stephenMonuments, Mythology, News


Loughcrew is one of the great passage tomb complexes of Ireland and another site that is associated with that ancient mythological character/deity… the Cailleach.

Located on a low range of hills in Northwest, County Meath, known as Slieve na Calliagh (The Hags mountain), this ancient complex consists of nearly 30 passage tombs. Most of these tombs now consist of exposed chambers that would have originally been covered by earthen mounds or cairns. However, the largest and best-preserved monument within the complex, Cairn T, still has its huge cairn intact.

The old name for Cairn T is ‘Carn Bán’ meaning the ‘White Cairn’. This was due to the white quartz that covered much of the monument; which was recorded by early visitors to the site. Anglicised to ‘Carnbane’, the name was given to two of the summits within the Slieve na Calliagh range: Carnbane East & Carnbane West.

Cairn T is cruciform in plan with a long central passage leading to the main chamber, off which there are three smaller chambers, where the remains (usually cremated) of the dead were placed. The monument is estimated to date from about 3500-3300 BC and was built by descendants of the first farmers who settled in Ireland at the beginning of the neolithic period (around 4000 BC).

Cairn T is aligned with the equinox sunrise (March & September) when a beam of light illuminates the decorated back-stone of the central chamber. These decorations, which include lozenge shapes, leaf shapes, as well as circles surrounded by radiating lines, are some of the earliest known instances of rock art found within Irish megaliths; which became a distinguishing feature of later passage tombs, such as Newgrange and Knowth.

In Irish folklore, the construction of the Loughcrew monuments is attributed to the mythical Cailleach (Witch or Hag) who allegedly dropped these stones from her apron as she jumped from hill to hill in her quest to rule all of Ireland. She apparently fell to her death on the lower slopes of Patrickstown Hill but not before dropping these stone cairns in her wake. Not only is the mountain named after her, one of the distinctively shaped kerbstones on the northern face of Cairn T is named the Hag’s chair; It is thought that if she had succeeded in her quest, then this particular stone would have functioned as her throne.