We were very fortunate this year as the sun was shining when we headed off to county Sligo on the morning of the 22nd of December. Our destination was the Carrowkeel tombs, a Neolithic site between 5400 and 5100 years old. We visited three of the fourteen passage tombs situated on a mountain range above Lough Arrow.
It is difficult to imagine a more fitting place to welcome back the sun and the lengthening days after the winter solstice. We were able to enter two of the tombs by crawling through the narrow entry passage and here you can see the ingenious stonework that now has lasted longer than the pyramids of Egypt. One of them has a flat piece of rock set at an angle on the inside wall, making the same shape and set in the direction of the Croagh Patrick mountain in county Mayo, that can be easily viewed from the site on a clear day. The tombs all have a central chamber with three equally spaced side chambers. Once you crawl into them the space is quite big and you can stand up. Just like in Newgrange, the famous megalithic site in county Meath, the tombs are placed in a way so the correspond with the light on certain time of the year, like the summer and winter solstice. We believe the people that built them celebrated the seasons and the returning light in a much deeper way than we do today. Many people live quite removed from nature today, not paying too much attention to the changes of the year. We feel very fortunate to live on our small piece of land, growing as much of our food as possible and spending time outside, almost every day of the year.
A short walk away from the tombs is a deep natural hollow with a very large cave at the bottom. By natural phenomena, the low light from the sun at midday illuminates the back wall of the cave for a short while, only on the days right around the time of the winter solstice.We all made the steep climb down the hole and into the cave and had a chance to view this beautiful spectacle first hand. Unfortunately it is difficult to see how astonishing this place is in the pictures. It is really worth a visit. The cave is big and would easily fit one hundred people.
We had an experienced guide and friend with us and the day turned out to be lovely, meeting some new people and spending time out on the mountain side in the strong cold wind as well as sheltering for a while in one of the ancient tombs. We clapped, drummed and listened to Paul play the penny whistle. It is hard to describe the feeling of calm and safety inside the tomb, you really feel a strong connection to the land and time in there.
On the drive home we visited Moygara castle above Lough Gara, another beautiful site full of history.
We came back home feeling refreshed and ready for the new lighter time ahead, but also tired from all the fresh air. All of our four teenagers agreed it was a day well spent and we all slept soundly that night.