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Lamenting Loughcrew

I have always had a love of old things.

Photographs; people; buildings and Irish landscapes with stories attached.

I had a fondness for books about myths and legends and fairies, Irish mythology in particular.

Maybe having an old Irish name will do that to you or maybe it's just something we are born with.

My Father, though mostly modern in his way of life must have had an appreciation for these ancient spaces, as i have very early memories of him bringing myself and my older sister to visit Knowth and Dowth in The Boyne Valley on a few occasions.

I don't remember him bringing us to Newgrange though and i wonder did he, like me, enjoy the freedom to go collect a key from a custodian next door, go explore somewhere with less people and get a chance to feel the full atmosphere of a stone age passage chamber or maybe it just because it was free in!

Sadly I'll never know the answer but regardless I am grateful to him for bringing me to such magical places at an impressionable age.

Beautiful Sliabh na Callì

Years later after moving to County Meath from North County Dublin I discovered Loughcrew Megalithic Cairns (Sliabh na Calli/The Hill of The Cailleach) a few kms outside Oldcastle.

I had never heard of the place before and strangely most people living in Meath didn't either, or for those who had they just hadn't been.

The funny thing is though it should be memorable, i don't remember the first time i visited Loughcrew or even when, but i do know i went alone and i know it left a big impression as i have visited many times since, alone and in company often having the whole place to myself.

The spectacular sun illumination on the Equinox stone in the central recess of Cairn T now locked off from the public.

Loughcrew Cairns are one of four large Neolithic passage tombs complexes in Ireland which run in a line from west to east, from County Sligo to County Meath, Loughcrew being one of the largest with 32 passage tombs scattered over four large hills.

Sitting a top one of the highest points in County Meath, Sliabh na Calli is a breathtaking sight as are the 360 degree views of 18 counties that surround it.

There is a special atmosphere around it, a magic that doesn't disappear no matter how many times i climb that steep incline , pause for breath and let my eyes drink in the views.

Cairn T which sits right at the top is the name given to possibly the most important structure of the complex.

The highly decorated stones within Cairn T include an Equinox stone written in symbolic text some 5,500 years ago.

It sits within the central recess facing directly towards the passage entrance.

The entrance passage Cairn T (you can see the metal supports in place

When the sun rises over the Patrickstown Hill during both summer and winter equinox it illuminates a small portion of the Equinox stone within Cairn T.

This narrow beam of light travels diagonally accross the carved symbols and ends it's journey within on the top corner of the cill stone which highlights the first possible depiction of the solar year carved in the form of 'The wheel of the year'.

This carving dates possibly from 5,500 years ago, though it may be older and pre-dates the carvings of Bru na Boinne.

My favourite seat 'The Hags Chair'

The equally if not even more impressive 'Hag's chair' which it is commonly known, is one of the main focal points and one of my favourite spots.

It is from this the ridge gets it's correct name 'Sliabh na Calli'(hill of the Cailleach)

It is a large stone carved in the shape of a throne sitting as a kerbstone for Cairn T.

The carvings which were originally covering the facing have now been almost completly eroded.

They were carved with stone tools in the Neolithic period yet the seat itself was carved later with metal.

It is said that the Hag's chair was in place first (possibly dropped there since the Ice Age) and the Cairns built around it, which means that it would pre-date even Cairn T.

Considered to have been used as the seat of a leader or leaders and very possibly female, as where the headwoman in the human form of the Cailleach (The veiled one) may have spoken and thus became known as the Hags/witches chair.

Very different to the modern perception of a hag , this would have been a wise woman of importance and experience, a highly valued person just as The Cailleach was the benevolant ancient protector goddess of indigenous Ireland, she would have helped our ancestors survive through the harsh dark nights of winter.

Cailleach by Sean Fitzgerald

There are three types of Neolithic/Megalithic art..

Depictive style, plastic style and overall picking.

Newgrange has mostly plastic style which often takes a serpentine form following the shape of the stone (The large entrance stone being the best example) it is a later form than the depective style as it can be seen to overlay the earlier carvings.

Loughcrew has only the older depictive style, individual motifs, carved or picked on to a flat surface ie circles, spirals, chevrons.

These decorated stones belong to an ancient tradition of shamanic art that probably began around thirty thousand years ago.

A closer view of some of the ornate depective style carvings

Very recently i read an online post by a man called Lar Dooley that shocked and saddened me.

It spoke of the work carried out in the 1960's by the The Office of public works(OPW)/National Heritage protection group, on Cairn T, that involved removal of the capstone and it's 20 metres deep covering of interlocking stones, replacing it with a metal vent and concrete.

Not only was i completly ignorant of this happening but of the process called 'freeze thawing' which may be causing the top layers of the limestone orthostats to shear off due to trapped moisture freezing in cold conditions.

