had fallen into it was no light task; the manipulation of the gigantic slabs of which the building was formed could not have been carried out at all except by a community much more highly organized than we might have expected to find in the middle of the Bronze Age. The constructional skill displayed is beyond all praise. The use of squinch-stones (slabs running diagonally in the corners), by which the length of the space to be spanned is reduced, is specially noteworthy. Similar squinches occur in the roof of Brugh na Boinne, but on a smaller scale. The top-stone of the chamber was a great massive slab, 9 feet by 6 feet 6 inches by 1 foot thick weighing, roughly speaking, about four tons. This stone is seen in Plate XIII,marked by a walking-stick lying upon it. The doorway of the carn is there shown in the foreground. In order to get this stone out of the way, we had no alternative but to break it up. To have attempted to move it would have been a dangerous and expensive undertaking, and probably the doorway underneath would have suffered serious injury.

The architect who carried out the work of constructing this chamber had made one unfortunate miscalculation. A huge slab, 9 feet 3 inches in length, which he had inserted close to the inner end of the western side, had not been equal to supporting the cross-strain put upon it. It had split into two, and, in falling, brought down all the upper part of the roof. An avalanche of small stones from the outer shell of the carn had rushed into and filled up the chamber: on the top of these the capstone above described lay misplaced, in the position in which it is shown in the photograph. This was taken after we carefully had cleared out the small stones from the chamber, as much as we could with out disturbing the large slab. The accident is most deplorable, as it ruined what it is no exaggeration to call one of the most impressive and interesting ancient structures remaining in Ireland.

Plan and elevation of Cairn F from 1911.
Plan and elevation of Cairn F from 1911.

The plan and sections on Plate XVIII show without need of further description the design of the structure and the relative sizes of its parts. It will be seen that it can also be fairly described as consisting of two chambers separated by a narrow doorway, with two grave-recesses in the outer and three in the inner. The interments had not been confined to the grave-recesses: bone dust, much trampled, was found in places on the floor. The sill of the grave-recess on the left-hand side, within the entrance, was missing: it is restored in dotted lines on the plan. We suspect that by an oversight it was removed by ourselves in clearing out the debris of large and small stones that filled the chamber.

The perspective view on Plate XIX is designed to illustrate more clearly the elaborate and ingenious construction of this carn. But to prepare a satisfactory view was found extremely difficult. The narrow doorway in the middle of the chamber makes it next to impossible to find a point of view from which enough of the construction can be seen in one coup d’oeil to be at all informing. Plate XIII, figs. 2 - 4, shows portions of the building that display the masonry. Fig. 2 is the north-west corner of the western grave-recess in the outer chamber; fig. 3 is the south-east corner of the eastern grave-recess in the inner chamber; fig. 4 shows the central grave-recess, and also the most interesting and detail of this monument, which it is now time to describe.

This is a standing stone, 5 feet high, with a fairly uniform thickness of 7.5 inches east to west, and 9 inches north to south. It cannot have served any constructional purpose: not only is it too slender, but it seems never to have stood quite upright, so could not have borne any other stone or stones. The roof of the chamber vertically over this stone must have been well-nigh 16 feet above the ground, or 11 feet above the top of the pillar.

The stone had been snapped across 15 inches above the ground; in falling, it cracked the sill-stone of the central recess behind it, across which it was found lying. The fractured surfaces, however, are both intact and fit exactly. The broken part, however, will not stand on its base without support: a little Portland cement, and probably a metal clamp, would be necessary if haply this interesting building be ever restored, as one likes to hope may some time be the case.

The mysterious broken standing stone within the chamber of Cairn F.
The mysterious broken standing stone within the chamber of Cairn F Photograph by R. A. S. Macaluster, 1911.

The accident, whatever it was, which broke the stone, was not the same as the catastrophe that brought the roof down. For after the stone had fallen, the ashes of a burnt human body were laid on the butt end of the prostrate part. It is possible that the resting-place was chosen on account of some special sanctity attaching to the stone; for after much discussion we can find no satisfactory alternative to regarding it as a religious emblem. This being assumed, the question presents itself whether we may not have here something more than a mere burial place. May we not have some sort of temple? The grandiose scale of the architecture, the large entrance doorway, the peculiar ground-plan, and, above all, the standing stone, all mark this carn out conspicuously from the rest.

At the foot of the stone, on the eastern side, is lying another, 1 foot broad, 9 inches thick, and 3 feet long. Bone debris in plenty lay under it. A third stone, 2 feet 6 inches long, 6 inches thick, 9 inches broad at one end and 5 inches broad at the other, lies at the northern end of the south-western grave-recess. The position of both these stones is marked in the plan. There is no evidence that they ever stood upright, but that they had been placed with intention where they were found seems undeniable.

The last point to notice about this important carn is the use of the erratic blocks of silicified sandstone which are frequent in the neighbourhood. Those used in the buildings are shaped rather like cheeses, with convex sides and flattened top and bottom. One such will be seen in the photograph, fig. 3 on Plate XIII the inner stone of the topmost course in the corner opposite that in which the man is leaning. Here it is merely used as an ordinary building stone: but in another place the sandstone is used probably because it was found by experiment that it was capable of bearing a heavier crushing strain than was the limestone.

This was on the jambs of the central doorway: on the top of each was a sandstone block; indeed, on the eastern jamb there were two, one on the other like the drums of a column. Evidently at these two points, in the middle of the two long sides, the weight of the massive roof was expected to be concentrated; and it increases our respect for the mind that planned this fine building when we see that he had the discrimination to choose an especially hard stone for just this part of the structure. The same foresight is displayed by the builder of the first of the two dolmen like structures, described below.

The oversailing lintels seen in the sections on Plate XVIII above the lintel shown in this photograph were in situ when the excavation began, and appear in Plate XIV, fig. 1. After measuring, we were obliged to remove them, as the top lintel (supported by a wooden prop in the photograph) was loose, and the second was cracked longitudinally, and neither could have stood without the support of the small stones which had filled the chamber completely, and which, of course, we had to clear out. The great slab whose failure caused the collapse of the building is seen on the right hand side of this photograph, under the foot of the wooden prop.

Cairn G.

