Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
The view north from Cairnaweeleen to Knocknarea and Queen Maeve's cairn.


Cairnaweeleen—The Cairn of the Little Bald Hill—is situated on a spur on the north-east side of Kesh Corran Mountain, the western extreme of the Bricklieve Mountain Neolithic Complex. Cairnaweeleen is 244 meters above sea level and has wide and panoramic views across north and east Sligo. This monument is the most northerly situated cairn of all the cairns and passage-graves within the Bricklieve Mountain complex. This monument was not included in the hurried excavations at Carrowkeel by R. A. S. Macalister, E. C. R. Armstrong and R. L. Praegar in 1911.

The view to the north from Carnanweelan.
The view to the north from the cairn on Treanor across Carnanweelan to Knocknarea.

There is a natural bowl or ampitheater just below the cairn on the north side of the spur, which opens towards the charming vista of Knocknarea and Queen Maeve's cairn. The ruinous Carnanweelan passage-grave sits on the highest point of the spur. The chamber was constructed of massive limestone slabs, and is somewhat intact. There is a huge covering slab over the end of the chamber, and a second roofslab displaced on the north side.

Plan of Carnanweelan.
Plan of Carnanweelan. Image © National Monuments Service.

The chamber has a simple undifferenciated plan (ie, no side recesses), and appears to be oriented to the Hill of Benbo, the last peak at the east end of the Ox Mountains. The orientation is towards the direction of the midsummer sunrise. The covering cairn is mostly missing, probably plundered for building the fieldwalls around the edge of the spur during the 1830's. The remaining cairn is about 15 meters in diameter.

Spectacular mid-summer sunset looking north-west from the notch where Cairnaweeleen joins Kesh Corran. Picture © Leo Regan.

This monument may have been an early platform or tertre form of passage-grave, similar in appearance to the cairns around Lough na Leibe, Cairns M and N at Carrowkeel, and the Carrowmore monuments. These early passage-graves are usually free-standing chambers constructed on a low kerbed platform. The low cairn here may be a later neolithic enhancement of the free-standing monument.

Megalithic Survey

(In the Carrowkeel-Kesh Corann passage tomb cemetery).

On a spur on the northern slopes of Kesh Corann and commanding an extensive outlook to the north. A north-east-facing passage tomb (Length 5 meters) stands towards the north end of a ruined circular cairn (diameter 19 meters; height 0.5m). Some kerbstones at the west side of the cairn and one or two possible examples at the east indicate an original diameter of c. 15 meters.

Eight orthostats form the more easterly side of the tomb. There are four, possibly five, in situ at the opposite side and it is closed by a substantial backstone. An in-turn of the more easterly side divides the tomb into an inner (L 3m; max. Wth 1.5m) and outer (L 2m) compartment. A large roofstone (max. dim. 2.5m) is in place above the inner compartment. A much smaller stone wedged between the forward end of the last and the more westerly side of the tomb may be a displaced roofstone. A large slab (max. dim. 2.1m) leans against the outer face of the more westerly side of the outer compartment and would seem to be a displaced roofstone.

Ten or more relatively small slabs lie displaced at the site. In 1993 a small pocket of cremated bone, apparently a secondary deposition, found near the kerb was later identified as the remains of one adult (Buckley and Mount 1994, 71). An enclosure (SL040-00602-) lies immediately to south. (Ó Nualláin 1989, 84).

The passage-grave and the Thief's Hole at Carnanweelan.
The passage-grave and the Thief's Hole at Carnanweelan.


There are two caves within the spur of Cairnaweeleen. The first is called Poulagaddy, the Thief's Hole, and a group of bandits or highwaymen are said to have used it as a refuge there in the seventeenth century. This hole is located within meters of the passage-tomb, and opens straight down into the mountain; perhaps it was used as a quarry for cairn materials. Poulagaddy is currently filled with rubble and animal bones.

Plan of Carnanweelan.
Plan of the passage-grave at Carnanweelan. Image © National Monuments Service.

The presence of a passage-grave right beside a cave is both unusual and interesting. Irish Passage Graves are artificial caves or wombs, religious buildings constructed to contain the earthly remains of the neolithic farmers. It is highly likely that the chambers were used in some kind of resrurection rituals during neolithic funerals.

An enclosure which may well date from the neolithic connects the Carnanweelan passage-grave to the Thief's Hole.

On the north end of a spur of Kesh Corann and immediately south of a passage tomb (SL040-006001-). A roughly D-shaped area (26.5 meters north to south; 29 meters east to west) enclosed by remnants of a stone wall (Width 2 meters; height 0.3 meters) which survives as low sod-covered hummocks from which large stones protrude. The wall can be traced in a broad curve west-northwest to south and at north it merges with the sod-covered base of the passage tomb cairn, appearing to post-date the cairn. A natural rocky scarp defines the straight west side of the enclosure. The enclosure encompasses most of the level ground on the top of the spur.

The School Cave

The second cave is known as the School Cave, and it is said that a hedge school was conducted there in the Penal Times, when teachers and priests were outlawed and had a price on their heads, often taking refuge in the hills and out-of-the-way places.

The Carnanweelan School Cave.
The School's Cave.

To the eastern side of that hill of Keash there is a cave called the school-cave which is situated in Edward Healy's field Corranaweelan, Ballymote. You would find pieces of slate pencils there which proves that people went to school there.

It is said that three men entered the cave They tied a long rope at the outside and carrying with them a lighted candle they entered the cave. The travelled on and on until they came to a lake where a little red woman was washing clothes. The candle was worn before they reached the lake so that they had nothing only the rope to guide them back.

At the head of the school-cave the is a thing called the giant's table which is composed of four stones. two of them are standing on end and a flat one of top. The other one is thrown away.

Source: Kathleen Lavin, the School's Collection.

Chinese School Cave.
The Dongzhong Mid-Cave Primary School is located in a cave in the mountainous Miao village in China. Dongzhong itself means "in cave". As there was no money to construct a building, the local people started a school in a cave in 1984 with eight teachers and 186 students.

The School Cave opens in the cliff on the east face of Cairnanweeleen, and looks out across the Carrowkeel cairns and Treanmacmurtagh, the peak between Carrowkeel and Kesh Corran. Immediately below the School Cave is a large mound, possibly a barrow, with a small ringfort or enclosure beside it.

The view to the north from Carnanweelan.
The view to the north from Carnanweelan.