It seems this year that my trip to Ireland could be divided into two ‘themes’. We visited several ancient sites and also many gardens.
Approaching Cairn T
Cairn T – Entrance
Loughcrew megalithic tunnel tombs in Co. Westmeath were under an hour’s drive from our Irish Landmark near Canningstown in Co. Cavan. They come under the stewardship of the Office of Public Works but to visit them (that is, to actually go inside the tombs) out of season you’ve to fetch the key from the cafe at Loughcrew Gardens a mile or so away. After a walk round the gardens (whilst waiting for the said key to be returned) we headed up the road to the small car park where the path up to the burial site begins.
Typical Ruined Cairn at Loughcrew
It’s a lovely grassy path that leads up to the mounds (Carnbane East) where the large Cairn T dominates a group of six smaller ruined cairns at the top of the hill.
“The Loughcrew Cairns, also known as the Hills of the Witch, are a group of Neolithic passage tombs dating to 3000 BC. The tombs are located on three different hills and Cairn T, one of the largest tombs in the complex, is situated on Cairnbane East. Inside this tomb lies a cruciform chamber, a corbelled roof and some of the most beautiful examples of Neolithic art in Ireland. During the Vernal and Autumn Equinox people gather at dawn in Cairn T to watch sunlight enter the chamber and illuminate the inside of the tomb.” [Source]
Interior of Cairn T – Entrance and Neolithic Art
After inspecting the interior carvings and markings in Cairn T and its satellites we returned to the car park. From the pleasant path down the hill we had excellent views all around and in particular of the neighbouring cairns (which are also accessible from the car park) at Carnbane West.
Cairn U and Carved Stone
The Massive Stone Hag’s Chair
Carnbane West from the Footpath
On returning the key to the cafe we decided that we had time to visit the small town of Kells in Co. Meath for sustenance and to visit the Monastic Site around the church.
Kells is, of course, most famous for its great treasure The Book of Kells; the crowning glory of Celtic illuminated manuscripts and one of the most important early medieval treasures of Western Europe. From Kells the book was sent to Dublin for safe keeping in 1653. It was donated to Trinity College in 1661 and may be seen there by the public.
At Kells we visited the Monastic Site which included a Round Tower and High Crosses in the Churchyard of St Colmcille’s. Being short of time we didn’t manage the other ancient sites around the town.
Kells Round Tower (90ft) with Conical Roof
Cross of St Patrick and St Columba
Cross of St Patrick and St Columba
The Cross of St Patrick and St Columba is also known as the South Cross. It stands around 3.30 m high and was erected in the 9th century. On the east face you can see Adam and Eve and Cain slaying Abel, above that The Three Children in the Furnace and above that Daniel in the Lions’ Den.
The West Cross
The West Cross or Ruined Cross, which stands at the west end of the graveyard must have been a very fine High Cross, it has some beautifully inscribed decorative panels on it’s north and south sides.
The west side has some scenes from the Bible, including Adam and Eve and also the Israelites returning to the promised land. The east side has many scenes such as The Marriage feast of Cana, Christ’s Baptism and Christ entering Jerusalem. The cross was probably erected in the 10th century and the damage to the cross was done by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers.
West Cross Detail
The East Cross
The East or Unfinished Cross gives us an insight into how these High Crosses were constructed. The actual carving was done on site and the various segments of the crosses are clearly visible. You can see from the detail below that they had started to carve an intricate key design on the underside of the ring.
East Cross Detail