It is believed that the stone circles date back to 1600 B.C., but field walls, fireplaces and flint tools discovered at the site suggest that it was in use since 2900 B.C.
It seems that the builders of the complex wanted to point the stone rows at the midwinter sunset, so some archaeologists believe that the circles were constructed to record the movements of the sun and moon in order to mark lunar and solar events.
Alternatively, the stone rows are thought by many to have been used for ancient rituals, either religious or social.
The Beaghmore Stones lie 10 miles west of Cookstown, and can be accessed for free at anytime.
Stop 5: Grianan Ailigh Letterkenny, Co. Donegal
An Grianan Ailigh is a mysterious circular stone fort which is thought to date back to 1700 B.C. The fort sits on the hill of Grianan, 750 feet above sea level, so the views from the surrounding Donegal countryside are amazing.
According to myth, the fort was built 4,000 years ago by the god of the people called Tuatha De Danann in order to house the grave of his son. The fort then became the seat of the Kingdom of Ailigh, and was a center of culture and politics during the rule of early Irish chieftains.
The road that leads to Grianan Ailigh can be accessed from the main Letterkenny to Derry road.
Stop 6: Carrowmore and Carrowkeel Co. Sligo
Carrowmore & Carrowkeel are two megalithic sites in Co. Sligo and once held over 200 tombs.
The two sites are joined by the Uinshin river, which flows from Lough Arrow to Ballisodare Bay – the main road during the Stone Age. This makes the Carrowmore/Carrowkeel area one of the most important centers of ancient mythological Ireland.
The location of the monuments, along with their breadth and majesty, shows the significance of the area, and the ancient Celtic people’s reverence for the dead.
The most extensive megalithic complex in Ireland, about 30 tombs can be viewed at the sacred lands of Carrowmore (though it is thought that up to 100 existed at one time).
The tombs are mostly “dolmen” circles, or a single tomb made of three or so upright stones supporting a large, flat, horizontal stone, surrounded by a circle of boulders. There is an average of 30-35 stones in each boulder circle, set side by side. Most circles are around 40 feet in diameter, but a few span up to 165 feet.
Carrowmore is classified alongside Newgrange and Loughcrew as part of the Irish Passage Tomb Tradition.
Within Carrowmore lies the Great Cairn of Knocknarea – also known as Queen Maeve’s Tomb.
The monument, 197 feet in diameter, was built about 6,000 years ago and is situated on the highest part of the flat top of Knocknarea mountain, 327 meters above the sea.
The cairn is one of the most impressive and well-preserved ancient monuments in all of Ireland, and stands in one of the most beautiful and visible locations of any passage tomb.
According to legend, the site is the resting place of Queen Maeve of Connaught in the Ulster cycle of Irish mythology, and an iconic Irish mythological warrior (this may help to explain why her tomb is so well preserved).
Queen Maeve is notorious for inciting the Tain Bo Culainge (“The Cattle Raid of Cooley”), where she led her province to war against Ulster to steal their prized bull.
Maeve’s choice to be buried on Knocknarea speaks volumes of its importance in Irish mythological history.
Carrowkeel, which lies atop the Bricklieve Mountains, is a collection of some of the most mysterious mounds in all Ireland. It is a lesser-known ancient site than Carrowmore, but is equally significant in Ireland’s mythical past and has one of the most beautiful locations of any megalithic site. Carrowkeel is the fourth major passage tomb cemetery in Ireland (the others being Newgrange, Loughcrew and Carrowmore).
Today, 14 passage tombs can be seen at Carrowkeel. One of the tombs is a “classic” Irish passage tomb – one that consists of a short passage you can crawl through, which leads to a central chamber with three equally spaced side chambers. What’s unique about the tomb is the roofbox above the entrance. The only other known roofbox exists at Newgrange, but while Newgrange is aligned to the Winter solstice, the Carrowkeel roofbox is aligned to the midsummer sunset, signaling two different types of rituals that must have taken place in the locations.
Both Carrowmore and Carrowkeel are very accessible from main roads in South Sligo.
Stop 7: The Rock of Cashel Cashel, Co. Tipperary
Legend has it that the Devil took a bit out of a side of a mountain in North Tipperary – now known as the Devil’s Bit – and then spat out a rock, which landed at Cashel. That rock is now known as the Rock of Cashel.
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