Cairn G with cairns H and K in the background

Carrowkeel Complex

Carrowkeel is a beautifully situated neolithic hilltop passage tomb complex consisting of 14 passage cairns identified with letters. The passage cairns are spread across a number of hills that form part of the Bricklieve Mountain range (the Irish name Breac sliabh means speckled mountain). Carrowkeel is one of a series of limestone plateaus aligned towards Knocknarea. The plateau to the east is Doonaveeragh and to the west there are the Carn Mor and Treanscrabbagh plateaus. There is a small car park between the two hills in the top image. Although Carrowkeel is the highest point, it is also the easiest hill to access. Most visitors to the complex will visit the four main cairns on this plateau. These are numbered G,H K and L. On your way up to them you will pass by an unnamed ruined cairn.

Carrowkeel Cairn G

As you climb up from the old car park the first main cairn you will discover is Cairn G, pictured above. This is a classic Irish passage tomb, consisting of a short passage leading to a central chamber with three equally spaced side chambers. The walls are composed of eight well-matched orthostats and the chamber has a superb corbelled ceiling. The floor was originally composed of limestone flags but is now covered with cairn rubble. This was the first cairn excavated by Macalister, assisted by Armstrong and R.L.Praeger, in 1911. The most interesting feature of this tomb is the roofbox situated above the entrance. The only other known roofbox is the one at Newgrange, but unlike Newgrange this one is aligned to the midsummer sunset.

Main chamber and three side chambers

Carrowkeel Cairn H

From Cairn G head up the hill in a southwards direction and you will come to the much ruined Cairn H. The cairn and passage had collapsed so much it was impossible for Macalister and his team to enter the chamber from the passage way. Instead they entered from the top of the cairn to find a box-like cist at the centre. Astonishingly, it is believed that some dynamite may have been used during excavations. An unusual feature of this cairn is the double kerbing that was used in its construction. In the image above, right hand side of the cairn, you can see some of the large kerbstones that were used in the inner kerbing.

Carrowkeel Cairn K

Cairn K was also constructed with the classic cruciform shaped chamber and has an intact dry-stone corbelled roof. At the back of the right hand side chamber is an angled stone known as St Patrick's Stone. It is the same shape as Croagh Patrick mountain which can be easily viewed from Carrowkeel on a clear day. The 7 metre-long passage is orientated to Queen Maeve's Cairn on the top of Knocknarea. This orientation was also noted at Cairn E on the top of Carn Mor. There is a large roofless cist lying to the southeast of this cairn, see image below right. The complex was built around 3200-2400 B.C. and is one of the four main passage tomb cemeteries in Ireland.

The strange glacial erratic, known as the rocking stone, can be seen east of cairns G and H in the direction of Lough Arrow. An unexcavated cairn to the west of cairn K is cairn L, see image below left. For a comprehensive guide to the Carrowkeel cairns visit Martin Byrne's excellent site Carrowkeel.com . Martin is also a tour guide and can be contacted at the above site.

Cairn L with Cairn K in the background.

Carrowkeel Cist

The image above shows the site of the earliest known neolithic village in Ireland. It is situated in Mullaghfarna on a limestone plateau on the northern slopes of the Doonaveeragh ridge. The remains of at least 160 circular stone foundations can be found at the site of the prehistoric village. These huts may have been inhabited by the people who built the cairns. You will have to walk east from the cairns towards Lough Arrow to view the village site. Cairn O can also be seen perched on the top of Doonaveeragh.

Situated: From Castlebaldwin on the N4 head west into the Bricklieve mountains, following the signs for Carrowkeel Passage Tombs. Turn left at the sign for the donkey sanctuary, then first right. Go through the gate and park at the top of the hill. A 10 minute walk along the track brings you to the old car park.

Discovery Map 25: G 7528 1196. Last Visit: August 2013

Co-ords for Cairn G. Longitude: 8° 22' 39"

Latitude: 54° 3' 22" N

Google Map

Photos: Jim Dempsey.

Cairn B with Croagh Patrick in the background

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