Cairn (in Gaelic and Welsh, Carn), a heap of stones piled up in a conical form. In modern times cairns are often erected as landmarks. In ancient times they were erected as sepulchral monuments. The Duan Eireanach, an ancient Irish poem, describes the erection of a family cairn; and the Senchus Mor, a collection of ancient Irish laws, prescribes a fine of three three-year-old heifers for "not erecting the tomb of thy chief." Meetings of the tribes were held at them, and the inauguration of a new chief took place on the cairn of one of his predecessors. It is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters that, in 1225, the O'Connor was inaugurated on the cairn of Fraech, the son of Fiodhach of the red hair. In medieval times cairns are often referred to as boundary marks, though probably not originally raised for that purpose. In a charter by King Alexander II. (1221), granting the lands of Burgyn to the monks of Kinloss, the boundary is described as passing "from the great oak in Malevin as far as the Rune Pictorum," which is explained as "the Carne of the Pecht's fieldis." In Highland districts small cairns used to be erected, even in recent times, at places where the coffin of a distinguished person was "rested" on its way to the churchyard.
Memorial cairns are still occasionally erected, as, for instance, the cairn raised in memory of the prince consort at Balmoral, and "Maule's Cairn," in Glenesk, erected by the earl of Dalhousie in 1866, in memory of himself and certain friends specified by name in the inscription placed upon it. (See Barrow.)