Cairn G. — This carn is about the same size as B, 21 feet high and 68 feet to 70 feet in diameter at the base. There may be a kerb, but if so it is completely concealed by the turf which has grown up round the margin of the heap of stones, to such an extent that the floor of the chamber is some 2 feet below the present average level of the base of the mound. The entrance faces north-west by north (compass bearings 328 degrees). It is a small hole, confined between a lintel and a threshold very close together; but it gives access to a chamber of considerable size, which is by far the best piece of construction in the whole series. A plan and sections of the carn are given in Plate XXII, and of the chamber on Plate XX. Well-selected standing stones of a maximum height of 6 feet support a system of lintels and cross-beams of stone, which, rising by oversailing courses, form a chamber very similar to Brugh na Boinne both in plan and construction. The roofing-slabs, as in Carn F, slope downwards to the outside. The main chamber is more or less circular, and three small cells, of lesser heights and separated by high sills from the main chamber, give a cruciform shape to the plan of the structure.

Plan and elevation of Cairn G from 1911.
Plan and elevation of Cairn G from 1911.

These cells are the receptacles for the interments. Each is floored with a large flagstone, and a similar flagstone occupies the floor of the central chamber. These flagstones were raised, but nothing was found underneath them. Plate XIV illustrates the construction of the inside of the chamber; but it is impossible to secure a photograph that does justice to the building, which, though it may seem an exaggeration to say so, is beyond all praise as a veritable work of art. The builders aimed not merely at a building which should remain standing: they evidently took a pride in erecting a neat and symmetrical chamber. In one or two cases we suspected that a single block had been split in two, in order to secure as nearly as possible identical stones for corresponding positions on opposite sides of the chamber.

The fourth standing stone on the right hand side of the entrance did not reach the roof, and inserting the hand behind it we found that there was here a sort of shelf or pocket in the wall, which contained the bones of children. Its outline is indicated by dotted lines in the plan. The space was just under the roofing-slab, and measured 2 feet 6 inches parallel chamber by 2 feet at right angles to it. The floor of this "shelf" is on a level 4 feet 4 inches above the floor of the main chamber, and the height of the clear space is about 1 foot 9 inches. A similar pocket was also found to the behind two of the stones in the left-hand recess. In each of the inner corners of the right-hand recess there is a block of stone about 8 inches square and 1 foot 3 inches high, set on end. On the western side of this carn, half buried in the turf, a slab is lying which may possibly have been intended for the construction but left over. It is 1 foot 3 inches thick, 7 feet 3 inches long, 3 feet broad at one end, 5 feet broad at the other.

Plan and elevation of Cairn H from 1911.
Plan and elevation of the bent passage in Cairn H from 1911.

Cairn H.

Cairn H. — The entrance of this structure was found open, unlike all the other perfect carns of the series, and had evidently been open for a very considerable period, if indeed it had ever been closed. It was, however, impossible to make use of it as a means to enter the chamber, as a slip of one of the side stones of the passage had narrowed too much to admit a person creeping through. We were accordingly obliged to cut down through the middle of the carn, and to get into the central chamber through the roof. It proved to be merely a square cist, 5 feet long, 3 feet 3 inches broad at the inner end, and 2 feet 10 inches high, approached by a narrow and awkward creep-passage, roughly built, widening just inside the door, though nowhere high enough to permit one to stand upright. The passage (exclusive of the 5-foot length of the cist) is 22 feet 3 inches long; the width ranges from 3 feet 6 inches to 1 foot; the maximum height is 2 feet 10 inches.

Plan and elevation of the cairn, Cairn H from 1911.
Plan and elevation of the cairn at Cairn H from 1911.

The accident must have happened while the carn was still in use, as interments were found both inside and outside the spot where the stone had slipped the latter having presumably been deposited after the blocking of the passage barred the entrance to the central cist. This is the only carn of the series with a double row of kerb-stones surrounding its base. There is a space of 5 to 7 feet between the two rows. The inner kerb is composed of larger stones, which are about sixty in number. The diameter of the carn at the base is about 100 feet, its height about 20 feet. The plan and section of this carn and of the entrance passage and chamber will be found on Plate XXII; Plate XIV, shows the carn (with Carn G in the distance); Plate XIV shows the entrance. This photograph was taken after we had cut down on the lintels.

Cairn K.

Cairn K. — In design this fine carn resembles G, but, though rather larger, is, from the point of view both of construction and artistic finish, vastly its inferior. A poor, rotten stone has been used, and all the lintels are in consequence cracked: some of the side-stones have also settled. It is, indeed, rather surprising that the whole chamber has not collapsed. The chamber is much higher in K than in G, though it is in this respect less than the great ruined chamber in F: the maximum height is 12 feet 2 inches. The mound itself is about 20 feet in height and 71 feet in diameter. The total length of the chamber, from the entrance to the back of the central recess, is 22 feet 10 inches: the maximum breadth through the two side recesses is 15 feet 9 inches. The entrance faces almost due north (compass bearings 355 degrees). There is an Ordnance beacon on the carn, the height of which is given as 1,062 feet; but the carn itself is not recorded as an ancient monument. Plans and sections of the carn will be found on Plate XXII, and of the chamber on Plate XXI. Plate XV, is a good view of the carn after the door was opened; Plate XV, shows the interior, looking inwards, and Plate XV, shows the entrance passage, looking outwards.

Section of Cairn K from 1911.
Section of Cairn K from 1911.

L. – This carn is much like the other carns, it ruined by the depredations of rabbit-hunters. It is almost entirely overgrown with peat. After several examinations we decided that it would not repay investigation.

Carraig na hEorna ("Carricknahorna") Townland.

Cairn M. — A small dilapidated carn ruined to the base, which consists of standing stones about 3 feet high. The diameter is 25 feet: at the north-east face is a passage 10 feet in length, leading to a cist 4 feet square, with two cellae at the side and one at the back. It was evidently a cruciform structure like G and K, but of much smaller size.

N. – Is similar to M, and in similar condition. It was about 20 feet in diameter. Three jamb-stones remain on the east side of the entrance, which faced the north. The chamber seems to have been cruciform. It is probable that the stones which originally covered these two carns were removed for building boundary walls.

