Co. Cork’s Megalithic Heritage

Our ancestors left us amazing Irish gifts of heritage and art in every county of Ireland. While the Boyne Valley in County Meath is the largest megalithic site in Ireland, it isn’t the only one. Counties Cork and Kerry have their share of stone circles, and Drombeg is arguably the most beautiful. Located near the charming harbour village of Glandore in west Cork, Drombeg offers a view of postcard perfect fields with the Atlantic Ocean in the background. Carbon dating indicates the site could date back as far as 1100 BC.

Thirteen of the original 17 stones are still in place forming a circle with a 31-foot diameter. Our ancestors arranged these massive stones in a very specific way, telling us that their placement had meaning and purpose. Two tall stones known as portal stones mark the entrance. Directly across the circle from them is the shortest stone in the circle, the axial stone. This stone has two shallow indentations carved on the top of it. The other 14 stones sit in descending size order with the tallest nearest the portal stones and the shortest flanking the axial stone.

Like many of Ireland’s megalithic sites, this relates to the solstice. Specifically, Drombeg’s circle of stones was designed so that on the day of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the horizon at sunset appears as a line running directly across the middle of the circle. On all days, when you stand in the entrance, the sun appears above the axial stone. Irish writers get all the limelight, but clearly a talent for math is somewhere in our heritage of Irish gifts.

Drombeg’s Disturbing History

Drombeg is known as the Druid’s Alter. While we don’t know exactly what the druids did there, the clues they left behind are fairly disturbing. During excavations in 1957, archaeologists found human remains at the site. They discovered a pit in the center of the circle containing a broken urn. Inside the urn, they found the cremated remains of an adolescent wrapped in a cloth. Was it a human sacrifice? While many believe it was, we have no way to know for sure. But it was not an ordinary death of an ordinary person.

Another prehistoric site lies immediately west of Drombeg. It includes an ancient cooking pit (a fulacht fiadh) and the remains of two huts. Experts believe the ancient Celts filled this type of stone lined pit with water, which they then brought to boiling by dropping large stones they had heated with fire into it. Studies have shown that it would have been possible to keep 70 gallons of water boiling for three hours using this method. Perhaps this is the root of west Cork’s fame for exceptional food!

West Cork has much to offer visitors. Those who love Irish gifts featuring artwork inspired by the famous megalithic carvings at Newgrange can find many ancient sites to explore here, in addition to the unmissable Drombeg stone circle.