Postcard 9: Into the passage tombs

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I got out of the car to swing wide the cattle gate, allowing our car passage up the narrow mountain road. There was no sign to greet us, only “leave the gate as you found it” posted on a wooden placard beside the road. I slid the pin back into place, and we resumed our circuitous route into the hills.

After countless passive sheep and threatening potholes, the road gave up, ending at a signpost reading “Carrowkeel” but providing no hints as to which way to go from there. We pulled off into the mud, and after a few false starts set off up the windswept hills, assuming the tombs (like so many others in Ireland) would be on the highest ground. Carrowkeel. An ancient, sacred site, consisting of some 14 prehistoric passage tombs.

As we crested the hill, the first tomb came into view, first as a mound of rubble, then slowly taking shape before our eyes as a low, dark doorway came into view.

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We lay onto our bellies and crawled on hands and knees across damp, ancient stone through the narrow passageways into the ancient tomb. We entered one, then another, amazed at the precision with which they were built, and at the honor of being trusted to enter here–unsupervised by government or park officials–to do no harm.

Constructed some 5,000 years ago, little is known of the Neolithic people who honored their ancestors in these elaborate tombs. This site, like so many in Ireland is not a museum. There is no entry fee, no glossy booklet revealing the secrets of what lies beneath these stones, no shiny visitor center to help decode your experience.

Just us, the sheep, and a rutted two-track winding up the mountain side.

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And crawling through the mud into this portal through the eons? It was quiet, contemplative, melancholic, and huge. To see time strung out behind and before us, and wonder at what we will leave behind as our own confusing, yet I hope somehow sacred legacy.

What an honor to hold silent space here, in this sacred intersection of history, ritual, and the vast expanse of time.

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