Sited on a row of four hills at the far northwestern tip of County Meath, the Loughcrew Cairns consist of more than thirty chambered mounds and over a hundred curiously carved stones. Local folklore has bestowed on the hills a colourful name, Sliabh Na Caillighe (as now marked on Ordnance Survey maps, meaning “Mountain of the Sorceress”), and foundation legend: the said witch, believing she would become mistress of all Ireland if she leapt from hill to hill carrying an apron full of rocks, performed the mighty jumps, shedding handfuls of stones on each peak, but fell at the last, breaking her neck (a cairn at the bottom of the easternmost hill is traditionally known as the witch’s grave). The true story of the cairns’ construction is only slightly less amazing: archeologists believe that between approximately 3500 and 3300 BC, Neolithic people travelled considerable distances to build these communal tombs, each of which may have taken anything from four to thirty years to complete. The alignment of the passage tombs and the elaborate carvings on their stone slabs display an association with sun worship, and it’s obvious that this high-status ritual site was meant to be visible from afar. In reverse, the cairns afford a magnificent panorama over quiet lakes and gently undulating farmland, encompassing up to sixteen counties on a clear day.

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