This means those 5,500+ rare and beautiful ornate stone age carvings may be literally shearing away and the most head melting part of this is that the Cairn has been locked up since 2018 so nobody knows what state it is actually in and there is no definite plan to do anything about it!!

I reached out to Lar who apart from an amazing knowlege of Loughcrew, ancient Ireland and indigenous people, is also a beautiful soul, who gives guided tours for free and takes nothing from Loughcrew but simply, like a few of us, wants nothing more than to save this precious place from further demise.

Sun rising in alignment through the small chamber at Cairn U. The capstone was removed years ago

People like Lar Dooley, Robin Edgar, Malachy hand etc have spent years trying to bring awareness to the plight of Loughcrew and regardless of emails and pleads to the correct people it all seems to have fallen on deaf ears, or for those few who listened it was a list of excuses..

Too Risky, too difficult, too expensive, not my area, ask such and such, leave it with me, and the best one yet..

'The main issue is THE PUBLIC walking on Cairn T' and the solution given? To stick in CCTV!!

I ask you why would anyone respect a space that looks totally disrespected by the people paid to protect it??

The so called signs are pieces of laminated paper flapping in the breeze nailed on to sticks , the gates are broken and rusty, pieces of barbed wire strewn across , sheep excrement everywhere and the only evidence of Loughcrew Cairns being anymore than a rocky outcrop is an old metal faded sign stuck at the far corner not close to either main entrance.

The one and only official sign, rusted, faded and no where near the entrance

The entrance to Cairn T locked up since 2018

And then there's the other issue, a lot of the land these Cairns are on is private farming land and so these ancient stones have been pulled up, damaged, and now in recent times, huge tractors moving across these sacred spaces and spraying it in slurry..can you imagine that happening at Newgrange or The Hill of Tara?!

So i got to thinking and i came to the realisation that to get anything done in this country you either hand over money or you go to the media,

I have no money so..!

Noelle Finegan from, The Meath Chronicle is one of those journalists that isnt afraid to step outside the box to tell a good story and i had been involved with her on the Thatch alliance group fight for Insurance for thatched buildings (another similar story there..)so i contacted her.

She went to the Cairns herself to meet with Lar and others to get an idea of the issues and spoke to many different experts and locals.

Her piece 'What to do with Loughcrew' was published last week in The Meath Chronicle.

Piece by journalist Noelle Finegan in The Meath Chronicle
The Meath Chronicle

It was great to see some awareness being brought to the public who i feel have been left (possibly purposely) ignorant of the situation.

I believe in people over political power and in the case of Loughcrew Cairns i feel the Government should be thoroughly ashamed of the sheer neglect of this precious place.

What is it with Irish government and lack of taking responsibilty?

Everything gets passed from Billy to Jack back to Billy again and nothing seems to get done.

Are the 700 years being ruled by the English still having an effect, is it a lack of organisation or just pure laziness?

Either way things need to change.

Noone expects this to be an easy fix, nobody expects it to be done in a short space of time and we know it may cost millions, but we also know it can be done and more importantly should be done, as it was done for Newgrange and Knowth.

I realise the entrance to Cairn T was locked for safety concerns but it should never have been without a definite plan in place.

That was done in 2018. It is now 2023 and because a newspaper journalist asked them..

The OPW and The National Momuments service have finally spoken and said resources WILL be allocated through the 2023 business planning process to commence the development of a conservation management plan for the site..

While this sounds like good news, it also proves that there was no plan in place for the last 5 years and my concern is unless the pressure is kept on, another 5 years will go past with no changes.

It may be a case for Joe Duffy or Nationwide yet!!

5,500 year old carvings just inside the door

I may not be an Archaeologist, Neolithic expert, historian or lecturer but I have strong intuition, I have a voice, I have connection to those Cairns and to my ancestors who painstakingly built such magnificent structures and carved out such beautiful depictions of a life so different to ours yet still connected.

We are all connected and these Ancient places belong to us all, we should honour and protect them not for our own self serving short term means, but for the generations yet to come.

If the Government finally does decide on action for Loughcrew it may mean sadly i never get to walk barefoot on that sacred soil again, have a chance to see the sun illuminate the stones or sit alone on my favourite throne with 18 counties beneath my feet.

But as a wise woman (!) once said ..

'The one who plants a tree knowing they will never sit in it's shade has started to understand the meaning of life'

An offering to An Cailleach
A glimpse of the spectacular views

Go raibh míle maith agaibh..

Lar Dooley for exerpts from his book 'Out of the Darkness'

Malachy Hand - exerpts from 'Sliabh na Callí'

Noelle Finegan- Meath Chronicle

Sean Fitzgerald for his wonderful artwork 'Cailleach'

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