Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Quarry at Carrowmore.
Circles 26 and 27 at the east side of Carrowmore were lucky to escape destruction. Circles 23, 25 and 25 were completely destroyed by this quarry. Doomore cairn is on the large hill in the distance.

Destruction at Carrowmore

The dolmens and circles at Carrowmore have been subjected to a great deal of destruction and interference over the last 300 years. The monuments, locally considered to be the Cailleach's Beds or the Graves of Fallen Warriors, appear to have been respected by locals and remained largely intact until the 1830's. From the time of the Act of Union in 1801 quarrying and land clearance had become both more common and intensive as Sligo town and the surrounding estates expanded.

The fertile hill of Carrowmore, covered in a deep mantle of gravel from the ice age deposits was exploited as a quarry, and the huge gravel pits are still vsible today where circles are said to have formerly stood. Monument 5 at Carrowmore, located between the Phantom Stones and the Kissing Stone, is marked as a semi-circle on Gabrial Beranger's 1779 map. By the time the Ordnance Survey mapped the monuments in the late 1830's, the semi-circle and been pulled into a field wall (below).

Destroyed monument: Circle 5 has been used to build a field boundary.
A good example of a destroyed Carrowmore monument; Circle 5 has been used to build a field boundary.

Colonial Landlords, who had inherited Irish estates and property after the wars territorial conquest over the previous few centuries, rented the land back to tenants, usually through the employment of agents or middlemen. There was a massive drive to improve the quality of the land and exploit natural resources, particularly after 1830, when many leases expired with the death of King George IV, and Landlords began have their lands cleared and fenced and 'Squared'. Another English monarch, William IV, died in 1837 and a fresh wave of destruction and wall-building was unleashed on Carrowmore.

Carrowmore 58
The largely destroyed monument at Site 58, thought by some be the remains of a wedge monument.

George Petrie was on hand in 1837 when several of the circles in the east side of Carrowmore had just been destroyed, and his notes are all the evidence we have of several circles. His Carrowmore records are full of entries such as: "This circle, with its fine cromleac, was destroyed within the last week (i.e. August, 1837) by Mr. Chambers of Cloon Hill."

As Petrie was making records of the Carrowmore circles during the Ordnance Survey of 1837, he frequently lamented the rate of destruction which was taking place. He recorded the smashing of the circle at Site 54 so the stones could be used to build a field wall.

Rathcarrick, Sligo - August 11, 1837.

My dear Larcom,

I merely write you a line to say that after yesterdays investigation of the Sepulchral Circles at Carrowmore, I am far from done, though I have brought up my notes to 40 circles! I now verily believe there could not originally have been less than 200! But the destruction going on daily is horrible and if I do not work now, it would be too late to preserve a memorial of them in a short time. The peasentry generally have no reluctance to destroy them—on the contrary, are glad to get permission to clear the land of them. I am just now going there again.

Yours ever

most faithfully,

Goerge Petrie.

The large cairn which had been added to Listoghil, the central monument at Carrowmore seems to have survived largely intact until around 1840, when enough stones had been removed to expose the huge limestone slab covering the central chamber. Walker cleared out the chamber, throwing the human remains out around the monument. Before the site was excavated by the Swedish team, it was not obvious that the robbed cairn covered a large stone circle on a huge platform.

A second large cairn was said to have been destroyed at Lachtreal hill about 250 meters and slightly more elevated than Listighil. It is interesting to note that the position of Listoghil is only 150 meters west of being exactly equidistant between the smaller west cairn on Carns Hill and the gigantic Queen Maeve's cairn on the mountain to the west.

Carrowmore circles viewed from Bing maps
The Carrowmore circles viewed from above in Bing maps.

Some thirty neolithic monuments remain at Carrowmore today. Petrie recorded sixty-five monuments originally, but today is is considered unlikely that there were ever more than forty circles. Their state of preservation varies considerably, from some sites, such as Circles 21 and 22, which are largely destroyed, to Circle 7 which is the most imposing and complete example of this type of monument remaining.

A large swaith of sites were removed on the east, south and south-west portions of Carrowmore. There are several fields which are completely clean and smooth, while the field beside it is littered with boulders.

Dutch woodcut dated 1713
From a Dutch woodcut dated 1713: two men in are removing a pot from a burial mound. Behind them are other tumuli, while in the distance can be seen a gallery grave surrounded by a stone circle. From Joseph Raftery's 1953 book, Prehistoric Ireland.

Later damage

In 1906 three thousand cartloads of gravel were taken from Carrowmore and used as building materials for the new Harper Campbell mill at the Victoria docks in Sligo. This accounts for the four massive gravel quarry pits on the east side of Carrowmore, which stretch from the pit east of the Kissing Stone south to Leachtreal Hill by Circle 32.

From the Sligo Champion:

Messers Harper Campbell, Ltd, obtained posession of the site in the third week in June last and at once commenced excavations for the foundations, etc, which were ready for the contractors to commence upon in the third week in August, and what was only a green field a few months ago has since been a busy hive of industry, giving much-needed employment to over 50 men per week. An idea of the amount of labour may be gathered from the fact that from the foundations and excavation for the resevoir close upon 3,000 loads of stuff have been carted away to the Marsh and Deep Water Embankment besides several hundred tons of stones quarried on the site for boundary walls, etc.

By the time the building is completed over 3,000 tons of gravel and sand will have been carted in from various pits at Carrowmore, the raising and carrying of which has benefited many of the farmers in that district.

Sligo Champion, 3rd Febuary 1906.

The Carrowmore Dump saga

In the early 1980's Sligo County Council proposed to turn some of the large quarries at Carrowmore created in 1906 into the county landfill dump.

This insane proposal which suggested filling the quarries with litter was contested by a group of concerned locals, and eventually— after several years the idea was overturned in the high court. The Swedish excavations were hugely important in highlighting the significance of Carrowmore, and the site is now preserved.

Front page of the Sligo Champion, 24 February, 1989.
Front page of the Sligo Champion, 24 February, 1989.

It would be wonderful to have all the circles open to the public, as it is only by walking a circuit of the entire complex that one can get a true picture of the scale of Carrowmore.

Work at Carrowmore under Dáil scrutiny as questions were raised about the reconstruction of Listoghil, the focal monument of the complex.

A gravel quarry at Carrowmore
Gravel quarrying on the west side of the huge Circle 27 has caused many of the massive stones to fall over.