Although less well-known than Brú na Bóinne and the tombs of Knowth or Newgrange, Carrowmore is home to one of the largest Stone Age cemeteries in Europe. It was once the greatest collection of passage tombs and dolmens in Ireland, but quarrying has destroyed much of the original site and many of the 40 or so remaining tombs are on private land. Even so, a walk through rolling fields punctuated with megalithic graves is impressive, particularly when the weather cooperates. And, because it is less popular, visitors have much more freedom to wander and explore at Carrowmore than at Brú na Bóinne.
The site is divided by a small road, but both sides are accessible with the same ticket from the visitors’ center. The north side also provides a clear view of the legendary tomb of Queen Maeve [Medbh or Medb], the enormous, unexcavated cairn which sits atop Knocknarea mountain about 2.5 miles west of Carrowmore.
Had we followed our original plan, the next stop on our trip would have been White Island, home of another set of enigmatic figures set into the wall of an early Christian church. Unlike Boa Island, White Island is only reachable by ferry or rented boat, and we had scheduled our itinerary around the fact that in May the ferry only ran on weekends.
Unfortunately, as we discovered from another American couple who arrived at Caldragh Graveyard just as we were preparing to leave, the ferry was inexplicably not running that particular weekend and the cost of boat rental was—for us—prohibitive. In compensation, we decided to use our newly found extra time to make more spontaneous stops along our route. And that is how we stumbled across the Drumskinny Stone Circle, Cairn, and Alignment.
Stonehenge may be the world’s most famous stone circle, but it is hardly the only one. Stone circles of various sizes and complexities are scattered throughout the British/Irish Isles. Drumskinny’s example is relatively diminutive, but it has the somewhat unusual feature of being accompanied by a tangential stone alignment and cairn (grave), which together look a bit like a one-armed figure 8.
What made Drumskinny memorable, however, was not the ancient mystery of its design. Ancient mysteries are, after all, everywhere in Ireland.
What made it memorable were the cows.
Without having given it much thought, I have always subscribed to the notion that cows are essentially passive, slightly stupid creatures, whose most dangerous qualities are their occasional skittishness and herd mentality. I must credit the cattle of Northern Ireland with waking me to their potential for creepy, even sly, watchfulness.
Our approach drew the attention of two cows and a calf standing in the adjacent field. Turning their heads in expressionless unison, the triad watched and chewed as we stumbled around the site. The longer it lasted, the more grateful I felt for the rickety fence that demarcated their space from our own and, eventually, for the contained warmth of the car.
Photos by Renée DeVoe Mertz, May 25, 2013, unless otherwise stated.