|Megalithically-minded visitors to Lough Arrow and its environs - a most beautiful part of Ireland, it has to be said - are quite rightly captivated by the great Carrowkeel cairns crowning the Bricklieve Mountains. These are a 'must visit', if ever there was one. Other visitors, not so inclined, carry on down the N4 to Sligo, perhaps to indulge in some Yeats, or, if that doesn't appeal, 15 pints of Guinness. Hey, it's a nice town, so it is.
However virtually no-one, it would appear, makes the short detour beyond the northern tip of the lough to Heapstown crossroads. Time is money, or so the proverbial 'they' say, but if you do make the effort I guarantee your 'account' will be in credit. And you can't say fairer than that, can you?
For here, a little north of the aforementioned crossroads, sits a veritable slumbering giant of a cairn - I assume 'passage grave', although, like nearby Maeve's Cairn upon Knocknarea, it remains 'unopened'. And what an unassuming behemoth it is, too, hidden away in a wooded field set back from the junction of minor roads. A full 60m in diameter, it is one of the largest cairns in Ireland outside of Bru Na Boinne, far larger than those at Carrowkeel. The site is bordered by a kerb which infers that the cairn was once far larger than it currently is, the missing material probably now adorning many a local wall, road or building.
According to the local, excellent guide (issued by the Arrow Community Enterprise Limited), George Petrie (yes, himself) visited Heapstown in 1837, at which time a large monolith stood upon the cairn's summit. Unfortunately this is now long gone, apparently lying smashed somewhere within the lush vegetation surrounding the site. More's the pity. The site is known as Carn Oillriallaigh in gaelic folklore... which apparently alludes to it being the tomb of Aillil.... must study up on Irish mythology.
We visit upon a typically Irish day of fine, misty drizzle - the 'dry sort of rain which won't soak you to the skin', according to one of our many B&B hosts, I forget which - this lending a somewhat soft focus to the landscape and cairn-topped mountains beyond the lough. Does wonders for the female skin, too. Oh yes, this phenomenon being another of the wonders of Ireland. But I digress... Anyway, climbing the slippery cairn material with the intrepid 'Gladmum', a dog barks in the yard below as it spots the intruders, so momentarily breaking the silence which seems to envelope the great cairn like a warm blanket. We sit at the summit in hushed awe - reverence, even - trying in vain to contemplate the mind-blowing expenditure of effort it must have taken to erect this monument. And why build it here, aloof from the great nearby mountain top cemetery? Putting it simply I believe there is a lot more to Heapstown Cairn than currently meets the eye, and it could well have been an integral part of the Carrowkeel 'experience'. This is a very, very important site, indeed.
It certainly deserves to be better known...... but in a curious way is fine just the way it is, so to speak.
Posted by GLADMAN
19th March 2010ce
Edited 20th March 2010ce