Loughcrew Cairns

Vale of the Boyne and Royal MeathLoughcrew Cairns as described in Vale of the Boyne and Royal Meath published in 1898 for the Great Northern Railway Company.

To the archaeologist, to the explorer of archaic sepulchral remains, the Slieve-na-Calliagh range of picturesque hills, just over Oldcastle, offers a quarry almost inexhaustible. There indeed, within the radius of a rifle-shot, may be seen grouped together the most extraordinary collection of primitive monuments to be found in Ireland - perhaps in Western Europe. The principal feature of the group (the ruins of about twenty-four, besides numerous smaller graves, remain) measures 116 feet in diameter.

It contains a cruciform chamber like that of Newgrange in miniature, which is approached by a narrow funnel-shaped recess. Round the base is a closely set circle of stones, varying from six to twelve feet in length, and serving as a kind of retaining fence to the loose, dry boulders which form the body of the tumulus or cairn. One of these blocks is somewhat in the form of a chair, and is supposed by the people to have been used as a seat by a hag, of whom the neighbouring peasantry tell some wonderful stories, while by some antiquarians it is looked upon as a throne, or judgment seat, used by Ollamh Fodhla, who was a great law-maker and judge himself.

Many of the stones forming the chambers are most elaborately carved with dots, concentric circles, spirals, lozenges, and other devices, which no doubt were intended to convey some meaning, the key to which has been lost for ages. Similar devises occur on prehistoric monuments in Brittany, but very few are to be found elsewhere in Europe. There is no doubt, however, that this cemetery is the Tailtenu of Irish annalists. According to the "Four Masters," numerous were the kings, queens, mighty warriors, and chieftains buried here some thousands of years ago. The first whose name appears is Ollamh Fodhla, son of Fiacha Finscotagh. He had been a learned Ollamh, and was afterwards King of Ireland. His death is set down as having occurred in 1277 B.C.

There are various other Cairns of the Newgrange type scattered over the Hill standing near each other. Some of these are almost perfect, whilst others have more or less fallen in. All the chambers, large and small, were, upon examination, found to contain calcined human bones, numerous pieces of archaic pottery, beads of amber, glass, and stone, flint flakes, balls of various kinds of stone averaging about the size of an orange, besides knifelike objects, and combs formed of bone. Some few small articles composed of bronze were also discovered, but these are supposed to have been dropped by visitors, and not to have formed portion of any original deposit.

A delightful view can be had from these ever-breezy hills of Loughcrew, extending over many Counties. In the garden owned by Mr. Napier may be seen a souterrain, which was a dwelling place for a family, or families, probably three thousand years ago. It should not be overlooked by antiquaries who visit the place.

Loughcrew c.1898
Interior of one of smaller cairns in Western Hills (Carnbawn), Loughcrew Hills.

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