Archeology Sligo


The Neolithic Signature

1. Carrowmore

Plate. 1: Carrowmore Neolithic complex on the Cuil Irra Peninsula, in Co Sligo © Archaeology Sligo.
Plate. 2: Tomb 51, Listoghil at the Carrowmore Neolithic complex on the Cuil Irra Peninsula, in Co Sligo © Archaeology Sligo.

Carrowmore Neolithic Complex in Co. Sligo (Pls. 1 & 2).

Carrowmore (from the Gaelic ‘An Cheathrú Mhór’ meaning ‘Great Quarter’) Neolithic (BC4000-BC2400) complex is situated on the Coolera peninsula (from the Gaelic ‘Cúil Iúr’ meaning ‘Yew Wood’) in Co. Sligo, to the east of Knocknarea Mountain. Originally there were at least, 70 monuments at Carrowmore, as recorded by Sligo-born antiquarian Colonel W. G. Wood-Martin during the 19th Century. George Petrie, another notable Irish antiquarian, suggested there were even more than 100, at one point. Today 27 monuments remain, during the late 19th Century, boulders associated with some of these monuments, were used to build nearby field boundary walls. The monuments are referred to as boulder circles and display a central portal tomb-like monument, commonly known as a dolmen. The average diameter of the boulder circles range between 10-12 metres and many of the boulder circles, display a pink-hued stone called gneiss, which can be found nearby to the south, on the Ox Mountains. The focal point of the complex is Tomb 51, Listoghil (meaning ‘Fort of the Rye’) (Pl.2), with almost all the other boulder circles oriented towards it. Listoghil itself is oriented on the winter solstice sunrise and the summer solstice sunset. A ring of gneiss kerbstones surrounds the monument and the cairn material seen today was placed there by the heritage service following excavations that occurred during the 1990’s. Listoghil “may” have been originally covered by cairn material before quarrying took place during the 19th Century, as some records noted the use of the stone for road building nearby, some locals referred to the monument as a cave during the 20th Century. Listoghil is the only monument in the complex containing art which unfortunately today is not visible in natural light. Carrowmore is one of four major passage tomb complexes in Ireland, the others being Carrowkeel, also in Co. Sligo, Brú na Bóinne in Co. Meath and Lough Crew in Co. Westmeath. Recent re-dating of some of the artefacts discovered during the excavations carried out at Carrowmore between 1977-1982 and again between 1994-1998 has dated the monuments primarily between c. BC3700-BC3100 placing them in a mid-Neolithic context. Carrowmore is worth a visit and the interpretive centre is informative and its not until you see the boulder circles that you get that all important sense of place.

2. Knocknarea

Plate. 3: In the background stands Knocknarea Mountain on the Cuil Irra Peninsula, in Co Sligo © Archaeology Sligo.
Plate. 4: Miosgán Meadhbha (Maebh's Tomb) on top of Knocknarea Mountain on the Cuil Irra Peninsula, in Co Sligo © Archaeology Sligo.

Knocknarea Neolithic Complex in Co. Sligo (Pls. 3-4).

The mountain Knocknarea (from the Gaelic ‘Cnoc na Ri’ or ‘Cnoc na Riabh’ meaning the ‘Hill of the King’ or the ‘Hill of Stripes’) (Pl. 3), stands 327 m above sea level and is located on the Cuil Irra Peninsula, in Co Sligo, in the north west of the Republic of Ireland. The altitude plateau of Knocknarea is home to a variety of megalithic structures or cairns, that date to the Neolithic Period (BC4000-BC2400). The main megalithic structure on top of Knocknarea is known locally as Miosgán Meadhbha (Maebh’s Tomb) (Pl.4) and is c. 10 m in height and c. 60 m in diameter. This cairn has not been “archaeologically” excavated and may be a Neolithic passage mound, Miosgán Meadhbha also overlooks gigantic clusters of multi class Neolithic megaliths, to the east at Carrowmore, Magheraboy and at Cairns Hill. Knocknarea combined with Miosgán Meadhbha has also been classified as the ultimate monument or the words of the archaeologist Edward Lynch, “The Uluru of Western Europe”. If you are lucky enough to visit and climb Knocknarea, you will talk about it for the rest of your life, but please don’t climb the monument, respect and enjoy it.


3. Magheraghanrush or Deerpark

Plate. 5: Drone Imagery of Magheraghanrush or Deer Park Neolithic Court Cairn in Co. Sligo © Archaeology Sligo.

Magheraghanrush or Deer Park Neolithic Court Cairn in Co. Sligo (Pl. 5).

Court cairns were amongst the earliest types of monuments erected on the Island of Ireland by the Neolithic communities, between c. BC4000-BC2400, respectfully. Court cairns in Ireland are generally located in the northern section of the island, as very few examples have been located south of a line stretching from Galway (west coast) to Dundalk (east coast). In terms of the design or the layout of court cairns, as the name implies, they differ to passage mounds considerably, due to the presence of the unroofed forecourt, that provides access to the internal galleries or chambers. Court cairns vary in length however, the optimum court cairn length measures between c. 25metres to 35metres, their width is usually half of their length. The court cairn at Magheraghanrush (translated from Gaelic means ‘the plain of the red hound ‘or the ‘the plain of the red hound of Ross’) has an east west alignment and is unusual in shape and orthostatic arrangement. The entrance to the central enclosed court area is located along the middle of the court cairns southern side. Located at the eastern end of the court cairn, are twin galleries, while at the western end of the court cairn there is a single gallery however, all the galleries are double chambered. Archaeological excavations took place at Magheraghanrush court cairn, in three consecutive stages, in AD1884 (by Reverend James Graves), AD1887 (by Wood Martin) and again in AD1891 (by Milligan). In total these excavations recovered the remains of 10 individuals (from adults and children along with some unclassified human bone). Also uncovered during these excavations was a significant amount of animal bone and after zoological analysis, it was discovered that the animal bones derived from Hare, Horse, Ox, Goat, Red Deer and Swine. Visiting Magheraghanrush court cairn is advised, as it is located in a stunning parkland that offers fantastic views of the surrounding landscape, picnic tables are also plentiful, for that all-important cup of tea.


Exploring Sligo