Here's one for your Ireland bucket list: a visit to the Beltany Stone Circle.

Mystery still surrounds one of Ireland's Bronze Age gems: to this day Beltany Stone Circle, with its 64 standing stones, remains infamous thanks to local legends and folklore.

The impressive megalithic site located near the town of Raphoe in County Donegal is believed to date back to 1400-800 BC. However, it's uncertain as to what its uses were. 

While some believe that the stone circle was used for religious rituals, observations of the sun and moon, and the winter/summer solstices. It may also have been used for ceremonial purposes or burials.

According to local folklore, the stones of the circle were once human beings, who had been turned to stone as punishment for dancing on the Sabbath!

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“Beneath Our Heavens” - Beltany Stone Circle For thousands of years the landscape around Raphoe has been an important centre of ritual practise, a place of worship to where pre-Christian ancestors came to pay homage to their spiritual rulers such as the Sun & Moon. Near Raphoe on the summit of Beltany Hill stands this Bronze Age stone circle dating back 800 – 1400 BC. This stone circle comprises of 64 standing stones although it is thought that there may have been originally 80 stones. One of the stones which is about 2 metres in height stands to the southeast of the circle. It probably had some function related to the pagan ceremonies held in the circle. For years I’ve visited here during day light & wondered what this site actually looked like under the star? I believe these stones were aligned to the heavens in some way or other. So on a clear night I set out like ‘Sherlock Holmes’ to ‘Beltany Circle’ in hope of capturing the Milky Way or some recognisable night sky objects over the actual standing stones. On arrival I realised the Milky Way was way off alignment although I did manage to capture some great star constellations & deep space objects. From the left to the right of this photo can be seen Sirius our nearest & brightest star, Orion constellation, Pleiades Cluster (Seven Sisters), Taurus Constellation, Aries constellation & distant Spiral Galaxies ‘Messier 77/74’. All this can be seen in this one patch of sky directly above these mystical stones & as the earth rotates more objects come into sight. Our ancients certainly had their work cut out for them trying to understand & make sense of what they saw each night above them. Therefore I believe they aligned these stones possibly as a form of early calendar & place of worship to their ancient Gods in the night sky. In all my journeys across Ireland, Beltany stone circle holds the most mystery for me. I always wonder how & why this monument was constructed before the invention of the wheel or rope & why on this very sacred location? So many questions & to this very day no scientist or archaeologist really knows the answers! This ancient monument has already held its secrets for over 4000 years....

A post shared by Gareth Wray (@garethwrayphotography) on

It is believed the Beltany is linked with Bealtaine or 'May Day'; the fire festival celebrated by the Celts.

Read More: Ancient treasures stone circles and dolmens scattered across Ireland

Ancient-Origins.net states that "Traditionally, the Festival of Beltaine or Beltane was celebrated with the lighting of bonfires on the top of hills, and the movement of livestock to summer pastures. These celebrations were believed to ensure protection, as well as to guarantee a good harvest for the year. It has been suggested that the name of the site is an indication that the site’s function as a pagan ritual center had survived in the folk memory of the local population."

Photographer Gareth Wray, who captured the stunning images above, called Beltany Stone Circle a "totally different kind of beauty".

He writes, "In all my journeys across Ireland Beltany Stone Circle holds the most mystery for me. Often I wonder on how & why this monument was constructed even before the invention of the wheel or rope? Why where these stones each weighing tons transported all the way from “Barnesmore Gap” over 25 miles away to be stood on this sacred location? So many questions & to this very day scientists nor archaeologists don’t know the answers! This ancient monument has held its secrets for over 4000 years & I strongly believe it will hold them for 4000 more."

Read More: Wondrous Bronze Age cemetery newest archaeological discovery thanks to Irish heat wave

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