Sligo Archaeology Society trip part 2: Lunch and the Carrowkeel Passage Tomb Complex.

Well I have some time in between games of darts here with the NUIG Darts club, so I suppose I should get part 2 up.

First off, to my family and friends who are on the east coast, I hope you are all okay, and that you all made it through the storm unhurt.  Now onto the post.

After finishing up at the Ballinafad Castle ruins, we re-boarded our bus for the five minute ride to a pub, where we would be having lunch. The pub was all decked out in decorations for Halloween. When we first arrived we found seats and were brought out sandwiches for the first course of our lunch. After the sandwiches we had a great vegetable soup, I’m pretty sure that nearly every pub I’ve been in has had a good vegetable soup on offer. After the soup and brown bread to accompany it, we had onion rings and cocktail sausages, the odd smorgasbord would serve me well in boosting my energy for the hike that awaited us after we had finished up at the pub. I finished up my lunch with a nice cup of tea and some biscuits(cookies). From the pub we could see down a ways to a nearby lake.

After our filling lunch, we continued on our trip to the Carrowkeel Passage Tomb complex. We had about a half hour ride before we were dropped off at an intersection because the bus couldn’t navigate the corner. We had a 1 kilometer walk along the road until we arrived at the parking lot which marked the beginning of our actual hike to reach the tombs. We had a 1 km hike from the parking lot, but because of the terrain it seemed like it was longer. Being on the hike reminded me of going out to Colorado with my family and going on hikes with my dad and brothers. The main hike was up and down the sides of two ridges until we reached the base of the ridge on which the passage tombs are located. After about 30 minutes we came to the end of the trail and would have to continue our trek up hill through the boggy ground. I managed to keep my footing in the slippery ground on the way up the ridge to the tombs. There are three tombs at the particular location we were at, they are situated in a roughly north-south line on the top of a ridge that runs north to south. Because of our numbers in our group we split into two groups and my group led by our guide Richard, went to the furthest tomb, one of the two which we would be able to enter. We were told that these passage tombs were older than the pyramids.

The first time I looked at the passage tomb, it appeared to be just a mound of broken rock. But as we came closer I was able to see the entrance to the passage tomb. The entrance to the passage tomb, was about two and a half feet tall and about the same wide, so to enter I had to crawl on my hands and knees and enter facing out. I also had to keep my head down to avoid hitting my head on the overlying slabs of rock that were holding up the ceiling. After crawling about seven feet I was able to stand because I had entered the main chamber of the passage tomb. The Chamber was about 6 feet wide, so there was just enough room for the 7 of us to all squeeze in at the same time. The chamber had three small recesses on each side of the chamber. The ceiling of the chamber was held up by eight large stones, the ceiling was made up of large slabs of stone stacked one on top of the other, each one angled by small stones wedged in between the stones and each one cantilevered out over the opening of the chamber. To top the vaulted ceiling off, was a capstone, which by its weight would press down on the other ceiling slabs to make them more securely in their places. The vaulted ceiling was about 9 feet. Looking in the chamber towards the passage leading to the entrance gave me a view of a light box, which is a space right above the stones that make up the passage entrance. In this tomb, named Tomb K, the light box was collapsed so I could not see out of it. Our guide Richard, told us that the remains that would be buried in the passage tombs were incinerated, as a form of burial practice, but because they could not get the temperatures high enough they were not incinerated. The remains were then placed in pottery vessels that would then be placed upside down, with the opening facing down inside the tombs. These vessels would be placed into every space in the tomb, they would fill all of the little spaces that lined the walls of the chamber, they would even place the vessels so that they were just on the other side of the stones that made up the walls of the passage leading to the entrance. Once they would have the capstone on top, they would cover the passage tomb in a cairn- mass of small stones- to cover and add to the size of the monument. The ancient Irish who built the passage tombs here did not use tools to quarry or move the massive stone slabs to the sites where the tombs are. To quarry them they would build fires along lines of cracks in the stone, and after the fire had burned for a while they would quench the fire, causing the rock to split, they would then rebuild the fire inside the widened crack and repeat the process until the slab of rock would release from the quarry wall. They did not have any cranes or machinery so they had to move the slabs of rock into place entirely by hand.

After we had finished in the Tomb K, our group went down the ridge about 200 yards to get to Tomb H, the other tomb that I could enter. Like the first tomb, I had to crawl backwards on my hands-and knees to gain access to the tomb. The entrance passage was only about 2 feet long on this tomb. Also the light box was cleared so I could see out from in the chamber. Our guide was saying that there is some interesting viewing that happens on the spring solstice when the sun aligns with the light box. This chamber was much the same as the chamber in the first passage tomb.

I will be honest that as I first entered the chamber on the first passage tomb I did have a feeling of excitement that I was exploring something that was older than the pyramids. It was quite an experience standing up into the chamber of the tomb that was lit only by a torch( flashlight), it was quite spooky, yet exciting with my wondering of what could be just out of view in the pitch darkness of the tombs. Also while outside the tomb it was chilly, inside it was bone dry and quite comfortable temperature wise. Strangely although they stay bone dry, the many sheep who populate the surrounding area, do not enter the tombs when it is raining.

After leaving the second passage tomb, we made our way down the ridge mindful to watch our step in traversing the bog, to avoid any sprained ankles or worse. Thankfully I made it back to the tail without incident. After a pleasant hike back to the bus, during which I had an enjoyable conversation with two other members of our group about various topics concerning Archaeology and Ireland in general, we arrived back at the bus for our trip back to Galway. Our bus left Carrowkeel at about 5pm, and we arrived in Galway at around 8:30pm. Thus finally after a long but amazing and enjoyable day, I got home at around 9pm, I then had some food and ended up going over to another apartment to relax and hang out with some friends.

Now to the Photos! Yay!

I’ll update the photo captions when I get a chance, time for my to have a round of darts again.

Until next time.

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