The ancient Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery is one of the most fascinating attractions in Sligo.
Thousands of years old, it’s steeped in history, myth, and mystery and it’s the largest Megalithic Cemetery in Ireland.
In this guide, we’ll tell you all you need to know about visiting Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, from where to park to its history.
Some quick need-to-knows before visiting Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
Although a visit to Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery is situated amid the beautiful scenery of Sligo, just 5 km from Sligo Town and right next to Knocknarea Mountain.
2. View galore
This ancient landscape takes in the mighty Knocknarea Mountain as you look west, and Lough Gill and the Ballygawley Mountains to the east. Many of the surrounding peaks are capped with ancient cairns, and the area is steeped in ancient history.
3. A whole lot of history
The site is home to around 30 surviving tombs, many of which date back to the 4th millennium BCE — the Neolithic era. At as much as 6,000 years old, they’re some of the oldest man-made structures still standing on earth. More on this below.
4. Visitor centre
Sitting amid these ancient monuments is a small farm cottage. Now publicly owned, the cottage serves as a visitor centre for Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. It’s open daily from 10am until 5pm, hosting a fascinating exhibition, as well as functioning as the start point for guided tours during the summer.
5. Admission and opening hours
The site is open to visit daily from 10am until 6pm, with the last admission at 5pm. Self-guided tours of the cemetery are free, but it’s well worth paying for the guided tour. It costs just €5 for adults, and you get to enjoy the exhibition in the visitor centre, as well as a walk around the ancient site. Your guide will explain the intriguing history of the area, while revealing insights into the culture of our ancient ancestors.
About Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
The history of Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery is a fascinating one, and those that walk the lands around it follow in the footsteps of those that walked and worked here thousands of years ago.
Introduction to Carrowmore
Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery is home to the largest and oldest collection of dolmens, tombs, and stone circles in Ireland and the 30 or so remaining monuments have survived thousands of years.
It wasn’t too long ago that there were more still standing, but quarrying in the early nineteenth century caused considerable damage.
Fortunately, recent excavations have revealed a treasure trove of data. Ancient DNA studies have shown that the tombs and boulder circles were built and used by sea-faring folk from modern-day Brittany, just over 6,000 years ago.
Evidence shows they brought with them cattle, sheep, and even red deer. A typical visit will take around an hour and a half, but you can spend far longer soaking up the ancient history. Be prepared for a bit of a hike, and wear decent boots, as the going can be pretty steep at times.
What to expect when you visit Carrowmore
You’ll find a range of fascinating monuments at Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. Many are boulder circles measuring around 10 to 12 metres in diameter, with central dolmens and occasionally passages. These are thought to be early versions of the more common passage tombs that are found across Ireland.
The larger monuments
However, there are a few much larger monuments, such as Listoghil (Tomb 51). Measuring 34 metres in diameter, it features a large box-like central chamber covered in a cairn. It sits more or less in the centre of the site, with many of the smaller tombs facing it, making it something of a focal point.
The rock used in the construction of these amazing monuments is gneiss, a very hard glacial rock that comes from the nearby Ox Mountains. On average, each tomb features 30 to 35 of these hefty boulders, standing upright in a circle, almost like a set of teeth.
The Kissing Stone
The Kissing Stone is the most well-preserved of all the monuments in Carrowmore, and as such, one of the most photogenic! It features a capstone that, after thousands of years, is still balancing atop 3 upright chamber stones. Compared to other monuments, it’s rather spacious within the chamber too.
Measuring 13 metres, a complete circle of 32 boulders surrounds the central chamber, with an inner stone circle measuring 8.5 metres in diameter. The Kissing Stone is situated on a slope, and if you’re looking the right way, you’ll see the mighty Knocknarea in the background, topped by Queen Maeve’s Cairn.
Things to do near Carrowmore
One of the beauties of Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery is that it’s a short spin away from some of the best things to do in Sligo.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Carrowmore (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Strandhill for food and a ramble on the beach
Strandhill is a lovely little seaside town, just a short drive from Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. You can head for a ramble along Strandhill Beach, nip into one of the many restaurants in Strandhill or, if you fancy spending a night, there’s plenty of accommodation in Strandhill, too.
2. Walks, walks and more walks
There’s some brilliant walks in Sligo. You’ll find stunning natural beauty and ancient monuments at almost every turn, as you ramble from coast to mountain. Union Wood, Lough Gill, the Benbulben Forest Walk and the Knocknarea Walk are all well worth a bash.
3. Coney Island
The magical Coney Island is easy to reach if you’re visiting Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. A short boat ride takes you to a land steeped in folklore and myth. For those more grounded in reality, there are also several forts to take in, and a great pub! With a lovely beach and good walking routes, it’s a great place to spend half a day or so.
4. Load of other things to see and do
From this pretty central location, you can take in a wealth of other attractions in Sligo. Glencar Waterfall (in Leitrim) is a must-see, while Lissadell House offers an intriguing journey into a unique country house. There are also plenty of great towns and villages, such as Rosses Point and Sligo Town. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to beaches, and you’ll find great places for surfing, swimming, walking, or simply soaking up the sun and relaxing.
FAQs about visiting Carrowmore in Sligo
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what can you see in Carrowmore to where to visit nearby.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What can you see in Carrowmore?
Aside from the gorgeous views that surround it, you can take a guided tour and see the 30 surviving tombs that date back 6,000+ years.
Is Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery worth visiting?
Yes! Even if you’ve no interest in its historical significance, the views from up here on a clear day are glorious.
Who built Carrowmore?
Carrowmore was built by people from Brittany (north-western France) who travelled to Ireland by sea from over 6,000 years ago.
Andy was once on a glorious worldwide trip on his equally glorious motorcycle. After 4 years, he’d still only made it as far as Eastern Europe, before falling in love with his surroundings and deciding to settle down a while. Nowadays, he spends his time writing about traveling through the places he once explored, normally while sipping a pint.