Loughcrew, Oldcastle, Meath
Loughcrew is translated in Gaelic as Loch Craobh and is located about 5km from Oldcastle in County Meath, Ireland. Newgrange is possibly the best known historical attraction in Meath, however, Loughcrew is a site of considerable historical importance in Ireland. Loughcrew is the site of megalithic burial grounds dating back to approximately 3500 and 3300 BC, situated near the summit of Sliabh na Caillí and on surrounding hills and valleys. Passage tombs on the site are aligned with the Equinox sunrise.
The Loughcrew Passage Tomb is one of the four main passage tomb sites in Ireland (the others are Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange), Carrowkeel and Carrowmore). They are thought to date from about 3300 BC. The sites consist of cruciform chambers covered in most instances by a mound. A unique style of megalithic petroglyphs are seen there, including lozenge shapes, leaf shapes, as well as circles, some surrounded by radiating lines.
Loughcrew is spread across three hilltops, Carnbane East, Carnbane West, and Patrickstown. The Irish name for the site is Sliabh na Caillí, which means “mountain of the hag”. Legend has it that the monuments were created when a giant hag, striding across the land, dropped her cargo of large stones from her apron. The orthostats and structural stones of the monuments tend to be from local green gritstone, which was soft enough to carve, but which is also vulnerable to vandalism.
In 1980 Irish-American researcher Martin Brennan discovered that Cairn T in Carnbane East is directed to receive the beams of the rising sun on the spring and autumnal equinox – the light shining down the passage and illuminating the art on the backstone. Brennan also discovered alignments in Cairn L (53°44′36″N 7°08′03″W), Knowth, and Dowth in the Boyne Valley. The Cairn T alignment is similar to the well-known illumination at the passage tomb at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange), which is aligned to catch the rays of the winter solstice sunrise.
There are about twenty-three tombs in the Loughcrew complex in addition to Cairn L and Cairn T, along with additional archaeological sites.
In more recent centuries Loughcrew became the seat of a branch of the Norman-Irish Plunkett family, whose most famous member became the martyred St Oliver Plunkett. The family church stands in the grounds of Loughcrew Gardens. With its barren isolated location, Sliabh na Caillí became a critical meeting point throughout the Penal Laws for Roman Catholics. Even though the woods are now gone an excellent example of a Mass Rock can still be seen on the top of Sliabh na Caillí today. The Plunketts were involved in running the Irish Confederacy of the 1640s and were dispossessed in the Cromwellian Settlement of 1652. Their estate at Loughcrew was assigned by Sir William Petty to the Naper Family c.1655. The Napers are descended from Sir Robert Napier who was Chief Baron of the Exchequer of Ireland in 1593.
The Napers built an extensive estate of some 180,000 acres (730 km²) in north Meath in the subsequent centuries which mirrored that developed by their neighbouring Cromwellians, the Taylors of Headfort. Following a third and devastating fire, in 1964, the three Naper sons went to court and requested that the state allow the family trust to be broken up and the estate divided between the three sons. Subsequently the house and gardens have been restored by Charles and Emily Naper, who often open the gardens and run such crowd drawing events as an opera festival.
Loughcrew enjoys thousands of visitors annually, yet, the area is unspoiled by commercialisation, as well as visitors being able to visit and enjoy the hospitality of Oldcastle, visitors can also enjoy The Loughcrew Activity Centre and Loughcrew Megalithic Centre.
Keywords: Loughcrew, Megalithic burial grounds, Newgrange, Oldcastle Meath