Location – Nestled in the countryside of Co. Meath near the Cavan/Meath border. The following grid references are for the carpark for Carnbane East.
OS: N 581 775 (map 42)
GPS: N 58138 77539 (Accuracy – 2m)
Longitude: 7° 7' 7.39" W
Latitude: 53° 44' 39.18" N
More specific locations for each tomb will be given on their individual pages.
See map at the bottom of the page.
Description and History – When I sat down to begin writing this for the website I was presented with quite a challenge. I had hundreds of pictures from twenty ancient tombs and the GPS co-ordinates I had taken that day three years previously. Sorting through this was a daunting task but I finally managed to get through it.
This huge megalithic complex, dating to the Neolithic period, spans four hilltops in Co. Meath. There was so much to see that I only had time to visit two hilltops that day, in the company fellow enthusiasts. We visited the tombs at Carnbane West and Carnbane East and few scattered tombs in-between, totalling twenty in all. The tombs on Newtown and Patrickstown hill will have to wait for another day. The two Carnbane hills are, however, the best preserved of the four hills. There has been little archaeological investigation carried out at the Loughcrew complex so little is known about the history of the site. While the archaeology located at Loughcrew is not limited to megalithic tombs (there are Bronze Age, Iron Age and medieval sites as well) I have focussed just on these tombs here and will focus on the other sites elsewhere.
While a full scale archaeological investigation has yet to take place there has been some limited interest. Excavations were carried out by Eugene Conwell who claimed to have discovered the sites in 1863 as he was having a picnic with his wife on one of the hills. However, Conwell was not an archaeologist and some of the tombs (particularly cairn D) still show the scars of his work. He found 32 tombs in all and gave them the letters by which they are still identified. A local landowner named Edward Rotheram also carried out some limited excavations later in the 19th century. Archaeologist Joseph Raftery carried out an excavation on cairn H in 1943. His finds showed that the site was used well into the Iron Age and Raftery concluded that it was actually an Iron Age site, a conclusion that is widely disputed. In the 1970s Elizabeth Shee Twohig carried out a larger investigation at the site but this was limited to a study of the carvings only. This is proving to be extremely significant as the carvings at the site, particularly those exposed to the weather, continue to erode at an alarming rate.
There is also much mythology surrounding the cairns at Loughcrew. One story revolves around the Hag’s Chair which is one of the large kerb stones that surrounds cairn T on Carnbane East and tells the story of a hag who used this stone as a chair and, thus, gave it its name. In another story the same hag or witch filled her apron full of stones and if she was to jump from hill to hill at Loughcrew without spilling any stones she would be the mistress over the whole of Ireland. However, she dropped stones on all the hills and created the cairns. The story ends with the hag falling and breaking her neck. There are a plethora of other connections to famous figures in Irish mythology and too many to list here.
Unfortunately, I was not able to visit all of the tombs at the site but twenty are listed below. I intend to revisit the site to see the other tombs in the future. Click below to read about and see pictures of individual tombs.
Difficulty – Carnbane East is the easier of the two complexes. There is a carpark and path to the tombs. Cairn T is locked but a key can be found in the local café and tourist centre a short distance away. A €60 deposit is required to get the key so it is best to arrive early to ensure that you can get the key. It is not allowed to give the key to anyone else while at the site. Carnbane West is more difficult to access as it is not open to the public. It is several fields away from the road.
For more Neolithic tombs, click here.
For more sites in Co. Meath, click here.
View The Standing Stone in a larger map