The Perspective of Time

Three ridge top passage tombs at Carrowkeel

The ridge top wind is ripping at my rain gear, frequently knocking me off balance. Rain is blowing sideways. Ahead is a small opening into the heart of an ancient rock tomb. I bend over and make my way inside.

First one step, then the next. Quiet. Neither wind nor rain can penetrate here. My eyes slowly adjust to the dim light. Ten steps ahead the passage ends in a chamber. I stand upright and look around.

Inside carrowkeel tomb. Note the construction: large flat slabs held in place with small rocks

Upright flat stones taller than I serve as pillars holding a ceiling of carefully staggered, huge flat stones. Each of the flat stones is leveled by fist-sized rocks. There are three tiny alcoves off the central standing area, each with their own pillars and ceilings. The construction is completely stunning.

Sign at the trailhead to Carrowkeel

This is one of the megalithic passage tombs in the Irish county of Sligo. It was constructed by human hands over 5,000 years ago. Questions flood into my mind—How did they get these massive stones up to the top of this mountain? Where did they learn this intricate construction? Why did they go to so much trouble to make them?

Scene along the hike up to Carrowkeel tomb—perhaps a small rock shrine, long ago covered by vegetation.

And then the questions drop away. I simply stand in awe. I feel so safe, so connected to myself, to things far greater than myself. My imagination goes back in time to the era of early farmers that constructed this tomb. These people worshipped nature. There was no doubt in their minds that their lives depended on the rising of the sun, the cycles of the season, the movement of the moon. This tomb at Carrowkeel is an incredible tribute to the early efforts of my ancestors to make sense of the world around them. They needed nature and they knew they were a part of nature.

Christina waiting outside the passage tomb in wind and rain. Notice the window AND the passage. Window is oriented to let in light on the morning of Oct. 31, the beginning of winter.

My reverie ends because steadily increasing winds urge Christina on the outside of the tomb to get us off the mountain top while it is still safe to do so. Indeed, at several points climbing down through the fields of heather Christina, our friend, Marcia, and I literally grab one another in particularly strong gusts.

As I am hiking down, I feel at the very edge of safety and our capacity. And that is a good thing. To find and enter the tomb has been a quest, not a stroll on a sunny day. Being wind-whipped and rain-washed helped me enter the passage tomb with the reverence it deserves.

Two lane track that begins the hike up to Carrowkeel.

During our exploration of Ireland, we visited three of the four large megalithic passage tombs from the Neolithic Era. (A megalith is a “large stone” used for a structure without mortar or concrete. Neolithic Era is the last part of the Stone Age when farming began.)

Two other Megalithic Irish Passage Tombs: New Grange and Carrowmore

Carrowmore passage tomb covered with stones. Entrance is aligned with far mountain range so light enters on Oct. 31. Located in county Sligo

The immense passage tomb at New Grange near Dublin, county Heath



Reconstructed entrance to New Grange with light box and passage doorway facing to allow light in on the morning of winter solstice.

Carrowmore, also in county Sligo, had wonderful interpretation that helped us understand the detail, magnitude, and history of these passage tombs. New Grange in County Meath near Dublin, a UNESCO world heritage site, was by far the largest and most heavily interpreted place we visited. New Grange also has the stunning feature of a tour into the twenty-foot long passage that includes a moment of lights out and a re-creation of light entering the box above the tomb door on winter solstice morning.

But it was Carrowkeel on the wild edge, accessed via a long and winding walk, that most captured the spirit of these tombs for me. I take myself back there often. It reminds me of a time when we humans were humble, respectful, and curious about our place in the cosmos. All three of those attributes are crucial to our lives on Planet Earth at this time. We must not forget.













15 replies
  1. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    Yes. What an experience – thanks for bringing a touch of it to us and the wisdom it holds for us today. Nature always willing to teach us if we are willing to listen. Your photos are beautiful! So happy for you and Christina to have had this opportunity and in the weather that is Ireland. May your minds eye always see what you saw.

  2. Susan Schoch
    Susan Schoch says:

    I would love to see Carrowkeel, and appreciate your description. My experiences in the ancient sites of the desert Southwest created much the same feeling of connection to the people of the past, and awareness of their respectful attention to the earth and all the cosmos. Thank you for sharing this reminder that we need that same respect now.

  3. Terry Chase
    Terry Chase says:

    Love this…even though it would be difficult for me to access, I so appreciate your words to take me there and into the caverns. DEPTH…is the word I come away with…thank you for exploring and sharing.

  4. Laura Collins
    Laura Collins says:

    Thank you for sharing this deeply moving experience. I’ve wondered about your trip and appreciate this glimpse into your time in Ireland. Having a place to revisit in your mind and soul in the days ahead is a gift.

  5. Katharine Weinmann
    Katharine Weinmann says:

    “Being wind-whipped and rain-washed helped me enter the passage tomb with the reverence it deserves.” – I particularly appreciated this sentence, Ann. To become “baptized” by the elements at such a threshold…embracing this…such good medicine. I, too, appreciate you bringing some of this powerful experience to us.

  6. Kate Stockman
    Kate Stockman says:

    As always, I relish your stories and reflections, Ann. Thank you. I visited Long Barrow in 2008 during a pilgrimage to sacred sites in southern England and was also struck by the thoughtful construction AND the desire to “return to the womb of the Mother” that such barrows show us. Thanks for reminding me how sacred Mother Earth is, and how respectful and loving our ancestors were with her. Blessed be.

  7. Glenn Hovemann
    Glenn Hovemann says:

    Ann, thanks for sharing the feeling of being “so safe, so connected to myself, to things far greater than myself.” That’s a sacred feeling, one that often requires us to be, as you experienced, “at the very edge of safety and our capacity” — whether physically or metaphorically. Love to you.

  8. Jeanie Robinson
    Jeanie Robinson says:

    Loved reading this today. Have been to Newgrange and so glad you reminded me of the awe and respect we must hold in these times.

  9. Jennifer Getsinger
    Jennifer Getsinger says:

    Thank you, Ann! Especially for including the geological description of the limestone. Before I became a geologist, I studied anthropology, and megalithic monuments were among my favorite subjects (there was a great course called “Western Europe before the Roman Conquest”). Sometimes Neolithic people moved large stones by rolling on logs, and sometimes by doing it in the winter, on sleds. It’s also good for those of us with western European / British roots to imagine our own indigenous ancestors. Fascinating!

  10. Brenda Peddigrew
    Brenda Peddigrew says:

    Ann, your postings made me smile all over! I spent time in the Carrowmore and Carrowkeel stones several years ago, and only three weeks ago returned from two weeks in Ireland with much time spent in NewGrange and Knowth and other ruins…so – without knowing it – we were in a kind of resonance in all you describe. How very real, echoing the parallel paths we met upon now the many years ago.

  11. Vincent
    Vincent says:

    I loved this website and it helped me make a little museum for my peers. i am a student trying to learn about the mesolithic, Paleolithic, and neolithic. Although it only talked about Carrowmore, it gave a date which told me which part it was in. Loved this website


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