A taste of the unexpected: subverting mentalités
the motifs and settings of Irish
Andrew Cochrane 2005 - Page 4
The façade at Cairn T, Carnbane East
Cells 2 and 3 both show some repeated concerns that can
help us appreciate the ways in which the tomb was experienced, the
histories of its creation and its relationships with the cosmos. Both
cells are heavily decorated, and it has been suggested that some motifs
are deliberately placed in relation to sunlight. This is the case for Cell
2’s central stone, C8, where particular motifs are illuminated by direct
sunlight at the equinoxes (Brennan 1983; O’Brien 1992). It has been
suggested that the reflected sunlight then illuminates the roofstone
(Brennan 1983, 169). There are, however, inherent dangers in focusing on
the particular images that are highlighted by the sun, as a result of the
extensive OPW (Office of Public Works) restorations that altered the
original shape of the entrance (McMann 1994, 537).
In terms of decoration, Shee Twohig (1996, 74) has noted that fine, coarse and medium
point methods were employed in decorating C8. The particular images made with medium
point continue under the supporting corbels, and suggest that the other fine
and coarse images were made whilst C8 was in situ. Similarly, three grades of
picking tool were used to create the panel on the roofstone in Cell 2
(Shee Twohig 1981, 217). This roofstone has imagery all over the underside face.
As the motifs continue beyond the supporting corbels, it is likely that the stone
was decorated before being placed into the passage tomb and in this respect it is
similar to the right-hand recess roofstone in Newgrange Site 1, Co. Meath
(see O’Kelly 1982, 181).
Furthermore, Shee Twohig (1981, 216) has commented
that it would have been very difficult to decorate a stone so intensively whilst
lying on ones back. Indeed, today the images are best seen when lying on one’s back
with one’s feet facing towards the passage entrance. This feature has led Thomas
(1992, 149) to comment that only those people who had access to the deeper areas
of the passage tomb would be able to engage with these images. The motifs on the
roofstone are varied and generally ‘haphazardly’ placed, especially near the centre
(Shee Twohig 1981, 217, Fig. 238). As the images are basic abstract geometric, and
as they do not conform to the modulations of the stone’s surface, we can place this
roofstone within step one of O’Sullivan’s (1996) sequence.
Similar themes are played out in Cell 3. The underside of the cell lintel has a picked
dot with six radiating lines, while the underside of the roof slab has an incised image
consisting of parallel zigzags (Shee Twohig 1981, 217).
Underside of Roofstone Cell 3, Cairn T, Loughcrew, Co. Meath (Shee Twohig 1981, 238).
These angular incised motifs are thought to have occurred before the later picked motifs in the passage tomb (Jones 2004, 209). They therefore indicate episodes of superimposition. As several of the angles producing the zigzag do not meet, they can be considered as an entoptic ‘fortification’ illusion or teichopsia image (see Richards 1971; Niedermeyer 1990; Dronfield 1994). Its location on the underside of the roof slab, in an inaccessible position, might suggest that the image was produced before the stone was set in place. The notion that entoptic images were created onto/into stone before most other designs has previously been explored in detail on some of the Boyne Valley passage tombs (e.g. Cochrane 2001). That entoptic images were used might suggest a desire to incorporate otherworldly/alternative influences or interactions, and possibly performances influenced by psychoactive substances or individuals with pathological conditions.
Photograph taken at 6:53am showing the shaped beam of equinox sunlight illuminating C8
(see also images in Brennan 1983, 100).
In the entire Cairn T passage tomb, radial images dominate, being present on 37% of all the carved surfaces. Shee Twohig (1996) has commented that Cairn T demonstrates a desire for coherence, with almost identically styled images appearing in juxtaposition to each other in the passageway, with the 4 main orthostats in the central chamber (C1, C5, C10 and C15) also having similar imagery. Such symmetry fits well with Foucault’s (2002, 235) definitions of the roles that heterotopias may play. The juxtaposition of similar images creates a space of illusions that exposes and enhances the partitioning and ordering of movement within the passage tomb, whilst simultaneously reflecting and inverting the random, messy and jumbled aspects of life.
K29 also known as the ‘Hag’s Chair’, Loughcrew, Co. Meath.
To the north of Cairn T and on the exterior is located K29 or the ‘Hag’s Chair’.
This kerbstone has visual imagery on its front and back face. The top of the central
part of this kerbstone is believed to be artificially cut to create the chair appearance
(Shee Twohig 1981, 217; contra. Conwell 1866, 371), and the inlaid cross on the ‘seat’
surface may have been cut by surveyors engaged in the ‘Trigonometrical Irish Survey’
(Frazer 1893, 321; but see McMann 1993, 27). Conwell commented that many of the images
on K29 were ‘…much defaced by the action of time and weather…’ (1866, 372). The images
that we see today, over a hundred years later, are unfortunately even more weathered, so
that Shee Twohig (1981, Fig. 238) had to reproduce Du Noyer’s water-colour sketch from
Frazer’s paper (1893, Fig. 45) in her corpus.
Six inverted boxed ‘U’ shapes and several
double ‘U’ shapes and circles, one with central dot, however, still exist on the front
face, and there are two roughly executed concentric circles on the back (Shee Twohig
1981, 217). Considering that K29 is the third largest kerbstone, decorated and such
a prominent feature, it is surprising that it was not placed diametrically opposed
to the entrance, as is seen at some of the Boyne Valley passage tombs (e.g. K52,
Site 1). That images are presented on the outside of the passage tomb does suggest that
they were intended to be seen by spectators in ‘public’. Such display may have allowed
the passage tomb to operate within networks of opening and closing that both isolated
and rendered it penetrable. Performances with these external images may have incorporated
differing or mirroring gestures and permissions than the internal motifs.