A tour of mystical, mythological Ireland
Take a tour through Irish ancient myth
Tyrone has the most stone circles; there are 61 known rings there. The most famous stone circle complex is at Beaghmore (“the moor of the birches”) in Co. Tyrone. The complex was accidentally uncovered in the 1940s while men were peat cutting. It took four years of excavation to remove a thick layer of protective peat and to uncover the 1269 stones of the seven-circle complex.
Thus far, seven stone circles, 13 cairns and several rows of standing stones that make up the Beaghmore complex have been uncovered, but it is assumed that even more are still hidden in the surrounding peat.
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.