Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

Cairn s had 6 scribed stones.
Cairn T at least 28.

This cairn is situated on the highest peak of the range specially named "Sliabh-na-Caillighe." Its remains rise 21 feet in elevation; it extends 38£ yards in diameter, and is inclosed in a circle of 37 stones, laid on edge, varying in length from 6 to 12 feet. The mound is constructed of loose stones, of Lower Silurian grit, the rock of the locality. Inside the retaining wall, going round the entire base of this cairn, is a piled-up layer, rising from 3 to 4 feet in height, and about 2 feet in thickness, of sparkling quartz, a rock which, unless obtained from glacial boulders by the builders of the cairn, must have been brought from some locality upwards of 50 miles distant.

On its eastern side the circle of large stones curves inwards for a distance of 8 or 9 yards to the commencement of the passage leading to the inner chambers; it bears E. 10° S. The entrance to the passage was closed by two irregular blocks of stone when first explored in 1865, inside of which were dropped three other large blocks of stone, filling up 5 or 6 feet of the passage. On the outside of the entrance was placed a loose layer of lumps of quartz. All the roofing-flags covering the passage, and more than two-thirds of what originally covered in the central octagonal chamber, had disappeared, leaving the passage and central chambers filled up with stones. The imperfect portion of roof that remained, formed by about thirty large flags, overlapping each other, rises to 10 feet above the level of the floor. The floor of the central octagonal chamber was covered by two large and three smaller flags. On raising these, fragments of charred bone, small pieces of charcoal, and broken stones were found. The three cists or chambers are each about 4 feet square. The passage was 17 feet long, and averaged 3 feet broad. From the commencement of the passage to the further extremity of the opposite chamber, is 28 feet. The transverse measurement from N. to S. is 16 feet 4 inches; the central octagonal chamber being about 7 feet wide in every direction.

The cairn had been plundered long since. A bronze pin was found at the entrance of one of the chambers; and in another, a heap of charred bones, surrounded by a circle of earth, and covered with a slab, above which were alternate layers for about 2 feet of finely broken and coarse stones, amongst which were human teeth and pieces of bone.

This cairn contained 28 stones with incised sculpturings, most of which are figured. On the north of the cairn, about 4 feet inwards from its circumference, is the large stone called the "Hag's Chair." It measures 10 feet long, 6 feet high, and 2 feet 6 inches thick, weighing about ten tons. The ends are elevated 9 inches above the seat, and the back has fallen away from a natural fracture of the stone. The cross marked on this chair, and others placed upon the upright marginal stones in this cairn, and in cairn s, were cut most

[graphic]

injudiciously by men engaged in the Irish Trigonometrical Survey. The chair also presents some of the incised markings of primitive workmanship similar to those found within the cairns.

Cairn v, situated 14 yards from cairn T, afforded thirteen stones with incised sculpturings.

Cairn v had four sculptured stones.

Cairn w, called the "Pit Cairn," is 7 yards in diameter, and its remains are now nearly level with the ground. It contained a single chamber formed of eight flagstones, placed on end; and, unlike all the other chambers explored, the surface of the earth appeared to have been removed, and the chambers formed some feet below its level. A layer of charred bones, 6 inches in thickness, covered the bottom of the chamber. When cleared out, a stone basin, feet square, and 9 inches thick, was found, hollowed out from the sides to the centre for a depth varying from 3 to 4 inches. When raised, splinters of bone were observed underneath it. This cairn afforded five stones with incised markings.

In addition to cairns distinguished by the presence of these archaic figures, the remains of at least seventeen other cairns were discovered in the Loughcrew group of prehistoric interments, forming altogether a collection of early remains unequalled in importance and extent in Western Europe.

Mr. Conwell's Paper, published in the year 1873, first directed attention to the importance of these structures. Fortunately the late Mr. Gr. V. Du Noyer, of the Geological Survey of Ireland, made accurate drawings of the inscribed stones shortly after their discovery, and these, with few exceptions, were preserved, and came into the possession of Dr. Frazer, of Dublin, some time since. They were communicated to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, who have published a detailed account of all the cairns, with illustrations of the inscribed stones taken from Mr. Du Noyer's artistic and faithful sketches.

ON THE EXCAVATION OF A CAIEN ON SLIEVE-NA-
CAILLIGHE.1

Thbotjgh the kindness of the proprietor, J. L. Naper, Esq., of Loughcrew, I was recently enabled to make some excavations among the sepulchral remains on the highest hill of the Slieve-na-Caillighe range, in county Meath. This hill is crowned by the great cairn which the late Mr. E. Conwell supposed to be the tomb of Ollamh Fodhla. It contains a passage and chambers, the plan of which is a very regular cross. The entrance faces the east, and in front of it, at a distance of a few yards, I noticed two small circles of earth touching each other, each about 5 yards in diameter. On the 7th of May I set two men to open them, expecting to find interments there. In this I was disappointed, as the underlying yellow clay was soon reached, and there were no signs of either cists or bones. The only thing noticeable was the quantity of small fragments of white quartz scattered through the soil everywhere within these circles.

Having meanwhile observed another similar circle of slightly larger dimensions, and lying to the south-west of the great cairn, I directed the men to dig in its centre, but found no remains there either, except a few fragments of the white quartz, which stone is a feature in almost all the cairns on the range. It is probable that these circles were connected with the funeral rites and ceremonies incident on interment in any of the cairns on this hill, and that the white quartz was used to show that the ground where it was placed was consecrated to the dead, or to the usages of the priesthood of whatever form of religion then prevailed in this country.

I next directed my attention to the remains of two small cairns a few yards apart to the south-west of the great cairn, and named by Mr. Conwell E i and R Z, respectively. Both had the appearance of having been opened before, and on digging down in the centre of the former, nothing was found except stones of various sizes, and one or two pieces of white quartz. Not finding that further investigation was likely to be productive of anything interesting, I set to work on Cairn a 2. The remains of this cairn had evidently been disturbed before, and the large flags of stone usually found forming the sides of the passages and chambers of cairns on Slieve-na-Caillighe, had been removed. The base of the mound was defined by a circle of stones, flattened for a few yards on its eastern side, while some more stones indicated by their position

1 By E. Crofton Kotherliam.

« PreviousContinue »