Our last day in Ireland was spent at Loughcrew: A wild and remote series of cairns that feature some of the most complicated and beautiful glyphs in all of Ireland. The cairns are situated at the top of a steep hill and our climb wasn’t made any easier by the raw and biting wind.. We thought the combination of remoteness plus the weather might keep other visitors away, but we pulled into the parking area just ahead of a tour bus. It proved not to matter. The other visitors headed straight for the central cairn, so I decided to hang back and explore the smaller cairns first. The remote location, lack of crowds and cold, misty, windy weather all lent an atmosphere to the experience that felt authentic and connected.I took my time, stopping now and then to touch specific stones. When I finally arrived at the central cairn, the last of the visitors were about to go inside along with a man I assumed was their guide. He asked Jim and I if we wanted to come inside also and it was then that we realised that his job was to stay at the site and guide any visitors who were interested through the main cairn. The inside of the cairn was astonishing: even the corridor passageway was absolutely littered with the most exquisite glyphs and I felt genuine excitement to be in their presence. I am fascinated by the carvings and can’t help but wonder about who made them and why: That they have sacred significance seems a given; just what that significance is, what messages they’re meant to relate and how it all relates to the culture (and people) who made them is the mystery.
Our (very knowledgeable) guide showed us how on the morning of the equinox, the rising sun first illuminates a sun-like glyph on the upper-left corner of the central stone, before continuing down to the right, illuminating a series of three other sun-like glyphs before retreating from the passage and leaving it again in total darkness. As our other guides had done, he speculated on what this cairn might have been used for. It struck me that all of the cairns we’d visited – especially this one - seemed more related to life than to death. It struck me that the discovery of fragments of ancestor bone inside did not necessarily mean that the cairns were meant to function as burial grounds. In fact, as I experienced the cairn, the idea that they were simply burial chambers made less and less sense. I asked our guide if perhaps the bone fragments might simply be a way to include the ancestors in any significant events. He brightened then, smiled and said that he’d always thought it unfortunate that the sites were labelled burial mounds by early archæologists because the label has since inhibited attempts to view them as anything else: He said he felt it was rather like discovering the ruins of an old church and graveyard and assuming – because of the presence of human remains – that the main (or only) purpose of the entire site was somehow related to death. I have to say that of all the places we’d visited, Loughcrew was my favourite. It resonates with a kind of hum and I felt deeply connected to the stones and as if the order of our experiences and the knowledge and understanding we’d gained along the way had been wonderfully cumulative. I know that each piece – the placement, siting and marking of the cairns and stones – relates to a larger whole in some significant way and felt inspired by the fact that I was only just beginning to understand their meaning and potential. The stones speak...now it’s up to me to learn the language.