Due to essential conservation works, the interior of Cairn T is currently inaccessible, but here is a short description based on previous visits. It is fair to say that entering Cairn T itself is a heady, almost transformative, experience. From crossing the liminal threshold and crouching to enter you see that the passageway is lined with large upright stones, known as orthostats, that display intricate carvings of spirals, lines, lozenges, zigzags, circles and cup marks. When you enter the chamber the roof height increases as does the complexity of the megalithic art. Three recesses serve as the key burial locations, with the westernmost one having the stunning backstone, known as the Equinox Stone as it is beautifully illuminated during the vernal equinox. There has been much speculation about meaning of megalithic art, but this stone more than any other seems to communicate something of the natural world to us, with what look like solar symbols and boat-like shapes. This is my personal favourite example of megalithic art in Ireland.
The Hag’s Chair is one of the kerbstones that surround Cairn T; it is also decorated with megalithic art but unfortunately the carvings are very difficult to make out today, though you may notice some near the base if the light is strong enough. The cross inscribed on the seat is clearer. It possibly represents the use of the stone as a Mass Rock during penal times. It was also thought to have been used as a ceremonial or inauguration chair during the early medieval period.
The Irish name of Loughcrew, Slieve na Calliagh is thought to derive from Sliabh na Caillí, ‘The Hill of the Witch’. Folklore has it that the monuments at Loughcrew were formed when a witch called An Cailleach Bhéara was challenged to drop an apron full of stones on each of the three Loughcrew peaks: if she succeeded she would be proclaimed the ruler of all Ireland. She was successful on the first two peaks, but missed the third and fell to her death.
For more information on Ireland’s passage tombs check out this chat with Dr. Jessica Smyth on Amplify Archaeology Podcast.