The landscape of the Cúl Irra Peninsula west of Sligo Town is one of the best places in Ireland to encounter wonderful prehistoric megalithic tombs, and the Carrowmore Passage Tomb Cemetery is an integral part of this incredible series of monuments. Here at Carrowmore, clustering in the shadow of Knocknarea, you can find the densest concentration of Neolithic tombs in Ireland. Of the sixty or so monuments that were thought to have originally been on the site, only 31 are still visible today and of these the largest is Listoghil, the large cairn that possibly forms a focal point of the complex. Material carbon dated from Listoghil produced dates of 3640–3380 BC.
A number of smaller passage tombs and boulder burials surround Listoghil, and when you are at the site it is hard not to appreciate the landscape that appears to loom around you. Most of the tombs at Carrowmore were investigated in the 19th Century, and produced artefacts like prehistoric pottery and bone or antler pins as well as the cremated remains of those interred within the tombs. These tombs are some of the earliest passage tombs in Ireland, predating the great tombs of the Boyne Valley like Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. They were constructed during the Neolithic period, by Ireland’s first farmers, who supplemented their attempts at agriculture with hunting and foraging, indeed many of the tombs had seashells left as offerings, indicating the importance that the sea held as a resource for the community.
The remains of the people who built these tombs were usually cremated, and often the remains of a number of individuals were collectively buried together, with evidence that some of the individuals remains were stored elsewhere before being brought to be interred together with others in one large ceremony. The building of these complex tombs that required considerable numbers of people working together, and the subsequent burial in groups seems to hint that maybe there was a real collective identity in Neolithic Ireland. This appears to change to a more individual focused culture in the later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods, when individuals were buried alone in stone lined pits known as ‘cist burials’, or in single cremations, occasionally inside a pottery urn.
Carrowmore is very well signposted, head South West of Sligo Town. There is a small exhibition centre run by the Office of Public Works, and guided tours of the monuments are available. Entry costs €3 for an adult, €2 for anyone over 60, and students/children costs €1. See here for details.
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