Sukanya left on a flight to Toronto this morning, ending the first part of our residency and project in Ireland. I’m continuing on for more shooting and artist meetings.
Loughcrew Cairn was the planned stop for today. There was a possibility that it would be closed or that no one was available to give me the key to the cairn. Unlike Newgrange or the other developed sites in the Boyne Valley, Loughcrew Cairn has been untouched. The roads are too narrow for motor coaches. There are no tourists. The experience is solitary.
The road leading to the cairns is wide enough for a car. It’s a two-way road. When another car comes from the other direction, we figure out a way for one to pass. One pulls over to a slightly wider section, hugging the hedges and hoping not to scrap the rental car’s paint on the stone wall. The other inches past.
There is a small parking lot, not much more than a wider section of the road. A woman coming down from the cairns lets me know there was someone above with the key. I could climb up.
Wide, awkward steps lead to a worn mud path. The air is not cold, 13C or 53F. The wind is stiff and there is a mist that changes to drizzle and fine rain, then back to mist again. Stupidly, I left my hiking stick in the car. I miss it within minutes, but look down the 50 or so steps I’ve just climbed and decide it’s not worth the bother.
I will regret that decision.
The locals says it’s an easy 10 minute walk to the cairns. Maybe if you’re 20. I am not. Still I climb the path. A sharp incline then a flat. Incline, flat. I stop often to take in the scene. This hill is the tallest around. Even with the fog in the distance, the view is far into the countryside.
A couple of U-shaped gates keep animals out. Stouter people also, I imagine. The swinging gate is positioned at the top of the U. Swing the gate completely through the inside of the U and enter. Then swing the gate around to the other side of the U to exit. Clever design.
I reach what I think is the top only to see the steepest and longest hill yet ahead of me. Sheep wander on the hill to my right. The clumped droppings on the path are sidestepped.
The cairns peak over the top of the hill, urging on the tired muscles, and aching knee and back that might have been comforted by the walking stick.
The main cairn is smaller than the one at Newgrange, but surrounded by stone circles and dozens of mounds that have not been disturbed. A couple that passed me on the way up and are waiting to enter. Together we go into the chamber, dropping low to avoid cracking our heads on the stone above. One has a torch, so we can see the obstacles in the short passage. The sides are maybe 26 inches wide, if that. The passageway roof is no more than 3.5 feet tall. We have to scramble over a rock that blocks the way to main chamber. The space is tight and the rock is about 2 feet tall and spans the opening. I’m clumsy but get over it.
There is barely room for three of us in the chamber. The roof is made of concentric stone circles that open to the light above. There are three smaller alcoves that would have held the ashes of the dead. On the walls we can see carefully etched petroglyphs, some of which I haven’t seen at other sites or read about.
Many of the sites do not allow unaccompanied visitors into the chambers. Photography is prohibited. Not here. A little bit of trust and a carefully made image is the reward for the climb.
It’s cold and wet and windy, but it’s hard to leave this place at the top of the this part of the world. There is no magic here, as some suggest, but there are voices. There is a sense of land and history and culture that is unavailable unless you make the climb.
Take in the view. Listen to the voices.