Unusual Irish Adventure
Part II - The Search for Jeremiah's Tomb
(Check out Part I - Wednesday, March 17th)
To access Cairn T, you drive to the coffee shop of Loughcrew Gardens, park under the large red maple tree and cross the lot into the cedar-sided building adorned with posters trumpeting the Loughcrew Garden Opera’s upcoming presentation of La Traviata.
The entrance to Cairn T, after I unlocked the iron gate.
After exchanging your driver’s license for the key to the iron gate, drive back to the carpark for Cairn T and began the quarter-mile, uphill trek to the mound’s entrance. The walk, and the view, are spectacular. Yellow-blooming Irish gorse bushes lined the walk and dotted the slopes of the hill when we were there, leading to a panoramic view of the distant Boyne River Valley. Cairn T doesn’t look like much from the outside. Where Newgrange is nearly one hundred yards in diameter and neatly kept, the cairns on the hills of Loughcrew are a rugged and less-pampered bunch. Much smaller, about forty feet in diameter, Cairn T sits at the pinnacle of the hill. Its circumference is created by an interlocking stack of flat-topped, pewter-gray stones. No mortar holds them together, but they have withstood the wind and rain at the top of this Irish hill for more than five thousand years. About four feet up from the base of the cairn, a circle of stones begins the formation of a dome that climaxes at a rounded top about fifteen feet off the ground. Whether purposely, or by the hand of nature, the dome is covered with a grassy layer of earth and clay.
Looking down the passage from the gate.
Looking in, past the iron gate, it was pitch black. We had a ‘torch’ (a large, red flashlight from the shop), but looking down into the passage I was reminded of an old Irish proverb: “’Tis better to be a coward for a minute than dead the rest of your life.” But I went in anyway.
I ducked my head to enter the low-ceilinged passageway into the tomb. The passageway was tight, cold, and smelled as if small animals had lived and died there. The passageway was flanked by standing stones festooned with Neolithic carvings. You have to scuttle under a low, stone lintel at the end of the passage in order to enter the cross-shaped burial chamber.
Looking toward the gate from inside the passage.
I don’t know why I was crawling around inside a burial tomb. Enclosed spaces, particularly where others may have been buried, is not normally my thing. But for some reason I felt compelled to explore and investigate. A large stone rose from the floor at the portal of the rear crypt, a low lintel above it. I was forced to reach in and put the torch on the floor on the other side.
The light was blocked as I squeezed my body through the tight opening. The main, circular burial chamber behind me collapsed into darkness. Yikes!
This is true ... I fell inside and onto the floor of the crypt. Immediately I grabbed for the torch and flashed the light around.
No … I wasn’t scared. Much.
When I shined the light onto the ceiling, I was stunned. The symbols on the ceiling of the crypt were similar to those in the outer chamber, but these looked untouched by the harsh Irish climate. The edges of the stone carvings were clearly defined, not eroded by time. More remarkable was the ocher-colored paint that still vividly adorned each of the carvings. Five thousand years, and these carvings appeared as if they’d been completed a month ago.
The symbols on the ceiling of the third crypt: rainbow to the left; an insect center, bottom.
The symbols were awesome. There was a six-petaled flower design inside a circle and the common sun symbol in a circle, identical to those elsewhere in the cairn. But others were unique, and stunning.
On the left was a nine-bar rainbow arching across the sky, painted in sweeping bands of ocher alternating with the gray stone. Above the rainbow, a strange, helix-like circle curving in on itself with a long, curving tail that forked about halfway down its length. A comet? To the right-center, what could only be considered a ten-legged insect with two tentacles extending from the base of its head. And, in the center, a flat-topped symbol with raised arms that looked like a bench . . . or an altar.
Incredibly, I stayed inside that small chamber for quite some time, looking from one symbol to another. No, I didn’t find Jeremiah! But what an adventure.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
The stone the sun hits on the winter solstice.
Me, outside the gate, with the infamous red torch.