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bill h's "Adventures in Europe"

Creevykeel & Carrowmore Neolithic tombs

IRELAND | Saturday, 27 August 2016 | Views [310]

Up early -- had a full day planned visiting Donegal Castle and some nearby neolithic tombs.  

Drove an hour to Donegal -- passed through there on my way to Sligo and had tried to find the castle then with no luck -- my GPS kept wanting to take me to another town 10-15 miles away -- figured today would be better -- was I ever wrong.  

Castles are big -- Donegal is not -- castles are usually on hilltops -- Donegal doesn't have many "hills" -- tourist attractions are supposed to have signs telling you how to get to them so you can spend your money -- somehow Donegal missed the "memo" on that one!  Drove up and down the streets, up and down the hills -- was there for an hour -- do you think I could find the Castle?  Nope.  The streets are narrow, the traffic is crazy busy and there's no parking or turn-outs where you couild stop and ask someone for directions -- finally had enough and gave-up -- figured I'd seen so many castles already, missing this one wouldn't be a major loss!

That left more time for the tomb sites -- the ones at Newgrange/Knowth on Ireland's eastern coast were fascinating and the ones here were "played-up" as almost as interesting.  The first one was in a "one-horse" town called Creevykeel on my way back to Sligo.  Eventually came to an intersection with a sign for Creevykeel pointing to the left -- so turned left -- and proceeded to have a lovely drive for the next twenty miles meandering through the remote countryside -- stunning scenery but no tomb.  

Found my way back to the intersection in Creevykeel where I had made my initial left turn and was actually able to pull to the side of the road and ask a local for directions -- the response -- "it's right behind you, behind the hedge -- go back to where you turned, take a right and twenty yards down on your right will be a small parking area with a path leading to the site" -- sure enough, there it was -- no signage in the parking lot, just a path leading off into the bushes -- apparently the "sign" at the intersection meant I should have turned into the parking lot twenty yards before I got to that point -- excellent illustration of how things are here in rural Europe!

Glad I found it because the site was fascinating -- much, much smaller than the others and I had the whole place to myself to wander around in, sit and contemplate what it must have been like there five thosand years ago and listen to the wind and birds.  This site is not reconstructed -- just a formation of rocks -- plus it had been used by the Romans for a tin smelter circa 0 BC so things were a bit rearrranged -- but still enough there so you could see what it might have been like.  

Back "then", it would have been a large mound with a single narrow passageway (aligned for the summer and winter solstices) with three chambers in a row, each smaller than the one before it.  The passage would have been lined with large flat stones standing upright with a flat stone roof (four to five feet tall). The "passage" would have been buried in a huge mound of bowling ball sized rocks.  All the rocks were white limestone quarried from fifty miles or so away and transported here before the existence of the wheel or domesticated horses. And all with no written record as to it's purpose or place in the lives of the farmers living in the area.

Moved on to another tomb site -- Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, the other side of Sligo.  Much larger, spreading over acres of land with multiple structures -- pretty much smaller mounds arranged in a loose circle around a huge mound on the tallest hilltop (the big mound was almost identical to the ones on Ireland's eastern coast).  Again, no record as to why it was there but it would've taken a huge number of people working over a number of years to create.

The "experts", the archeologists, disagree but the prevailing view is that these mounds were religious sites where mysterious rituals would've taken place including the burial of their kings/leaders.  At this site, (as at the others)  they base their conclusions on the fact that they found the partial remains of thirty people, some beads, tools and broken pottery buried in the deepest chamber (kinda the Egyptian pyramid model).  

Personally, the feel I get from these places -- I think the common opinion is way-off base -- and I can feel that way because no one really knows.  These sites were in use for thousands of years -- to have only thirty sets of partial remains means they either didn't have a lot of leaders they "revered" -- or -- these sites, while they may have been used for some religious purposes, served a much larger role in these people's lives.  It's fascinating to speculate as to what ....

Next day, I headed south to Westport, stopping along the way at the Foxford Woolen Mills factory for a factory tour -- fairly small operation that was started in the 1800's by a group of nuns to provide work to an impoverished local community -- the history story was much more interesting than the tour -- involved how the Mother Superior played "hard-ball" politics with local landowners and "smooth-talked" her way into getting people to do things for her -- would make a good movie! 

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