Dun na bhFioradh ("Doonaveeragh") Townland.

Cairn O. — A small carn, about 17 feet high and 58 feet in diameter at base, roughly built of stones rather larger than are used elsewhere in the series. Near the top, on the southern side, was a small pentagonal cist, about 3 feet 6 inches high and 4 feet in maximum length, covered with a single slab of stone. It was entered through an opening 10 inches wide from a manhole, also pentagonal, and covered with two slabs. The floor of the cist was quite irregular and was heaped up with discs of sandstone, bone, and ashes. The height is given on the O. S. map as 890 feet above sea-level. A plan and section of the carn, with an enlarged plan of the cist, are shown on Plate XXII ; and Plate XV, fig. 4, shows the top of the manhole and the narrow entrance into the cist.

Plan and elevation of Cairn O.
Plan and elevation of Cairn O.

Cairn P. — A beautifully built conical carn, about 12 feet high, and 33 feet in diameter at the base. The Ordnance map gives 938 feet as its height above sea-level. The most careful examination of this carn failed to reveal any cist, chamber, or interment; it is a cenotaph, like Carn A. Four large boulders of rock had been laid on the site chosen for the carn, and the stones were heaped on these.

II Dolmens.

1. A short distance south-east of Carn H is a massive block of limestone which, when sound, measured about 5 feet 7 inches by 4 feet by 1 foot 8 inches. It is now split into fragments. It had been placed on four round boulders of sandstone, now partly buried in the peat, which were arranged in a lozenge form and, roughly speaking, faced the cardinal points. Three limestone slabs set on edge are added, apparently placed with the intention of forming a cist. The use of sandstone erratics has already been commented upon in describing Carn F: it suggests that the builders appreciated the difference between the two kinds of stone, and recognized the greater strength of the sandstone blocks. Plate XVI, fig. 1, represents this structure, which is, however, an exceptionally difficult subject for the camera, on account of the collapse of the cover-stone, which gives it the indefinite appearance of a shapeless pile of stones.

Praeger at the cist by Cairn K, 1911.
Praeger sitting on the cist east of Cairn K.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

2. A few paces east of Carn K is a square structure of large limestone slabs. There had originally been a cover, as we learned, which was, however, smashed up by rabbit-hunters. Fragments of this stone are lying about. Doubtless anything the cist may have held was then removed. The chamber measured about 6 feet by 4 feet 6 inches by 2 feet 5 inches high. There is no evidence that this cist was ever covered by a heap of stones. This structure is shown in Plate XVI, fig. 2. The length and breadth of the slabs, beginning with the large stone in the foreground and working round in order to the smallest stone, are respectively 7 feet by 1 foot 2 inches ; 5 feet 2 inches by 1 foot 3 inches; 6 feet 5 inches by 1 foot 2 inches; 3 feet 3 inches by 6 inches.

On the eastern edge of the ridge called Carn Mor, and about midway between the two groups of Carns E, F and M, N, is a standing stone 7 feet 6 inches high, 5 feet wide at the base, but tapering to a point, and 2 feet thick. We came to the conclusion that it belongs to geology rather than to archaeology, showing no sign of having been erected artificially. Of course it may have been accepted by the carn-builders and used by them for whatever purposes standing stones were set up. There are no marks of any kind on the stone.

Doonaveeragh Mountain.
View of Doonaveeragh Mountain and the Lough Arrow landscape from Carrowkeel.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

III. Remains of a Settlement.

On the bare rocky platform to the north of the towering mass of Dun na bhFioradh, occupying almost the whole area between that hill and the Mullach Fearna mearing, is to be seen a very remarkable group of circular structures.

The plan given shows their disposition: the numeral with each represents the approximate diameter (ranging from 20 to 42 feet), as ascertained by pacing. The plan itself was made with the aid of a plane-table. Where enough of the structures remain to show details, they are seen to consist of two rings of upright slabs with small stone filling between, the walls thus made being about 3 feet thick. They are ruined so completely that it is impossible to say where the doorways may have been. The forty-seven recorded on the plan are all of which we could be sure: some other rude groups of stone here and there were possibly the remains of others, but it was impossible to be certain about this. There is no trace of internal divisions. These enclosures were probably protecting walls within which were erected dwellings of some temporary nature: tents or huts. It is not at: if so, those interesting structures may fairly claim to be one of the oldest all improbable that they were the dwelling-places of the carn-builders village sites in northern Europe.


On account of the extremely rocky nature of the space on which these structures stand, and the insignificant height and rough construction of the structures themselves, it proved impossible to obtain a photograph that shows any of them satisfactorily: the eye is unable to distinguish the circle of stones from the rocky background inwhich it is set. Several attempts were made, all, however, unsuccessful. An idea of the general appearance of the site is given by the two photographs. The first of these is taken across Upper Clar, from above Boithin an tSagairt, overlooking Dun na bhFioradh with its two carns on the summit; to the left of the ridge is the rock-surface, on which are the circles. The second view is taken from Dun na bhFioradh itself; and though not a very successful photograph, the circles can be clearly seen in it scattered among the rocks.

4. Account of the Objects discovered.

Carn B. — In order to discover an entrance to this carn a trench was cut all round it, and in the course of cutting this a small cist containing burnt bones was found, at compass bearing from the middle of the carn 120 degrees; a few feet further to the north a second similar cist was discovered. These two cists evidently represent secondary interments. The chamber in the carn itself was found to have a small cist on the left-hand side. Both cist and chamber contained burnt human bones. Three fragments of pottery were discovered, one roughly ornamented piece in the cist, and two much detrited and hardly recognizable fragments in the chamber.

Carn E. — Both the side cists of this curiously shaped monument contained a few fragments of bones. The central chamber had been uncovered and exposed for a long period, and the third and fourth bays were empty. The porch contained a few fragments of bones; it was much dilapidated and was covered with about 18 inches of peat, which had grown since the destruction of the carn.

