Back road to Carrowkeel

This week, in exchange for delivering an hours worth of visiting lecture, I have been on an intensive crash course on the landscape archaeology of western Ireland. I was invited to the Sligo Institute of Technology to talk about our project, which I did yesterday lunchtime, and for the whole two days I was there everybody worked amazingly hard to show me as much fantastic prehistoric archaeology as possible.

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Alan, who set up the invitation in the first place, met me off the plane at Knock and we went first to look at the round barrow cemetery at Rathdonney Beg, just around the corner from his house. This is what a round barrow looks like when it has never been ploughed. Although, as you can tell from the neat quarter slice out of the near barrow in the photo, they have been dug. The pizza slice was taken out by the Office of Public Works in 1995 and the barrows are Iron Age.

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Dodging the showers, we headed to Keash Caves. Thorsten, who is a PhD student at IT Sligo, has been surveying all along this line of caves and shelters. Among the human remains from this site are both Iron Age and Early Medieval bones.

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There are 16 caves are lettered A to O running along the cliff. This, I think, is the view out of E or F. I kind of lost count a bit, but isn’t it cool. There is a paper on the archaeology and mythology of the caves by Marion on academia here if you want a more considered view.

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Alan took us around the back lanes to get to Carrowkeel passage grave cemetery, where we met up with Sam, who probably knows more about the sites than anyone else. I’m sure this sign was intended as a warning but it’s hard not to read it as a challenge. We drove up, obviously.

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Carrowkeel as the light fades and the moon comes up.

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Alan looking back along the passage we have just crawled down and, incidentally, demonstrating which way the wind and rain was blowing when we were outside.

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Looking up at the corbelled roof of the chamber. All original Neolithic stonework. We had a fantastic walk around the mountain in the dusk and then headed for a pint and then dinner at Sam and Sarah’s. In the morning we had planned to go and look at a cave on Knocknarea where Thorsten and Marion are carrying out a rescue excavation of a bone spread. However, the wind got up a bit in the night and we decided it was wiser to stay at ground level.

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We headed for the Carrowmore complex just outside Sligo itself. Here more than sixty megalithic cairns used to cluster around the central monument of Listoghil. Time, and the activities of early researchers, has somewhat reduced that number but there are still an impressive number and variety of piled up stony things in the complex. After a bit of a windswept discussion about monument typology, we headed into the centre to look at Listoghil.

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Looking over the capstone at Listoghil along the passage. The mound here is not original Neolithic stonework. Rock art was recently discovered on the front face of this slab but it isn’t visible to the naked eye (which is my excuse for forgetting to photograph that side of the chamber).

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After Carrowmore, we decided that a walk on the beach would be just the thing to give us an appetite for brunch. In amongst the dunes at Strandhill are fantastically well-preserved shell middens.

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Mussels, winkles, limpets, oysters and razor clams are mixed together with the burnt stones of hearths in vast multi-period rubbish dumps from prehistoric shell-fishing.

After a second breakfast we headed back into Sligo so that I could give my lecture on the Sheltering Memory project and then dash off back to Knock and the plane home. Many thanks to Alan for the invitation, and for organising the whole thing, to Sam and Sarah for their hospitality and to Alan, Marion, Michael, Rory, Sam and Thorsten for giving up their time and expertise to show me around.

Rick

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