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June 2019
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2004-04-06 AA comes to the rescue in the Bricklieave mountains

Since I began writing a column, it has become increasingly difficult for me to visit a place of interest without an event happening. It has been said that ¾ of Europe's ancient sites are in Ireland, and ¾ of these sites lie in the north-west of our country. The archaelogical wealth around us is astounding.


I have visited most of the major Sligo sites - Carrowmore, Knocknarea, Deer Park, and others - but I had never been to Carrowkeel, that is until recently. In Castlebaldwin, not far from where I was stopped by an unmarked car to be decorated with my first, and hopefully last, penalty points, there is a sign stating that Carrowkeel is a mere 3km away. About 1km up this narrow road into the Bricklieve Mountains, a sign indicates the distance to be 5km. A little further on, around a few bends, it is 6km, and finally one passes through a gate over a cattle-grid, and a hand-made sign says 1km to Carrowkeel, and maybe - just a suggestion - it ought to say 2km! The road deteriorates seriously at this point and becomes a potholed sheep-track, and so ideally, one ought to park and walk while there is still tar.


Carrowkeel is the largest recorded Neolithic settlement in Ireland and it was officially excavated and recorded in 1911. There are 14 prominent cairns on hilltops. Remains of a hut settlement have been found, as well as Bronze Age artefacts, cremated human remains, bones, teeth, beads, pendants, pottery, jewellery, a passage-tomb cemetery and two ruined dolmens. When I stood on top of the first cairn, the view from Kesh Corran all the way down to Lough Arrow was almost as awe-inspiring as the history beneath my feet, as I attempted to imagine the domestic and ritual behaviour of these people 5000 years ago.


As we head back there was a choice of roads for further exploration and our inquisitive minds piloted us through another gate (always remembering to close it behind us) down a long straight road in the direction of Boyle. The surface started well and I wondered if this had been the old N4 when "N" stood for Neolithic, but soon the surface turned from gravel to grass - slippy grass, with no turning points. So, I decided to turn the car on a postage stamp. Mud splattered against the windows, then the windscreen, while a thick grey smoke appeared in my rear-view mirror, and a deep drain seemed to be growing in size. Thankfully, my father, now firmly in the 21st Century, had remembered his mobile, and thankfully I am a fully-paid member of the AA, always dying to use my membership. Now was my chance to get my full moneysworth. Having explained to the bemused operator that I was stuck in a boghole at the end of a grassy road, either 1, 3, 5 or 6km above Castlebaldwin, I began my long walk back to meet my hero in his 4-wheel drive pick-up truck. Having cut my finger on some barbed wire by the second gate, I perched myself on a rock for a moment to pass some time. I explained to a passing New Zealand back-packer that I had in fact got a job and didn't normally spend my days on top of a piece of igneous rock in the Bricklieves. I had been to New Zealand for a day to a town called Tauranga. He was from Tauranga. Can someone explain to me how this kind of thing happens?


Ravens circled menacingly below the cliff-edged plateau, a mist descended on Carrowkeel, and I didn't feel at all welcome near this ancient burial ground. These spirits didn't like me. I walked further back and waited by the first gate. Two lady English tourists passed in their hired-car. As I held the gate open for them, I explained that I had in fact a job and was not the Carrowkeel doorman. The pick-up arrived, brought me back to the stranded car and dozing Dad, and dragged the car out onto the grassy surface again. As I reversed back about 1½ miles with a pick-up reversing immediately behind, I felt very stupid. I bolted the gate to leave Carrowkeel and caught a different finger on the latch, slicing it open. But I have not seen all I want to see at Carrowkeel, I am not deterred, I'll be back!