The first and second bays contained a quantity of bones in a very fragmentary state. Among these were found several small flat slabs of stone, which had apparently been used as trays in a manner similar to those to be noted in Carn G. In the first bay were found a minute fragment of pottery, the upper portions of two pins of bone with well-cut heads, and a boar's tusk. The discovery of the bone pins and the fragment of pottery in this monument is important, as establishing the fact that some at least of the interments are of the same date as those in the other carns. The shape of the structure would lead one to believe it to be of an earlier date, as monuments of somewhat similar shape in Scotland have been shown to belong to the Neolithic period. (See Dr. T. H. Bryce's account of the Cairns of Arran in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland).

Carn F. — The collapse of this splendid structure cannot be too much deplored. The removal of the stones which had fallen into the chamber was carried out with the utmost care, but the contents must have been greatly damaged by the weight of the stones falling on them. The only archaeological remains obtained were found in the further left, end, and right recesses, and in the central chamber. All of these contained burnt bone debris. This material was carefully sifted, and two broken beads and one small perfect bead were recovered. They were found in the right recess. These beads are of exactly the same type as those found in Carns G and K.

In the central chamber two vertebrae of Bos longifrons were discovered; one had been placed just outside the sill-stone on the left recess near the entrance, and the other close to the opposite sill-stone of the right recess, but near the end recess, so that their position was almost a diagonal one. Their position is marked on the plan by the letter A. A number of pieces of quartz, split by the action of fire, were found among the remains in this carn. Eight water-worn, flattish lumps of limestone were also found. They average from 1.25 inches to 3.75 inches in thickness. Their position is marked on the plan by the letter C.

Water-rolled stones from Cairn F.
Water-rolled stones from Cairn F.

One of these (the second on the left of the lower line) has been bored into by amarine bivalve, probably Saxicava. This must therefore have been brought from the sea-shore like the shell Naiica catena found in Carn H. The letter B on the plan shows where it was found. The exact purpose of these stones is not possible to determine, but their presence in this very remarkable carn and in the vicinity of the standing stone is of considerable interest and suggestiveness.

Objects from the sea-shore are recorded as accompaniments of interments in the carns at Loughcrew. Conwell, describing the contents of Carn H, says: - In the chambers were obtained "upwards of 200 sea-shells, principly limpet and cockle shells, in a tolerably perfect state of preservation, and 110 other shells in a broken state; eight varieties of small lustrous or shining and upwards of 100 white sea-pebbles." Tomb of Ollamh Fodhla," pp. 51 and 52.

"A few sea-shells" were also found in the carn on Belmore Mountain. - Proc. 3rd ser., vol. iv, p. 663.

Sea-shells appear to have been frequently placed in the interments in the monuments at Carrowmore, Co. Sligo. See Wood-Martin, Rude Stone Monuments of Ireland, pp. 34, 36, 45, 48, 56, 57, &c.

Carn G. – The flat floor of the left recess of Carn G was covered with burnt bone debris to a depth of about three inches, and on the top of this were lying seven smallish flat stones, which had apparently been used as trays on which to carry the burnt bones into the chamber. The bone debris was all removed and carefully sifted through a fine riddle, and four pierced stone pendants and ten beads were found. About twelve fragments of pottery were also found; these were in a most friable state, and showed traces of burning. No attempted reconstruction of any of these fragments has been successful, nor is it possible to say to how many or to what type of urns they belonged.

The floor of the central recess was covered to a height of about five inches with burnt bone debris, mixed with stones. On the top of these in the centre was a pile of flattish stones, two of which were rounded intentionally; the illustrations are one-sixth the actual size of the objects. There was also a piece of white calcite. These stones, like those in the left recess, appear to have been used as trays on which to carry the burnt bones into the recess. Careful riddling of the bone debris disclosed the following: Three pointed bone implements (one being made from the tibia of a red Deer), and a well-worked and finely pointed implement made of hard slate; a sand stone pebble, and numerous fragments of much detrited pottery. Three complete stone pendants, a broken one decorated with a spiral groove, six complete and one broken bead, and four small rounded pebbles were also found.

The right recess of this carn was built up to the level of the sill with stones, many of which were a foot long; on the top of these were smaller stones, and on them rested fragments of pottery. The layer of burnt bones was level with the sill stone. Four large pieces of calcite, about one foot in diameter, were removed from this recess; three of them were considerably rounded, probably by glacial action. Resting on the stones above the bones were fragments of pottery, the largest being about four inches by three inches. A partial reconstruction of these pieces has shown them to have belonged to an urn of larger size than the ordinary food-vessel type.

Carn H. — As has been stated in the first portion of the report, the roof of Carn H had fallen in, and the passage and cist were blocked with debris. Both passage and cist contained burnt and unburnt bones ; the only objects discovered with them were a small round stone ball and a sea-shell, Natiea catena. The latter had been so much worn down on the under side as to make a hole, as shown in the illustration.

Carn K. — The floor of the chamber of this carn was covered with loose stones and small fragments of burnt bones. Three stone pendants and a stone ball were subsequently discovered here. Resting on the floor, just at the junction of the central and right recesses, was an urn. It is of the food-vessel type, and did not contain anything but a little bone dust. The figure shows its ornamentation.

The floor of the left recess was covered with large flat stones; under these was a layer of burnt bones, about one foot in depth. A large number of fragments of pottery were found among the bone debris. These, however, were so small that it has been impossible to reconstruct the urns in any way, or to determine their exact shape or number.

On the shelf in this recess a number of human bones, and the much broken portion of the upper part of a pin made of bone, were found.

There were a large number of stones in the central recess, some of them eighteen inches long. On the removal of these it could be seen that at the further end of this recess there were three compartments, separated by vertical stones about sixteen inches long, and nearly square; these and the larger compartment were filled with burnt bones. On these bones being riddled, two stone pendants, two small red beads, a small stone ball, and three broken ones, with the remains of a fourth, were found. Numerous fragments of pottery were also discovered; among these were pieces of the ornamented rims of two different urns.

The surface of the floor of the right recess was covered with a large number of flat stones, under which was a layer of burnt bones. The flat stones appear to have been used as trays on which to carry the bones into the recess after burning. Careful sifting of the bone debris disclosed a number of very small fragments of pottery, two small stone balls, some portions of a bone pin, the heads of two bone needles, and a curious object made from the rib of some animal. When sorting the human remains collected in this carn, Professor Alexander Macalister found a portion of the ornamented rim of an urn and two small fragments of pottery. The portion of the rim is figured. He also discovered the heads of two bone pins, a pointed implement broken and pierced near the point, two other shaped bones, and another implement shaped from the leg bone of an ox, Bos longifrons.

