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 Location: Nr Oldcastle, Co Meath, Ireland (N 585 775).  Grid Reference: 53 44' 37.77" N, 7 6' 47.66" W.

 

   Loughcrew Complex: (Passage Mounds).

The cairns at Loughcrew form the largest complex of passage graves in Ireland. The engravings are on-par with those at the Boyne Valley, and the orientations of the mounds shows a clearly associated with significant moments of the solar year.

Loughcrew stands out from its surroundings through the three peaks, known as Cairnbane West, Cairnbane East and Patrickstown. Scattered over these peaks and the slopes of Loughcrew are 30 megalithic cairns in various states of decay.

(Map of Site: How to get there)

 

 

   Loughcrew: ('Sliabh na Caillighe', Mountain of the 'Hag'/'Witch')

Loughcrew; from 'Loch Craobh', (The Lake of Branches), is a collection of passage mounds spread across four adjoining hill-tops. Unfortunately, it seems as though much of the site was lost, as there were probably once as many as 50 passage mounds on the site (1). The site is well worth visiting as if not just for the views. Although the main mound is closed, there are still plenty of open mounds to explore, with engravings of spirals etc on nearly every one.

Cairbane West: Fifteen remaining monuments.

Cairn L, An unusual chambered cairn, with seven recesses, three on each side and one at the end. The right-back recess, as is usual with these monuments, is much larger than the others. It contains a massive stone basin and one of the finest engravings at Loughcrew (pictures below). The monument was reconstructed in the 1940's by the Office of Public Works

When Conwell arrived in 1863 the roof had collapsed and the chamber was full of rubble. He estimated that the capstone probably stood between 16' and 18' above the floor of the chamber. He made a large number of finds in Cairn L, including two large stone spheres and several smaller chalk balls under the large basin in the left recess. These can be seen in the National Museum of Ireland.

(Photo credits: http://www.carrowkeel.com/sites/loughcrew/cairnl.html )

 Sunlight from the 8th Nov and 4th Feb cross-days enters the chamber and illuminates the top of a standing stone inside the chamber (A feature also seen at Bryn Celli Ddu in Wales)

(Click here for YouTube video of event: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SF8k6kCtBs )

 

Patrickstown: Five remaining but destroyed monuments: Cairns Y, YB, X, XA, XB.

Rayed-circle or 'calendar-stone' from Cairn-X. (similar to that seen at Knowth: K15).

 

Cairnbane East: The eastern hill where as many as 21 sites are said to have been destroyed. The remains of only three can be seen today, including one of the largest, and most prominent monuments of the whole site, Cairn-T.

(Plan of Cairn-T)

Cairn T, One of the largest tombs in the complex is positioned so as to be at the highest point of the whole complex. similar in design to Newgrange). Orientated to the Spring Equinox, it possesses a total of 19 decorated orthostats, 2 decorated sill-stones, 8 decorated roof-stones and 1 decorated kerbstone (Shee Twohig 1981, 214). It is locked but accessible by obtaining a key from the tea-house at Loughcrew gardens.

The monument is complete except for its capstone, which has been replaced with a grill. The mound was also covered with a mantle of quartz, which was mentioned by early visitors but no longer exists today.

'Ollamh Fodhla's Seat' - The 'Hag's chair': (Photo credits: Knowth.com)

The huge stone called the 'Hags/witches' chair is on the northern side of the mound and therefore faces the direction of the pole star.

The inside chambers of the mound are separated by 'sill-stones' in the ground, a design feature also seen at several of the mounds at Carrowkeel. It is a cruciform chamber, with a corbelled roof and some of the most beautiful examples of Neolithic art in Ireland. During the Vernal and Autumn Equinox at dawn the sunlight enters the chamber and illuminate the inside of the tomb.

 

Chronology - There is as yet, no radio-carbon dating of Loughcrew, but it has been observed that the rock engraving techniques appear to be more primitive than at the Boyne Valley complex, suggesting an earlier date.

 

Archaeo-astronomy:

Loughcrew is inter-visible with the Boyne-Valley complex, which is also marked by several large, engraved passage-mounds, all of which show an astronomical preference in their orientations. Martin Brennan's excellent research concerning the orientation of numerous Irish sites, revealed the importance of astronomy to the builders and a connection between sites tying the Irish landscape together. It seems that all the passage mounds had orientations to important parts of the solar and lunar cycles, and he suggested that they worked together to foretell the coming equinoxes, solstices, quarter-days and lunar maximum and minimum standstills. (1)

Both Cairn's L and T demonstrate clear solar orientations.

 

Local Tradition: The name associates the hills with the 'witch or hag', both female and said by some to be a memory of the earth-mother goddess.

 

Gallery of Images:

loughcrew, L1. Ireland

Solar wheels, circles and cup-marks on stone L1, (Left), and the 'Equinox-stone' C8, at the rear of the west recess (Right).

 

(Other Prehistoric Irish Sites)

 

 

 

References:

1) M. Brennan, The Stones of Time, 1994, Inner Traditions.

 

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