Europe: Megalits / Megaliths of Ireland

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There are four main types of megalithic monument to be found in Ireland. These are chambered cairns (also known as passage tombs or passage graves), Court cairns, (court tombs), dolmens (portal tombs or cromleacs) and wedges. Chambered cairns are the main type of megalithic/neolithic monument dealt with on these pages, as they were the first to attract my interest, mainly due to their art and astronomy. These structures are found in most European countries with particularly large and well preserved concentrations found in France and Ireland. The word 'cairn' means a heap of stones in Irish. A general description would be a large mound of stones, contained by a ring of kerbstones which are usually much larger than the cairn stones and laid end to end. Chambered Cairns are artificial caves built as free standing structures from large slabs of stone. These structures are then covered by a heap of stones, which both stabilises the freestanding structure, defines the monument visually from a distance, and creates a viewing platform which can be used to survey the horizon. Some sites have external features such as standing stones, stone settings, raised banks and stone boxes known as cists. Two monuments, Cairn F at Carrowkeel and Cairn L at Loughcrew have standing stones within the chambers. Many chambered cairns are oriented to heavenly bodies, including the moon, though most of the work in this field has tended to concentrate on the sun. Below is a brief introduction to each type of monument.


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