Carn O. The entrance to this carn was found on the south-east side, and disclosed a pentagonal cist, covered by one single stone, with a pentagonal anti-chamber of small size, covered by two stones. An urn was resting on the top of a pile of burnt and unburnt bones, intermixed with flat sandstone slabs, about one foot in diameter. No other pottery or fragments or any objects were discovered in this cist.

Antler pins and beads from the Mound of the Hostages at Tara.
Antler pins and beads from the Mound of the Hostages at Tara. Much the same kind of artifacts were excavated in Carrowkeel, Carrowmore, Loughcrew, and the Boyne Valley passage-graves.

Account of the Objects discovered.

Description of the Implements.

No objects of metal were found in any of the carns, and the implements recovered, with the exception of the finely pointed object made from hard slate, and the sandstone pebble, consisted of worked animal bones. The absence of metal may be due to economy, for, though the carns as a whole may be dated well into the Bronze Age, metal, even in the advanced Bronze Age, may have been too valuable to be placed with the dead.

Dr. R. F. Scharff, Keeper of the Natural History Collections in the National Museum has kindly examined the bone implements, and named those that could be identified. They are very interesting, and are therefore all illustrated.

Finds from the chambers at Carrowkeel from 1911.
Finds from the chambers at Carrowkeel from 1911.

The figures are reproduced to the scale of one-half. One of the larger implements is an exceedingly well-made object. It is formed out of the tibia of a Red Deer, which has been much reduced. It measures six and five-eighths inches in length. Hard bones of this kind make very good implements, and this object may have been used for boring skins. Another tool has its point broken. It is made from the fibula of a Bear, and Dr. Scharff informs us that it is of much interest, as it is only the second specimen of remains of Bear being found with early man in Ireland, the other instance known being the finding of a worked Bear's tooth with human remains in Co. Clare. This bone measures at present five and a quarter inches long. A third implement is broken at the point, and also higher up, and it is impossible to say what its original length was; it measures at present 3 inches in length. It may also be made from the bone of a Bear, but it is not possible to be certain on this point. All these objects were found in Carn G.

Another well-shaped pointed implement was found in Carn K. It measures 7 inches in length, and greatly resembles the large implement found in Carn G. It is considerably flattened at the point, and may have been used for smoothing skins. It is made from the leg bone of an ox (Bos longifrons).

The bones of Bos longifrons are common in the lake dwellings of Switzerland, which date from Neolithic times, and were abundant in Grime's Graves (England), also of Neolithic date. Bos longifrons appears to have been the ox of the Bronze Age in the British Islands, and was probably domesticated in Ireland at the period of the interments in the Carrowkeel carns.

The curiously shaped pointed implement is made of hard slate; the point is very sharp and the object has been carefully scraped or rubbed down to its present shape. It may have been used as a borer or for ornamenting' pottery.

The sandstone pebble appears to have been used as a hammer-stone. It is flattened on one side. Six pins or pegs, with well-cut heads were found, four in Carn K, and two in Carn E. The largest has been fractured down the centre (the lowest piece shown in the figure probably belongs to it, but it cannot be fitted on in any way, and certainty on the point is impossible).

These pins should be compared with the very similar bone pins found in excavations in the monuments at Carrowmore, Co. Sligo, figured by Wood-Martin, and also with those found in Carn R 2 of the Loughcrew series by Mr. E. Crofton Rotheram.

The heads of what were probably three bone needles found in Carn K are interesting. They may be compared with what is described as the head of a bone pin discovered in the Carrowmore cromlechs, and figured by Wood-Martin. Among the other bones found, a curiously rounded rib bone may be noticed. It has been artificially rounded to such an extent that it is impossible to determine to what species it belonged. Its use is conjectural. The pointed end of a broken implement, what was probably the head of another from Carn K and also three curved bones are figured. These latter may have been used for some purpose.

The boar's tusk found in Carn E is interesting as the first remains of boar found in this series of carns. It measures 2.5 inches in length. Boar's tusks are not uncommon early interments. Several were found in the carn on Belmore Mountain, Co. Fermanagh, excavated by Mr. Thomas Plunkett. A boar's tusk, cut across and pierced in order to attach a string which had worn the hole, was found in the Edenvale Caves, Co. Clare. They have also been found frequently in Crannogs in Ireland. In England, boar's tusks perforated for suspension have been found in interments dating from the Stone Age. They were probably worn as amulets. See Prof. W. Ridgeway on this point.

The Cromleach of the Phantom Stones at Carrowmore.
The Cromleach of the Phantom Stones at Carrowmore.
Photograph by Robert Welch, © NMNI.

Beads and Pendants.

Mr. T. Hallissy, of the Geological Survey of Ireland, has kindly examined the beads, pendants, and stone balls found in the carns, and illustrated in Plate XXIV to the scale of one-half. He states their composition is as follows: The four pendants and nine of the beads found in the left recess of Carn G are made of steatite and serpentine. The ornamental broken bead from the central recess of Carn G is made of lime stone; the other beads and pendants from this recess are composed of limestone, steatite, and serpentine. The largest pendant from the chamber of Carn K is limestone, the second in size is jasper, and the smallest serpentine.

Two beads found in the central recess of Carn K are jasper, and the two pendants steatite. The perfect bead found in Carn F is jasper; and of the two broken specimens, one is steatite and the other is serpentine. The rounded stone balls found in the different carns are all limestone, with the exception of the two oblong specimens found in the central recess of Carn G, which are water-worn quartz pebbles. The jasper pendant and beads are well finished, and the method of boring such a hard substance as jasper at that time presents an interesting problem. They may possibly have been imported.

These beads and pendants are of much interest; they all belong to the same type, and all have been drawn so that the shapes can be well seen. Except for the incised line anti cutting of the ends of the four pendants found in Carn G, left recess, the only ornamental example is the broken pendant with the small incised groove from Carn G, central recess.

The largest pendant was found in the chamber of Carn K. It is a brownish colour, is highly polished, and has a widely splayed hole.

