|Note: This Weblog is long, and has quite a few photos, though by the time you've read the boring bits the photos are sure to appear!
(To view larger versions of the photos in this weblog, click here and use the 'Next' button to move forward)
January has been a month of stops and starts, a few megalithic visitations snatched during the odd break in bad weather. A clear schedule and weather reports for the last weekend of the month meant a day or two to make the most of. There are a quite a few concentrated areas of the country which make for great weekends, The Burren in Clare, the rings of Cork and Kerry, the assorted wonders of the Sperrins in Tyrone, the almost foreboding monuments in Donegal etc. etc. but Sligo is surely the equivalent of Disneyworld in megalithic Ireland.
'Tomb' 9, more likely a true stone circle
Just to prove this is true, a new motorway has been built from Dublin to Mullingar, bridging almost half the journey to Carrowmore, price of admission is a €2.50 toll which I reconciled as being great value for entrance to Sligo megalitho-wonderland. Sadly, the people that build roads in Ireland are probably unaware that there are any ancient remains in Sligo, or indeed under the motorway they have just finished, but I put that to the back of my mind as I actually broke the 100km/h barrier for the first time on a trip past every backwater village from east to west Ireland.
Arriving in Carrowmore at 4pm left an hour of lovely warm sunlight to wander the motley crew of Carrowmores remains, locating the two rings Burl suggests are true free standing stone circles and spying a few more remains over the hedges. It was an un-hurried stroll, just enjoying the twilight and silent remains. A cloudless sky is unfortunate in its lack of photogenic potential so instead I fed clumps of grass to the horses in the neighboring field and waited for nightfall.
I elected to stay in Strandhill, on the other side of Knocknarea
and used the last of the light to find the middens (massive deposits of domestic waste and discarded shellfish shells from the Neolithic/Bronze/Iron ages, metres deep and long) but didn't find any I could be certain of. The inlet here is amazingly peaceful considering this is the Atlantic coast and as the sun set I took a few photos of the coast the Carrowmore builders depended on for their livelihoods.
After settling in to the 'Beach house' B&B (after a bizarre episode at what turned out to be a hostel) which had a fine view of Knocknarea from the back windows of my room, I returned to Carrowmore to try some long exposure night shots of Tomb 5. Some places are pretty creepy at night but Carrowmore seems welcoming for some odd reason. I had been expecting a cool blue glowing landscape and sky with stars streaking by but soon realised the light pollution from Sligo town and nearby hamlets would result in violent red skies and photos that look like a poster for Mission to Mars. Making the best of it I used shorter exposures than anticipated and an extreme wide angle to prevent star trails as much as possible.
A quick pint of the black stuff later, I retired to bed early to make the most of the sunrise in the morning. Unfortunately I didn't notice one of the windows in the room was still open and woke at 3am with my hair almost frozen onto my head and a beach party (yes, at 3am in subzero temperatures on the west coast of Ireland. Strandhill is overrun with surfers at any time of year) in full swing. After eventually getting an hour or two sleep I got up bleary eyed at 7.20am and had a quick breakfast with the outline of Knocknarea lit by the pre-sunrise glow just a field or two away. Worth the stay over in itself.
A short drive along the silent coast brought me back to Carrowmore just as the sun was breaking the horizon over the mountains to the south east
Tomb 4 (foreground) and 5 (mid-horizon)
After scouting the two 'Stone Circles' the evening before I knew they would be at their best in the morning and with the crunchy, frosty grass, golden sun and Knocknarea hazy but lit in the background it was enough to take my mind off the lack of sleep and the fact that my fingers were becoming useless in the biting cold.
A few clouds would have added enormously to the photos but at the time it felt perfect.
The two circles are quite large, site 11 is the largest 5 stone circle in Ireland! Although there were almost certainly more stones here it does contrast amazingly to the small 5 stoners in Cork/Kerry. Site 9 has a lovely 'fairy tree' growing in its perimeter and abundant tyre tracks all through the centre could be a hint as to why it is now made up of widely spaced but very large boulders. Some are standing upright.
After Carrowmore it was a toss-up between Magheraghanrush and Tawnatruffaun but I opted for the former as I had not been before and it looks amazing in the photos. Its not quite as straightforward as I had imagined, I thought there would be a gap in the wall that winds around the plantation but you have to clamber over the wall and locate the track that runs backwards from the direction you have come and swings into the trees. On the way I encountered a fox with a badly mangled leg dangling loose which didn't seem to hamper his mobility in any way, then a massive bird of prey with an almost pig-like grunt but by far the most exciting sight was the decayed looking court stones of this massive spectacle of a tomb appearing ahead. The notice board drawing shows how magnificent this tomb would originally have been. The stones look like crumbling biscuits, the frosty ground adding an ethereal and magical atmosphere in the shaded but generous clearing. I wandered around and took in every angle, it's a site that's very difficult to photograph so you will just have to go there yourself!
After an hour or so hunger finally got the better of me so I made my way back to the car, very soon after tiredness started taking its toll and since the cloudless skies offered no more potential for better photographs at Tawnatruffaun or The Labby Rock, I decided to make my way home. Unable to resist the scenic drive around Lough Arrow and half decided on visiting the Labby Rock anyway, I leisurely drove down the winding roads taking in the spectacular landscape.
The usual way to visit the Labby Rock (Carrickglass) is though the Cromlech Lodge, however the gates here were locked at the road side entrance. This means you have to travel south a few hundred metres and take a left, at the brow of the hill up this lane there is a farmhouse track on the left through which you can access the dolmen by following the Sligo Historical Trail signs.
On the way home I was even more glad of the new motorway but still bore a grudge for the arrogance of the extortionate tolls and mindless planning of the powers that be….
Posted by CianMcLiam
30th January 2006ce
Edited 8th January 2007ce