Passage tombs in the landscape
No Neolithic monument type has quite the same deep interconnection with its surrounding landscape as those of the passage tomb tradition. The builders seem to have chosen the locations with great care. There is often a deep connection to prominent landmarks, elevated places, rivers, lakes and the sea.
Among all the classes of Neolithic monuments, passage tombs are noted for the interconnections nationally and internationally, monuments of similar form found across Europe. Geographically, the tradition spans the entire island, though the majority are found in the northern half of Ireland. The most celebrated groupings are at Carrowmore & Carrowkeel in County Sligo, and the Loughcrew & Boyne Valley complexes in the east of the country.
Sligo's two major passage tomb centres
County Sligo has two major focal points of passage tomb construction, located just over twenty kilometres apart; one to the north on the peninsula of Cúil Iorra, and another centred on the Bricklieve Mountains and the shores of Lough Arrow.
There is a discernible pattern to the layout of both places. At the approximate centre of each is a dense cluster of passage tombs. A circle, radius six kilometres drawn around each of these points, will encompass an array of interconnected monuments. Many of the outlying sites are located on hilltops as cairns. In all, these two megalithic centres contain approximately 85 passage tomb tradition sites, and a great many other types of monument.
At the heart of the circles lie Carrowmore to the north and Carrowkeel to the south. They are connected by the course of the Unshin River and by line of sight. These locations differ in design and atmosphere, yet there are many parallels. For example, the dominance of Carrowmore by the cairn-topped hill of Knocknarea is echoed by the way ‘The Pinnacle’ (Cairn Q) on the Hill of Keash dominates Carrowkeel and other monuments in its lofty shadow. Notably, recent work using ancient DNA has determined familial kinship between people buried at these two locations.
The layout of these places contains hints that the builders were conscious/aware of the patterns they laid, even though some of these emerged over long time scales. The smaller Carrowmore monuments have central dolmen-like chambers surrounded by boulder circles. Carrowmore itself contains a focal monument surrounded by a set surrounding ‘satellite tombs’. And the central cluster/node of both Carrowmore and Carrowkeel lies at the heart of a circle of hills, many bearing monuments of the same tradition. Circles within circles.
When visiting megalithic sites
To protect these sites, ensure good relations with landowners, and have a positive experience when visiting Sligo Neolithic Landscapes ask you to:
Always respect landowners wishes
Enjoy walking around cairns, but never on them
Try to leave everything just as you found it
Park sensibly, do not hinder access
Wear suitable clothing and footwear
Treat other visitors with respect