The beads and pendants closely resemble those from the carn on Belmore Mountain, illustrated in Mr. Coffey's paper. Comparison should also be made with the steatite beads found in the monuments at Carrowmore, and figured by Wood-Martin. Very similar pendants and beads were found by Mr. Crofton Rotheram in Carn R2 at Loughcrew. Some of these have been figured. Mr. Rotheram kindly sent us a number of unpublished beads he found in Carn R2, and also some he obtained from a small carn on Patrickstown Hill, Co. Meath, for comparison with the Carrowkeel beads; the similarity is most striking.

The small round stone balls which were found in several of the carns are curious, and their use cannot be determined. The pieces of calcite that were found are also interesting; the custom of placing white stones in interments seems to have been common in prehistoric times, and has been frequently noted. It is possible that the stones were believed to have some magical significance.


The complete urns and the portions of vessels illustrated are all reproduced to the scale of one-third. It ismost unfortunate that the pottery was in so many cases discovered in such small fragments, and so much detrited. Many attempts at restoration have been made; but the fragments were so small and so much was missing that, except in one case, nothing of importance has been effected. However, two pieces of rim belonging to different urns were found among the debris from the central recess, Carn K; careful measurement, and following the recovered portion with a pair of compasses, have enabled the outline of the rims to be approximately drawn to scale and shown in the illustrations. A third piece of rim was found by Professor Alexander Macalister when sorting out the bones from Carn K.

Pottery fragments from Carrowkeel.
Pottery fragments from Carrowkeel.

In Carn G, right recess, the fragments found were slightly larger, and could be fitted together. The fitting together of these pieces has shown them to belong to a vessel of larger type than the ordinary food-vessel. Careful measurement has enabled the outline of the vessel to be drawn approximately. It ismost unfortunate that no portion of the rim was discovered, so that it is impossible to determine the height of the vessel or the exact type to which it belongs. All that can be stated with certainty is that it is larger than the ordinary food-vessels, and that it resembles the type known as cinerary urns more than these.

The clay in the thickest portion recovered measures about three-quarters of an inch, and the pieces show considerable traces of blackening by fire. The decoration is of a simple character, and consists of punch marks, made with a pointed stick or bone. The portion of the rim found by Professor Alexander Macalister also appears to have belonged to a large urn. Measurements, and following the line of rim with a pair of compasses, have enabled the outline to be approximately drawn to scale; and reference to the figure will show the probable size of the rim when complete. The fragment measures half an inch in thickness.

In Ireland the pottery of Neolithic times appears to have consisted of smallish vessels with a round base. There is a specimen of this type preserved in the Royal Irish Academy's collection in the National Museum. It was discovered in "a subterraneous cavern" near the town of Antrim, and a number of flint arrow-heads and a stone celt are stated to have been found with it. The highly ornamented food-vessel of the Bronze Age was developed from this type. The larger so-called cinerary urns belong to the later stages of the Bronze Age.

The pottery remains from the carns are, as a whole, in such a fragmentary state that definite conclusions as to the number or type of urns cannot be safely drawn. The pieces found in Carn G, and the portion of rim recovered from Carn K, belong to vessels larger than the ordinary food-vessel type.

The perfect specimen from Carn K is finely decorated; it is comparatively large, and its mouldings are numerous and well-pronounced; it tapers to a small base, and belongs to the food-vessel type. The perfect urn from Carn O belongs to a type of food-vessel which appears to have lasted over a long period of the Bronze Age. The sort of cruciform ornament on the base may be compared with that upon the base of the urn found in the carn on Belmore Mountain, Co. Fermanagh. This carn, it may be noted, contained both burnt and unburnt burials, and the beads and pendants found resembled closely those discovered in the Carrowkeel series.

Bronze-age pot from Cairn O.
Bronze-age pot from Cairn O.

No Neolithic types of pottery appear to be present, and the carns so far examined may all be placed in the Bronze Age. The perfect urns are finely ornamented and well-shaped specimens, and hardly seem to belong to the earliest portion of the Bronze Age, while the presence of the remains of larger vessels points to a somewhat later period. The carns were, no doubt, used over a long period, and, considering the large number of persons buried, it cannot be doubted that many of the burials and objects placed with them must differ in date.

As, however, the objects, with the exception of the two unbroken urns, were nearly all found among the burnt bones, it is impossible to do more than indicate this difficulty, which is another reason for exercising caution in attempting to date the carns. The carns themselves, and many of the objects they contained, present close analogies to the Loughcrew series; and it may be noted that this group of carns further resembles those at Loughcrew, in two of their number being cenotaphs. As far, therefore, as can be judged from the pottery, and making all reservations on account of the difficulty of forming conclusions as to the exact type of urns to which many of the fragments belonged, the contents of the carns must be placed in the Bronze Age.

For an excellent discussion of the development of the food-vessel see Mr. R. A. Smith's Paper on the Development of Neolithic Pottery, Archaeologia, vol. Ixii, p. 340.

Antler pins and beads from the Mound of the Hostages at Tara.
Antler pins, stone balls and a Carrowkeel-ware pot from the Mound of the Hostages at Tara. Much the same kind of artifacts were excavated in Carrowkeel, Carrowmore, Loughcrew, and the Boyne Valley passage-graves.

5. Report on the Human Remains.

By Professor A. Macalister, Cambridge.

The determination of the characters of the human remains was a matter of very great difficulty. The greater number had been thoroughly burnt and broken, and most of the fragments were, in consequence, quite unrecognizable. By a careful process of sorting of the fragments and counting the bones that were best preserved, it was possible to arrive at an estimate manner of the minimum number of individuals represented. In this I ascertained that there were bones representing thirty-one skeletons. These, however, constituted only a very small portion, and included only the least perfectly burnt. I think it is a safe conjecture to estimate the number as at least double that limit.

Professor Alexander Macalister.
Professor Alexander Macalister.

In my first examination I kept the remains from each carn and from each compartment separate, but after carefully reviewing them I found that they were so much alike I consider it unnecessary to describe the several fragments from each place.

In the determinable fragments males preponderated, but there were certainly twelve recognizable females, and probably more. In all carns I found fragments of infantile and foetal bones, but these were few.

