Ireland // Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon //

Carrowmore Cemetery and Medb’s Cairn

Four kilometres southwest of Sligo town, Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery presents a remarkable array of some thirty megalithic passage tombs, easily the biggest prehistoric graveyard in Europe. This oval-shaped cluster of monuments spreads out within a 1km-by-600m field and ranges from the most basic, a small circle of stones surrounding a central roofed chamber, through to the largest, known as Listoghill, covered by an impressive rounded cairn. Excavations have uncovered cremated human remains as well as jewellery carved from bones and antlers; it’s suggested that some of the tombs were created as far back as 4800 BC, though they continued to be used for burial over the next three millennia.

Carrowmore is made all the more atmospheric for being set below one of Ireland’s most significant burial places, the massive Medb’s Cairn, standing on the summit of Knocknarea Mountain – 55m wide and 10m high, and surrounded by a three-metre-high earthen bank. Whether Medb, the legendary queen of Connacht and one of the protagonists of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, is actually buried here is unknown, since the site has not been excavated, but it’s well worth making the trek, not only for views of the cairn itself, but for spectacular outlooks north to Donegal and west to Mayo. To get here from Carrowmore head west for 1km, take a right turn at the junction with the R292, then left at the first crossroads – after another kilometre a lane leads right towards the car park at the base of the mountain, from which it’s a steep four-kilometre hike to the summit. On your way up to the top pick up a stone and leave it on the cairn, making a wish as you do so and, as local legend has it, the force of Queen Medb may be with you.