Knocknarae is a mountain on the west coast of Ireland.  Its name means Hill of the Ruler.  On top is the cairn of Maeve, Warrior Queen of Connaught, and she still means enough to the Irish people that they have refused to allow her cairn to be opened.  I went there because my traveling companion had taken a class in Celtic Mythology, and knew about Queen Maeve.  We discovered that there was a “Neolithic graveyard” on the east side of the mountain, so we went hunting.  I was interested in Neolithic relics because I had heard about the possibility that Stonehenge was an astronomical computer.
This was one of those synchronicities I look back on with wonder.  My senior year at Wellesley I needed to write a paper about a modern building for a class I was taking in Modern Architecture.  I was home in Cincinnati, and a friend of my parents had a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  When I asked him, he was very apologetic, but had refused many people and felt he had to refuse me.  He referred me to John Garber, who had designed a Church of St. John such that the sunlight fell on the altar at Christmas, Easter, and St. John’s Day which is near the summer solstice.  Of course I was intrigued.  When I met John Garber our first sentences were “Where are you at College?”  “Wellesley.”  “What’s your major?”  “Astronomy.”  “Would you like a job?”  He wanted me to come teach astronomy to his children at their summer place on the Damariscotta River.  He was interested in Astronomy because he had read Gerald Hawkins’ first article on Stonehenge, which had just appeared.  John said  he was interested in the Neolithic because that was when humans had settled down, and it was the beginning of architecture, agriculture, and astronomy.  I had a great time that summer, and it started me on the path to Archeoastronomy.
So when I stood at the dolmen that was east of Knocknarae, I already had a suspicion that the neolithic people were more than ignorant savages.  Dol-men means Table-stone in Gaellic, and a Dolmen is a structure with several (usually five) uprights holding a capstone.  This creates a chamber, and many of them were used for burial.  Between grave robbers and erosion, the earth mound that once covered them is long gone.  I looked at this balanced construction of stones inside a circle of stones, not on top of a gentle knoll but just over the height toward the mountain.  The capstone is trapezoidal, Knocknarae is trapezoidal, Maeve’s Cairn is trapezoidal, on the right, out of the picture is another flat-topped mountain.  Somehow the dolmen focussed the whole landscape, brought it together in a single magic shape, a huge piece of sculpture bigger than a cathedral.  I decided that this was the greatest piece of sculpture I had ever seen.  Since then I’ve been to London, Paris, Florence, and Athens, and still haven’t seen anything to equal it.
It turned my world upside-down.  I could no longer imagine that we “modern” humans had progressed since the Neolithic.  Considering the mess we are making of the world, that’s more true than ever.

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3 Responses to Knocknarae

  1. Andy says:

    Jenny: Lee and I climbed Knocknarae last month. We had a magical time in Ireland.

  2. Daniel says:

    Early in August 2012, I hiked up Knocknarea to the cairn. Despite the signs requesting respect, several people were climbing the cairn. The damage was obvious, and on-going. On a far side several children had gotten stuck on the steep side of the cairn and were throwing stones down, and sliding causing even more damage to that side. People had entirely destroyed satellite tombs to write their names with the stones. At the heritage center at Carrowmore, we were told the damage is repaired as often as possible, but there is not the funding nor man power to protect and preserve the site properly.

  3. jenny says:

    That is such sad news. I really don’t like it when they close the sites to the public, surround them with barbed wire, only let a few privileged or lucky folk in at a time. It’s a shame so many people have not learned how to respect things.

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