The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Cairn Y

Passage Grave


Barring Cairn T on Carnbane East and Cairn L on Carnbane West, it can be said that most of the passage tombs in the Loughcrew complex have been mildly to severely damaged down through the ages. Most of this damage was done at a time before modern archaeological practice had come into effect, and not all of the serious damage was done by sheer vandalism – a lot of the damage happened during investigatory work carried out under the instruction of our antiquarian antecedents.

Of the four hills of the Loughcrew complex, Patrickstown Hill seems to have fared the worst (Newtown Hill/Carrigbrack has only one cairn on its summit and it looks to me like it’s never been opened). Of the three X cairns on the western shelf of the hill there remains but a few scattered stones, with the sundial stone at X1 the main reason for a visit. Destroyed Cairn Y was the purpose of our visit today. The tantalising, but sad entry on is worth quoting in full here:

This cairn (Y) is on a rise of the fairly broad summit of Patrickstown Hill. It had already been removed when Conwell (1864, 376; 1873, 23) described it as the most conspicuous of the entire cemetery. It had a diameter of 33 yards (c. 30m) but its stone was used by the owner, E. Crofton Rotheram, in building field walls. Although Rotheram had antiquarian interests this cairn was not investigated prior to its removal. The monument is now an irregularly oval area (dims c. 30m N-S; c. 20m E-W) defined by an earth and stone bank (Wth 3.5-5m; int. H 0.4-0.6m; ext. H 1.16m), the irregular shape and form of which suggests that it might be quarry spoil. There is no evidence of any stones in an original position. It remained unplanted but overgrown within a coniferous forest that was harvested c. 2015.

On my two previous visits to Patrickstown I had approached from the car-park at the viewing point on the east side of the hill. Opposite here is a track that leads through the mixed forestry, the early part of which is a welcome change from the ubiquitous pine plantations. Sun dappled through the young beech trees as we set off, having first visited the standing stone. The track heads around the south and west of the hill before turning north and terminating in the meadow with the three X cairns. X1 and X2 were visible here today, but X3, a single kerbstone from what I remember, has been inundated by gorse and brambles.

Turning our back to Carnbane East, we headed up towards Cairn Y. As it says above, this area was harvested in 2015 but the terrain becomes steadily more difficult as you head up towards the broad-based summit. This boggy area was re-planted and there are saplings, as well as brambles and the left-behind detritus to navigate before any discernible cairn footprint can be found. Short trousers are not recommended attire for traversing this area.

And then on to the remains. I’ve visited all of the other cairns in the cemetery over the four hills, so this was a bit of a pilgrimage (there may actually be a fifth, elusive cairn in Patrickstown – for another day). What is left here is very discernible, and would be even more so if there was a bit of care taken. I got quite emotional standing in the middle of the remains, breeze blowing through the grass at the centre of the cairn as the sun beat down. Rotherham left enough for us to be able to make out the circumference, the earth and stone bank mentioned above visible, but whether there was ever a passage and chamber, we don’t know and can’t tell from what’s left. Conwell’s assertion that it was “the most conspicuous of the entire cemetery” is some claim and given the enormity of Cairn D on Carnbane West, I have serious doubts.

I’m glad I came here and I’ll probably never return. Cairn Y hasn’t much to show for itself, but you can tell yourself your own story. It’s one of those places where it’s hard not to regret what might have been or what once was. Indeed, of all the places I’ve visited in Ireland on my own megalithic odyssey, Loughcrew has had the biggest emotional impact on me. The whole of the landscape, the monuments therein, the exertion to reach some of them – all have contributed to a sense of wonderment and awe. It’s not a place that I decide to come to – the decision is already made for me, drawn back time and again. Cairn Y doesn’t need to have been the ‘most conspicuous’ for us to imagine that its builders knew what they were doing, showing a reverence for their environment that we have since struggled to re-find.
ryaner Posted by ryaner
2nd June 2020ce
Edited 3rd June 2020ce

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