Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Cairn G on a misty May morning.
Cairn G on a misty May morning in 1999. The plain of Sligo is covered with mist. On the horizon are Knocknarea, left and Sliabh Da Ean with its notch, right. The large, mysterious erratic boulder, right, seems to be a part of the complex, and casts shadows like a sundial.

Cairn G

In the first cairn opened (G) there was an entrance passage, a polygonal central chamber, and three polygonal cells around it, evenly disposed. Several sill-stones divided up the entrance passage, and a sill seperated the central chamber from each of the side chambers. Between the sill-stones, each section of the floor was paved with a large slab.

The roof was formed of large overlapping slabs, sloping outwards. It was a most symmetrical and beautiful piece of architecture. I had the privilege of being the first to crawl down the entrance-passage, and I did so with no little awe. I lit three candles and stood awhile, to let my eyes accustom themselves to the dim light.

There was everything just as the last Bronze Age man had left it, three to four thousand years before. A light brownish dust covered all. The central chamber was empty, but each of the three recesses opening from it contained much burnt bone debris, with flat stones on which bones had evidently been carried in, after the bodies had been cremated in strong fires outside.

There beads of stone, bone impliments made from Red Deer antlers, and many fragments of much decayed pottery. On little raised recesses in the wall were flat stones on which reposed the calcinated bones of young children. This brief description gives a sample of the construction and contents of the more complete cairns.

R. L. Praeger - The Way That I Went, 1937.

Cairn G was discovered by R. L. Praeger, who visited Carrowkeel in 1897 while cataloging rare orchids growing on the mountain. Praeger returned in 1911 with E. C. R. Armstrong and R. A. S. Macalister to excavate the cairns.

Cairn G is the first cairn the visitor meets oon the main ridge at Carrowkeel. The cairn is situated at 290 metres above sea level on the north end of Carrowkeel Mountain. It is the best preserved of the Carrowkeel monuments, being a classic example of a cruciform Irish passage-grave, little disturbed over the last 5,500 years or so.

However, an increase in modern tourism has seen many people visiting Carrowkeel and climbing on the cairns, which has led to erosion and damage to the monuments. If you do visit this wonderful site, please remember that these are ancient and unique buildings, and help to preserve them for future generations by not climbing on them.

The most exciting feature found at this monument is the roofbox and the alignment towards the midsummer sunset which are described on the next page.

The roofbox and kerbstone at Cairn G.
Cairn G showing the roofbox and the only visible kerbstone, which gives an idea of the original ground level.

There is a fine wide panaroma directed to the north and north-west with Knocknarea and its great cairn dominating the north, and Kesh Corran to the west, with Croagh Patrick clearly visible in the south-west on a clear day. The view to the east is almost like a stage set with Lough Arrow and Moytura in the foreground, and the Arigna Mountains and Sliabh an Iarainn behind them.

The base of the cairn and most of the north face are buried under a thick layer of blanket bog, with one kerbstone, a gneiss boulder, visible west of the entrance. These monuments were built long before the peat formed, and the terrain of Carrowkeel was probably something like the Burren is today. The diameter of the cairn is given as 21 metres. There is a large flat flag on the western side, which presumably covers a stone coffer or cist like the one found to the east of Cairn K.

Cairn G in 1997.
Cairn G in 1997. Note stone blocking slab and roofbox. Cairn G is one of the most intact cairns remaining at Carrowkeel.

Impressive Engineering

The chamber of Cairn G is an impressive feat of engineering and was much admired by R. A. S. Macalister in his report on the 1911 excavation.

Within the chamber of Cairn G, looking to the end recess.
An early photograph of the recently opened chamber of Cairn G, looking to the end recess.

Access is gained between the door and lintel and there is room for several people within the chamber. The floor of the chamber and recesses were covered with limestone flags; they are covered with loose cairn stones at present. The walls are composed of eight orthostats, which were split and trimmed and give a fine sense of balance and symmetry. The roof rises on two large corbels to a massive covering slab.

Within the chamber of Cairn G, looking to the end recess.
Within the chamber of Cairn G, looking to the end recess.

The recesses are flanked by orthostats and there is a window-type slot over each recess. This unusual and unexplained structural feature, which is also found at Cairn K, seems to be a unique element of the Carrowkeel building style. The stone door slab still remains in place, with an unusual slit in the right hand side. To judge by the craftsmanship in this chamber, Cairn K and from the plan and elevation of Cairn F, the Carrowkeel builders were excellent stone masons.

Pendants from Cairn G.
A selection of pendants found in the chamber of Cairn G (not to scale).

The finds in Cairn G are typical of Irish Passage Cairns: bones, lots of burnt bones, cremations, many fragments of pottery; a selection of beads and pendants, one of which is decorated with a spiral design (above, left); and five stone balls, which may have been used to represent the moon.

Michael Herity believes that some of the smaller pendants may be miniature models of Breton stone axes from the Carnac region. The pendant with the spiral helps link Carrowkeel with megalithic art, otherwise only known in the region at Cairn B, Heapstown cairn and Listoghil, the central monument at Carrowmore.

      sunset near the summer solstice viewed from Cairn G.
A sunset near the summer solstice viewed from Cairn G.The sun is about 3 degrees from the flat-topped Doomore, the solstice setting position. Croughan, the lunar standstill marker is the leftmost of the two pointed hills. Knocknarea is on the extreme right.