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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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, 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.