Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Looking into the entrance of Cairn H at Carrowkeel.
Looking into the entrance of Cairn H at Carrowkeel. This monument suffered badly in 1911: the diggers tunnelled in through the roof and left the cairn in an untidy mess.

Cairn H

Cairn H, the central monument at Carrowkeel is about 75 metres south of Cairn G. This monument was left in a quite ruined state with a damaged roof and caved-in chamber after R. A. S. Macalister 'excavated' here in 1911. Indeed, it was believed locally that dynamite was used to open the cairn, such was the ruined appearence of the monument after the dig.

Macalister recorded Cairn H as being nearly 30 metres in diameter, which would make it the largest monument of the group.

      into the entrance of Cairn H on the full moon.
Looking into the entrance of Cairn H on the full moon.

However, Cairn H, like most of the other cairns about 20 metres in diameter. The monument has a double row of kerbstones one kerb two metres inside the other, the only such example in Carrowkeel. The explanation for this discrepancy is that Cairn H was built in three distcint phases. The oldest part of the monument a platform or tertre surrounded by an outer kerb of erratic stones, much the same as Listoghil, the focal monument at Carrowmore. At the centre of the tertre, a free-standing chamber was constructed, with the opening facing towards Knocknarea and Carrowmore. A short length of passageway was added to this early phase of the monument.

Macalister's 1911 plan of Cairn H.
Macalister's 1911 plan of Cairn H shows the double kerb, the outer kerb belonging to the platform, the inner kerb belonging to the cairn.

During the second phase a cairn was added to cover the passage and chamber. The final alteration took place when the passage was extended and the angle was changed, aligning the monument to the summer solstice sunsets. The inner kerb of large limestone slabs would have been added at this time to contain the extended cairn.

Cairns H and G.
Cairn H and Cairn G, with the remains of a dolmen or stone table in the foreground.

There are several other monuments of interest close to Cairn H. A small mound which may be the remains of a Bronze age cist is located a few meters to the right of the entrance. Another monument which appears to be a collapsed table or dolmen can be seen a few meters to the south of Cairn H. The dolmen, which seems to have been vandalised, can be seen in the picture below as a tumble of stones in the foreground.

Plan and elevation of the chamber and passage at Cairn H from the 1911 excavation report.
Plan and elevation of the chamber and passage at Cairn H from the 1911 excavation report.

Passage and Chamber

Cairn H was the only monument the excavators found with its entrance open; however the passage was blocked by a fallen orthostat a few meters from the entrance. They entered the chamber from above by removing tons of cairn material and roofing corbels, supposedly with the aid of dynamite, and they are responsible for the present dishevelled state of the monument.

The cairn proved to contain a pentagonal chamber at the end of a curved or bent passage. A much larger version of a bent passage can be seen at the western passage at Knowth.

Cairn H is aligned to the sunsets on the summer solstice and is probably also aligned to the setting of one of the minor lunar standstills.

Drone footage of Cairn H and the Carrowkeel landscape.

Macalister's 1911 report.

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 broad at the approached by a narrow and awkward, 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.

Sunset close to midsummer at Cairn H.
Sunset close to midsummer viewed from within the passage of Cairn H.

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.

Cairn H photographed by William A. Green in 1911.
Cairn H photographed by William A. Green in 1911.

The plan and section of this carn and of the entrance passage and chamber will be found on Plate XXII; Plate XIV, fig. 3, shows the carn (with Carn G in the distance); Plate XIV, fig. 4, shows the entrance. This photograph was taken after we had cut down on the lintels.