There were no men of conspicuously tall stature. The measurements of as were sufficiently complete to give trustworthy results such long bones indicated one man of 5 feet 9 inches, but most of the others ranged from 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 5 inches, and the female bones from 5 feet 5 inches (?) to 5 feet. Ten femora and tibiae were sufficiently complete to give definite measurements, and as many more, whose ends were damaged, gave approximate results. The average stature deduced from these was for the males 5 feet 6.5 inches, and for the females about 5 feet 1 inch.

Cut marks on some of the human remains which were discovered at Carrowkeel Cut marks, marked in white (above) and magnified (below), observed on a left humerus (upper arm) from Cairn K (a), the ilium of a left coxae (part of pelvis) from Cairn K (b), and a right femur (upper leg) from Cairn K (c). Photo by Jonny Geber
Cut marks on some of the human remains which were discovered at Carrowkeel Cut marks, marked in white (above) and magnified (below), observed on a left humerus (upper arm) from Cairn K (a), the ilium of a left coxae (part of pelvis) from Cairn K (b), and a right femur (upper leg) from Cairn K (c). Photo by Jonny Geber. Source.

The femora were not unusually stout, and only one showed a slight amount of platymeria. Some, indeed, were proportionally slender. The tibiae were fairly strong, and about one-fourth showed a tendency to platycnemia the others were distinctly euryenemic. On three tibiae were anterior marginal facets at the lower end, and on four astragali there were the companion facets, and a forward prolongation of the internal malleolar facet. These conditions have been correlated with habitual use of the squatting posture common among Orientals. The fibulae were ridged and channelled with unusual sharpness. A few bones, especially some vertebrae, showed signs of rheumatoid disease at the joints. One fibula was very much curved. The humeri were in general much broken, but the fragments seem to indicate bones of considerable stoutness.

From the number of bones which were not completely ossified at the extremities, it is evident that many of the people buried in the carns were under twenty-five years of age. None showed signs of senility.

The crania were megacephalic, but only five could be satisfactorily measured, and even these were incomplete; the capacity of the largest was about 15.20 cm. In point of shape they were pentagonoid, ovoid, and with cephalic index hovering on the limit between dolicho and mesaticephaly, ranging from 73 to 76. From the general appearance of the curvatures of the unmeasurable fragments they seemed to have been of the same pattern. One was platybasic, as if rickety. The orbits were all megaseme and the nasal skeleton leptoprosopic. The muscular crests were fairly well marked, the teeth large and showing considerable wear, but only one or two showed signs of disease. The jaws were orthognathous, and the countenance long with moderately prominent cheek-bones.

One of the 18 boxes re-discovered in the Duckworth Laboratory at the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge, England.
One of the 18 boxes re-discovered in the Duckworth Laboratory at the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge, England. Source.

The chin was in some long and prominent, in others receding, and the angles of the jaws of two were prominently curved. Altogether the characters are practically those which are commonest among the people of the west of Ireland at the present day. Attention has been directed of late by Keith to the shapes and sizes of teeth, as a criterion of date, those of Palaeolithic crania being supposed to be thicker-necked than those of later time. In these skulls the measurements were singularly uniform, the two lower molars having a proximo-distal crown measurement of 11, a labio-lingual of 11, and a crown height of 6. The neck was proximo-distally 9 - 5, labio-lingually 9, and the height 20. The other teeth were of a similar proportional size, showing that they correspond to the measurements of the teeth of the later crania and differ from those of the Mousteriau age.

The Hag's Chair, a large throne-like kerbstone at Cairn T in Loughcrew.
The Hag's Chair, a large throne-like kerbstone at Cairn T in Loughcrew. This stone has a panel of faded engravings, the only example of external megalithic art at Cairn T.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

6. Summary.

We may fairly claim that the investigation of the group of monuments described in the foregoing pages has given us a remarkably full picture of the life and customs of the Bronze Age in Ireland. It is true that no object of metal or stone witnessing to the high technical skill to which the people of this period are known to have attained came to light. It is also true that none of the carns showed any marks of the artistic influences which radiated from the civilization of the eastern Mediterranean, and which are so strikingly evidenced by the incised decoration of the analogous monuments in Meath.

In the remains of the settlements we find at least a hint of the nature of the dwellings of the Bronze-age people; and of the considerations that led them to a choice of site. In the imposing series of carns on the mountain top and their contents, we find mirrored the physical character, social and architectural skill of their builders; and, thanks to the organization, happy circumstance that most of the were completely unrified, we have gained a fuller insight into the burial ritual of the Bronze Age in Ireland than ever before. Even though the people did not indulged in incised ornament, the constructive skill displayed (notably in Carns F and G) shows that the ancient dwellers in county Sligo were on the same cultural level as their brethren in Meath; and the fact that their monuments remained undisturbed has enabled us, by their investigation, to fill in lacunae in our knowledge which were inevitable, owing to the plundered state of the typical monuments of Loughcrew and the Boyne.

Section of Cairn F from 1911.
Section of Cairn F from 1911.

When the Bronze Age settlement established itself on Carrowkeel Mountain, the physical aspect of the surrounding country was very different from what we see to-day. Much of the lower ground was covered by dense forests, in which ranged the Red Deer, the Wild Boar, and the Bear (as the bone deposits in the carns have shown), and no doubt such other species as are known to zoologists to have inhabited Ireland at that time. Very likely the stone walls round the dwellings served the important purpose of keeping out Wolves. Interspersed among the forests were extensive areas of swamp. The hill itself is extensive and isolated. It commands wide views in every direction, so that timely warning could be given of the approach of marauders.

The spur on which the village is built could be converted into a fortress with but little of the fissures and that chimneys trouble; walls at the by building tops here and there break the continuity of its almost perpendicular walls of cliffs, it could be made almost impregnable. Thus defined, the spur strongly resembles the site of many of the promontory forts with which the labours of Mr. Westropp have made us familiar. The tribe evidently belonged to the primitive dolichocephalic Neolithic stock which was spread over western and southern Europe, and now forms a leading element in the modern population of Ireland.

