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Cloverhill chamber, wild and overgrown, today.
Cloverhill chamber photographed by W. A. Green, possibly taken in 1910. Image © NMNI.

The Cloverhill Chamber

Before concluding the description of the monuments, one sculp- tured grave, situated in a field near Cloverhill, deserves special notice. It is 7 feet in length by 5 feet in breadth and 4' 6" in depth. The capstones were originally flush with the earth, and no cairn, or circle of stones, surrounded it externally, nor is there any tradition of any such ever having existed. The carvings on the stones forming the chamber, though now shallow and very indistinct, were, when first discovered, very sharply defined; they are now also half concealed by lichens and moss. The character of the sculptures is something between those of Talten and Brugh, which would agree very well with its date if we suppose it connected with the battle-field.

History of Sligo, W. G. Wood-Martin.

Cloverhill is a small and unusual monument about 500 meters east of Carrowmore. The monument consists of a small, horseshoe-shaped megalithic chamber set into the ground, which mesures 2.6 meters by one metre wide and is oriented slightly west of south. The monument has six engraved stones within the chamber. Because of the carvings, Cloverhill became well-known in Victorian times, and featured in various books on archaeology, where the monument was photographed and illustrated many times, and compared with the carvings at Newgrange.

A page on Cloverhill from Borlase's Dolmens of Ireland, 1895.
A page on Cloverhill from Borlase's Dolmens of Ireland, 1895.

The chamber was discovered in 1830 when a plough hit the roofslab, which seems to have disappeared soon after. One of the decorated stones was removed in 1832 and used in the construction of a local school house, and possibly the roofslab was also taken. For many years Cloverhill was considered to be an anomoly among the other Sligo monuments because of the sunken chamber and unusual engravings. Four of the orthostats in the chamber were carved with a kind of megalithic art, but the technique used is closer to the La Tene art of the Turoe and Castlestrange stones, dating from the Iron age, rather than neolithic passage-grave art.

A page on Cloverhill from Borlase's Dolmens of Ireland, 1895.
Art from Cloverhill in Borlase's Dolmens of Ireland, 1895.

There are several indications of Iron age activity close to Cloverhill: a carving within the chamber of Listoghil, the focal monument at Carrowmore closeby seems to be carved with a metal chisel. There was Iron age activity within the largest of the Carrowmore circles, Number 27, where lots of human teeth were discovered. Finally there is the huge earthen monument known as the Caltragh, which is considered to be an Iron age monument.

A sketch of the decorated stones at Cloverhill by Margaret Stokes.
A sketch of the decorated stones at Cloverhill by Margaret Stokes.
Source: National Library of Ireland.

The Cloverhill Carvings

The Cloverhill monument is on private property and is not easy to find. The monument is in the corner of a field and is currently very overgrown with briars and brambles. To be honest, it is hardly worth visiting this monument in its overgrown and neglected state today.

A horse at Cloverhill.
A young horse at Cloverhill, looking west to Carrowmore 500 meters away. Queen Maeve's cairn can be seen on the summit of Knocknarea mountain in the distance.

In the West of Ireland there are carvings, of a very similar character to the Broughshane example, on the interior surface of the slabs forming a cist on the lands of Cloverhill, not far from the town of Sligo. The ground-plan of this monument is of somewhat oval form; the stones touch each other, and average about four feet in height.

These had been originally covered by an immense flag, and the first intimation of the existence of the chamber was owing to the plough coming in contact with the slab which was covered with a mound of earth. The floor of the chamber was flagged, and it contained calcined bones and a cinerary urn, so there can be no doubt of the mortuary character of the monument. Four of the stones which supported the covering slab were sculptured.

No. 1 has two sets of scoring, one upon its edge, the other upon its interior surface; the marking on its edge consists of three small cup-like dots, each enclosed in a circle, also two horizontal lines, or oghamic-like scorings. No. 2 presents a V-shaped pattern, but attention is especially directed to Nos. 3 and 4. It will be at once perceived that when these stones first came from the hands of the primitive artists they were much larger; the portion of the stone on which the pattern was originally incised on the right side of No. 3, and on the top of No. 4, have been broken off, as the designs are evidently incomplete; this is the more noticeable, as the curious and elaborate ornamentation on the Broughshane example is complete in every respect; it will also be remarked that No. 3 was originally enclosed, like its Northern prototype, in a shield-like border. This design might therefore be styled the 'shield-pattern'. Its meaning or original symbolism may, perhaps, be ultimately unravelled by means of careful research, or the discovery of many similar primitive scribings. It is at any rate clear that the people who erected the Cloverhill tomb utilised older sepulchral slabs which they found ready at hand.

Pagan Ireland, W. G. Wood-Martin.

A watercolor of the designs at Cloverhill by Charles Elcock dated 1883.
A watercolor of the designs at Cloverhill by Charles Elcock dated 1883.
Source: National Library of Ireland.

The megalithic art has been illustrayed and recorded by a number of researchers. William Wakeman visited the monument on 11 July 1882 during his tour of Sligo, when he painted two views of the chamber and took rubbings of the stones. The Belfast antiquarian, George Elcock illustrated the stones in 1883, and a copy after a sketch by Margaret Stokes is illustrated above. George Coffey visited the site in 1895 and made illustrations and took rubbings of the carved stones for his book, Newgrange. During renovations in the Cloverhill schoolhouse close by, another decorated stone was discovered; this stone is currently on display in the Sligo County Museum in Stephen Street, Sligo town.

The Cloverhill chamber was excavated by W. G. Wood-Martin, the famous local landlord and archaeologist and antiquarian. He thought the chamber had been emptied previously, probably by the treasure hunting antiquarian Roger Walker, who opened many of the ancient monuments on the Cuil Iorra peninsula between 1830 and 1850, but kept poor records of his excavations. Wood-Martin reports that a pot was found, which may indicate that this is some kind of a bronze age monument.

Wakeman's 1882 watercolour of Cloverhill.
William Wakeman's watercolour of the chamber at Cloverhill, dated 1882. Image © Sligo County Library.