So, Ireland is heaving with monuments...mostly dating back to the Neolithic period which was 3,000 bce. It was these peoples who began to farm in earnest...cutting down trees and tilling the land to grow cereal crops. We know they grew wheat and oats and ate honey and drank milk...
It is possible to see the outlines of the small fields they would have grown their crops on...easier while in the air of course but some vestiges can be seen while at ground level...especially at Carrowkeel.
And they left great monuments to their dead...Court Tombs and enormous stone covered cairns...portal or dolmens...very many have never been excavated and who knows what treasures they may hold...there are standing stones and stone circles and the enigmatic Ogham stones...
We can hazard guesses as to the use of a standing stone for instance...a boundary marker probably between one tribes land and their neighbours...Ogham stones are usually grave markers with inscriptions carved into them in the Ogham alphabet of a person's name...though the Victorians used to move the Oghams about from one place to another so there is no certainty they are where they were first placed...
Stone circles may have been a ritual centre...folklore has given some of the circles almost magical powers especially for women in childbirth...stay within the circle and your child will be born alive and healthy...some of the larger stone circles were used for ritual sacrifice of cattle in the spring to ensure a good harvest. They do tend to be quite atmospheric...even the tiny ones out in the middle of nowhere. As though the stones have secrets they will not share.
Now the Dolmen or Portal tombs are spectacular...three...sometimes four huge rocks on which one rock bigger than all the rest is balanced...they'd have been completely covered with earth when they were built...time has eroded the earthen covering so you can see the quite enormous skill and labour which went into putting them in place. Those which have been excavated have revealed human remains and shards of pottery...perhaps the pottery once held herbs or unguents for the afterlife.
It is the cairns though which are truly special...a great heap of stones in a rough circle...they stand alone on mountaintops or grouped together on mountainsides...they too were burial chambers. There is one in particular at Carrowkeel near to where we live, which has a stone shelf running around three sides...pottery jars were found there containing cremations...the late Victorian amateur archaeologist who decided he couldn't be bothered to conduct a proper dig and blew a couple of the Carrowkeel cairns skyward with dynamite has a great deal to answer for...
One of the Carrowkeel cairns that avoided being blown up has a light box...a small aperture in the lintel stone through which the sun shines at the Winter Solstice...it is precise and exact...the sun's rays hit the back wall of the cairn with a thin bright beam of light.
There are a hundred and one differing theories as to why the Neolithic's built their memorials' to the dead in such a way...an ancient astrological 'map'...a means of tracking the passage of time...and just how did they achieve that level of precision...
Imagine being without pen and paper...and trying to illustrate your idea of building a cairn which incorporated a light box...a stick in sand maybe or a handy patch of earth...but those cairns must have taken a huge amount of man power to build. How were the workers organised...the actual light boxes are mathematically accurate...did the person with the original concept stay alive long enough to see his project come to fruition...
The most famous light box of all is at Newgrange where you have to enter a draw to see if you're lucky enough to be allowed into the inner chamber at the Winter Solstice...it costs nothing to go to Carrowkeel. And you'd not be surrounded by hordes of people who fancy themselves as Druids either.
There are many such cairns which have been opened up to reveal their light boxes...and three or four times as many which have never been explored at all...I wonder if it was a group of people who travelled around the country bringing their scientific and mathematical knowledge with them...and did they have a team of builders who were familiar with the techniques required...
Cairns and stone circles...portals or dolmens... are not peculiar to Ireland...most European countries have fine examples...which infers that Neolithic people travelled, bringing their ideas and influence from one country to another.