Stone Circles are common throughout Ireland and are representative of our Celtic Heritage before the growth of Christianity throughout our Island.
Regarded as the exemplar of the West Cork stone circles, Drombeg, alias ‘The Druid’s Ring,’ is a well preserved, clearly signposted and frequently visited monument. Its diameter of 30 feet is typical of several stone circles in the Ross Carbery district, all situated within a few miles of the coast.
The circle is of the so-called recumbent type, with an axis running north-east to south-west, as with many of these monuments, providing an alignment on the mid-winter sunset. Of its seventeen stones, the tallest are the matched portals in the north-east quadrant, standing some 6.5 feet high.
The recumbent, or, more correctly, axial stone, directly opposite, is a cup-marked boulder with a flat upper surface. The orthostats on either side of it are graded for height and have bevelled tops. A degree of symmetry is not unusual in stone circle design, but in the case of Drombeg it is very marked, suggesting that this was important to its ritual function. The site was excavated in 1957, when the cremated remains of a youth were found in an urn buried in a central pit.
Radio-carbon tests produced unexpected – though inconclusive – results, initially giving a date in the first century BC, afterwards revised to AD 480-720, well outside the generally accepted period for these structures. This does not necessarily mean that stone circles were still being erected in early Christian times.
It is quite possible that a pre-existing Bronze Age monument was adopted for ceremonial purposes by Celtic peoples, in which case the burial may have been of a dedicatory nature. The proximity of an Iron Age domestic site and short distance to the west of the circle, consisting of hut foundations and a communal cooking pit and hearth, can hardly be unconnected even if the two are unlikely to be contemporary.
Situated at a height of 570 feet above sea level and 3 miles inland from Ross Carbery, rush-stifled Reanascreena is a little known megalithic ring of twelve uprights and an axial stone. It is surrounded by a 12-feet wide fosse with an external earthen bank, a rare feature which suggests close cultural links with the henge monuments. A comparable but smaller embanked stone circle is at Glentane East in the same country.
When the Reanascreena site was scientifically examined in the early 1960′s, it was found that peat had formed over the original floor of the circle and fosse, a process likely to have started in the last millennium BC, when bog growth accelerated as a result of changing climatic conditions.
The ground in the vicinity of the portal stones showed evidence of erosion, thought by the excavator to have been caused by repeated trampling over a long period; so that the users of the circle had found it necessary to reinforce this area with small boulders to prevent the orthostats from falling.
Seemingly prehistoric peoples had habitually danced or walked here in observance of some ritual. As at Dormbeg and nearby Bohonagh, cremated bone was discovered in a pit within the circle. Dating evidence is laking, but this class of monument has its origins in the late Neolithic or Early Bronze age.
The notion that people could be turned into stone in punishment for some misdemeanour or other is a recurring theme in Gaelic folklore, and here at Athgreany in the stillness of the Wicklow hills is a strange troupe of dancers and a piper, all ossified on the spot for violating the Sabbath with their merrymaking. The circle stands on the crest of a low hill and consists of fourteen granite boulders and an outlier (representing the luckless piper) 40 yards to the north-east. The tallest circle-stones are on the east; one of these measures 6 feet 4 inches in height and has a girth of over 12 feet.
An old thorn tree grew on the circumference of the ring until it was recently blown down, and it now lies decaying among the timeless stones. Townland names frequently hold clues about past associations between places and traditions. Athgreany translates as ‘Field of the Sun’, leading one to the conclusion that this was formerly a ceremonial site. Not many miles to the west in the adjoining county of Kildare, there is another Piper’s Stones, a much-ruined monument enclosed by an earthen bank.
Seven of the eight Ogham stones in this group were discovered in a souterrain at Coolmagort in the nineteenth century and have been set up on this site close to Dunloe Castle. The tallest stone is 8 feet high. There is also a prostrate slab taken from the grounds of nearby Kilbonane church.
Ogham stones were frequently used as lintels in the construction of underground passages. Because of their long protection from exposure, the Dunloe inscriptions are unusually well preserved. All are of a commemorative nature, as is usual in these monuments.
While all of the Lough Gur area is a must-see for anyone interested in Ireland’s pre-historic past the Lios is possibly the cream of the lot. It is a megalithic stone circle of about 150 feet in diameter built inside a wide bank of earth, apparently dating from 2000 – 1800 BC. The atmosphere is added to by its now being overgrown and containing trees. Leading up to the ring from the east is a paved path with ordered up right stones to either side.
The site appears to have been neither inhabited at any time, nor used for burial. Pottery was found however, including food vessels that had been deliberately, presumably ceremonially, broken. Near-by to the north are two more stone circles, one well-preserved, the other in ruins.
An ambiguous group of Bronze Age ritual and funerary monuments, overlying traces of Neolithic occupation in an area of cutaway bog to the south of the Sperrin Mountains, close to Cookstown, County Tyrone. Uncovered in stages since 1945, the structures comprise stone circles, tangential alignments and cairns, remarkable for their complexity and extent. It may safely be assumed that others await discovery beneath the all-pervading peat. As is usual in the Ulster Circles, the stones here are mostly of no great height, with the exception of one ring which consists of quite tall orthostats; its interior is studded with several hundred low spiky stones of unknown significance, and it also has a diminutive cairn set in the perimeter.
Only the alignments can fairly be described as megalithic, their angular boulders standing shoulder high in many cases. The cairns cover cists, in some of which cremated bone was found, and in one a procellanite axe.This unpromising landscaped looked vastly different to the first Stone Age farmers who settled here, perhaps sometime in the fourth Millennium BC.
A much mutilated but nonetheless impressive monument – one of only two stone circles recorded from Co. Donegal – situated on bleak Mass hill in the townland of Glack-Na-Drumman, a little over a mile from Culdaff village. Its ruinous state is largely the result of land clearance in the nineteenth century, when a number of its stones were overthrown and buried on the site. Either the operation proved unexpectedly troublesome, or superstition gained the upper hand, for the work was abandoned, leaving a dozen or so stones standing.
Several more have been removed since, but sufficient remain to indicate a ring with a diameter of 65-70 feet, consisting possibly of 30 stones originally. The surviving orthostats are fine specimens up to 6 feet high. Like stone circles elsewhere, it has figured in the orientation debate; Somerville 91929) proposed an alignment on the summer solstice for it, with distant Farragan hill as a marker. The site affords extensive views across the Inishowen peninsula, and this no doubt would have been a reason for its adoption in penal times as a place of clandestine Catholic worship; hence the name Mass Hill.
Located across the Glenealo river from St. Kevin’s Kitchen, the Deer Stone is thought to be a baptismal font of great antiquity. When the wife of one of the monastery workmen died during childbirth in the seventh century, Kevin is said to have prayed here and a doe came daily and deposited a supply of milk into the hollow of the stone for the baby. According to legend the child later became a disciple of Kevin.