There is evidence in the two ox-bones in Carn E that this animal was domesticated. The fish of the lake and the game of the forest offered an abundant store of food to the inhabitants. There was no evidence as to whether they did or did not practise the arts of agriculture. The weak point of the village site is the scantiness of the water-supply. The springs of the hill are few and feeble; and there seems to be none within the immediate neighbourhood of the site.

The village consisted of some fifty circular hut-sites, more or less protected by the cliff-walls of the spur on which it stands. It may be as well to anticipate here an objection. We assume that this extensive colony is connected with the carns which surround it on three sides. The truth of this neighbourhood assumption cannot be demonstrated. On the bare, wind-swept, rain-washed rock surfaces, so far as we could see, not so much as a splinter of bone remains to tell of its former occupants or their mode of life.

On the other hand, the assumption seems capable of justification by a process of exclusion. The buildings are not comparable with the Iron Age and Early Christian settlements of Fahan and elsewhere; nor are they of the same nature as the early medieval steadings whose remains are known as ring-forts. Though all these types of buildings are round, analogy ends there. The Carrowkeel community was distinguished from the others by its position in a strongly fortified situation, remote from any place where agriculture is possible; and by its organisation, in that it is close and compact, not spread widely in single huts over a large area of land. It is difficult to see to what period other than the Bronze Age this very primitive settlement can be assigned.

Doonaveeragh Mountain and Cairn O at Carrowkeel.
Doonaveeragh Mountain and Cairn O at Carrowkeel.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.


When we turn to the carns, our attention is immediately arrested by the variety which they display, both in design and in execution. Two of them, A and P, are completely blind, being apparently cenotaphs like Carn D at Loughcrew. Others, like H or O, have in their heart small cists, with or without passages leading to them. Others have elaborate and well-built chambers, comparable in excellence of structure with that in Brugh na Boinne, though of course on a less grandiose scale. The plan of the carns is more or less round in all, but E is a marked exception to this rule. Again, the rude architecture of some, such as H and O, contrasts strikingly with the constructive and artistic skill displayed by others, such as F and G. Had the monuments been found rifled, we would have felt inevitably drawn to the conclusion that they represented widely different culture-strata; and indeed we long laboured under the impression that Carn F was Neolithic. But the absolute uniformity of the deposits shows clearly that all the carns were in use at one and the same period: the contents even of E were in all respects similar to those in its neighbours.

It has been pointed out in the foregoing pages that in the days of the carn-builders the hill was not covered with peat to the same extent as at present. Sub-aerial denudation, extending over a long period of time, must have resulted in the presence of a large number of blocks of limestone, lying loose on the surface. These were available for the builders. But in those carns which show a superiority of construction, it is evident that no mere haphazard choice of material was made. The symmetry of corresponding blocks, the absolute identity of appearance in groups of blocks, notably in the slabs facing the chambers in F, proving that they came from the same bed, show clearly that the architect who superintended the construction selected his materials carefully, if, indeed, he did not cause them to be specially quarried. The use of sandstone in places where a heavy weight had to be sustained is also an indication of architectural forethought and design.

That no metal objects were found may be accounted for on the ground of economy, bronze being too valuable to waste on tomb-deposits. The implements found with greatest frequency were pointed tools of bone or stone, sometimes perforated at the butt, and pegs or pins of bone with expanding heads. Similar objects are characteristic of the contemporaneous interments at Loughcrew. Possibly these pins had been used to fasten the bag of cloth into which the ashes from the funeral pyre were collected.

Inner recess of Cairn K in 1911.
Inner recess of Cairn K.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

With regard to the religious ideas of the people, the first point to indicate is the great importance attached by them to sepulture. This is evidenced first by the extraordinary pains taken in the construction of the monuments; and, secondly, by the commanding sites chosen for them. The latter point is capable of two explanations, between which it is impossible to choose. It was intended either tat the deceased tribesmen should overlook as wide an area of the clan territory as possible, or that the monuments themselves should be a centre upon which eyes could be turned from the remotest limits of the lands of the tribe.

The well-established fact that cremation and inhumation co-existed in the Bronze Age once more receives an illustration. For, while certain isolated unburnt bones might have escaped the fire accidentally, this cannot be said of the nearly complete skeletons 'found in the narrow passage of H, and in the cist of O. Burning evidently took place outside the carn, and the ashes were then placed either in an urn or (more frequently) on a flat stone in the matter case possibly wrapped in a cloth, and then laid inside the chamber: as a rule, in the side cellae.

Once again we find evidence of the well-known, though inexplicable, custom of burying white stones with the deceased. Not only inside the carns but even inside the piles of stones covering the chamber were found numerous lumps of calcite, much rolled, which there is every reason to believe had been from a considerable distance. One remarkable collection of about a dozen of these stones lay just outside the doorway of K. Pebbles of white quartz, also foreign to the district, were likewise found. One of the rounded brought stones found in F was bored by the mollusk Saxicava rugosa. This and the shell of Natica catena from Carn H show that the people of the. community penetrated as far as the sea-shore in their search for objects of religions or aesthetic value.

There seems every reason to assign a ritual purpose to the two ox vertebrae deposited in specific places in Carn F, especially when we bear in mind the sanctity attached to the ox in early religions, and when we consider that in the same chamber was a remarkable menhir, beside which, evidently a of set selected water-worn stones.

This menhir is the central point of interest in the whole series of structures. That it is constructional is absolutely out of the question. Its central position in the sanctum sanctorum of the most imposing of all the carns indicates that it had a peculiar importance. That it is a religious symbol is scarcely questionable; and here we have, therefore, some light on the general question of the age and use of the standing-stones that are so conspicuous among the pre historic monuments of Ireland.

The growth of peat over the whole surface of the hill has greatly changed the appearance of the land since the carns were erected; the determination of the period of this growth is a not unimportant collateral result of the excavation. We have no means of knowing when this settlement came to an end, or what was its ultimate fate. But Irish archaeologists are to be congratulated on the fact that, save for some structural failures, and the minor depredations of boys, the chief monuments of the series have kept their main secrets intact during the centuries that have elapsed since the last interment was made within them.

Carrowkeel mountain and Doonaveeragh viewed from Ballinafad.
Carrowkeel mountain and Doonaveeragh viewed from Ballinafad.
Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.