As we approached Loughcrew, we wondered about getting the key, as advised in the many books we had read. However, when we got to the car park there was a note saying that guides were up on the hill and to come up and join them. So we did!
There were a group of 5 people head of us so we spent the first 30 minutes looking around the satellite sites and stones & taking some photos. We then approached one of the guides, a really lovely man called George Knight, and spent a good 15 minutes with him, chatting about the sites and asking him about access to Patrickstown. He was so enthusiastic about Loughcrew and had many, many theories about the site that I could've talked with him all day. However, we still hadn't been inside the pasage tomb and he was due to take 4 other people in, so we joined them.
Bugger me, that is one impressive place! I thought Vicky was going to pass out with excitement at one point, the whole place is just so awe-inspiring. My head hurt when we tried to think of the science and maths which must've gone into working out all of the alignments. I get that tingly feeling all the time when visiting ancient sites but this was ridiculous! We were like love-struck teenagers!
George spent a good 20 minutes describing the alignments and the way that the sun floods the chamber on the winter solstice. He also talked about the theories he has about the alignment of other passage graves within the area. Other than the light from his torch, it was dark inside the tomb, so we were just pointing and clicking with our cameras, some of the pictures were incredible, others less so; though I really don't think photos can do this place justice.
If you only have time to visit one place in Ireland, I would suggest you go for this one. It is incredible.
The office of public works attend this site during the summer months. There were 2 guides there the day we visited, 6/7/06. People were arriving intermittently but we had Cairn T to ourselves for about 15 minutes. The guide told us that a busload of tourists had been there the day before, so you may have to share if you arrive in the summer.
The satellite tombs have a lot to offer. Most of the tourists are here for Cairn T. Cairns S and U are quite well preserved for open tombs. This hilltop is incredibly beautiful and a wander around is a must. I could stay here all day getting the feel of the place, but most people aren't that patient. The completely wrecked Cairn W on the eastern downslope is the furthest away from the main cairn and is a haven of tranquility.
A fantastic place. The whole site is amazing, but the back stone of Cairn T has got to be one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. We only made it to Carbane East, we'd been on the Newgrange experience in the morning, and were headed for Dublin the next day, so it was a case of getting what we could done before it was too late. I'd give the whole Loughcrew complex a day next time.
I've posted some images of the art in Cairn T and have tried to tie these in to published plans of the cairn. The difficulty here is that two numbering systems have been used in the past. These are published in Shee Twohig's The Megalithic Art of Western Europe and Martin Brennan's The Stars and the Stones.
Both use the same system for passage stones - L and R for the stones to the left and right as you enter and numbered from the entrance - but different systems are used for the chamber stones.
As the Brennan publication is more generally available (and is used on some other web sites), I have concentrated on that one with the Twohig number in brackets.