Deeply linked with myth and legend, here are five ancient stone circles in Ireland you need to visit in your lifetime.
It is well known that many of Ireland’s idyllic boreens and winding back roads lead to magnificent monuments from times gone by. Shrouded in mystery, these ancient structures are a source of great mysticism and intrigue for locals and tourists alike.
Heavily linked with myth and legend, these monumental megaliths have dominated the Irish landscape since as early as the Stone Age and will continue to do so for millennia to come.
While the intended purposes of stone circles are greatly uncertain, most experts agree that they served as gathering places for rituals and ceremonies and were of great importance to prehistoric communities.
If you have an interest in these monuments, there are plenty to visit as you travel around Ireland, and we have compiled a few of our top favourites.
Here are five ancient stone circles in Ireland that you need to visit before you die!
5. Ballynoe Stone Circle – a magical megalithic monument
The first stone circle on our list can be found in beautiful County Down. Located near a disused railway station, the Ballynoe Stone Circle is a large and complex site and consists of over 50 standing stones. It is thought that the site dates to around 2000 B.C., and its size makes it one of the most impressive stone circles in Ireland.
The original site was added to during the Bronze Age, and a burial mound was constructed within the main stone circle. In the 1930s, this mound was excavated by Dutch archaeologist Dr Albert Egges van Giffen, producing findings of stone cists containing cremated bones.
The site is well sign-posted, and access to the monument is along a magical trackway. The trail opens out into an open space where the impressive stone circle comes into view, complemented with sensational views of the Mourne Mountains.
Address: Bonecastle Rd, Downpatrick, Co. Down BT30 8ET
4. Athgreany Stone Circle – the legendary Piper’s Stones
Our next ancient stone circle is in stunning County Wicklow. Known locally as the Piper’s Stones, the picturesque Athgreany Stone Circle consists of fourteen granite boulders and likely dates to c. 1400 – 800 B.C. Some of the boulders are as large as 2 metres high and enclose an area of about 23 metres in diameter.
Athgreany or ‘Achadh Greine’ translates as ‘Field of the Sun’ and suggests that the site was dedicated to the observation of the Sun, particularly during major solar events such as the Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Autumn Equinox. Just to the north of the monument is a single standing stone or ‘outlier’ that is referred to as the piper.
Local legend relates that the circle and this outlying stone are the petrified remains of a piper and a group of dancers who were caught entertaining themselves on the Sabbath. They were turned to stone for their mischief and have stood in the same spot ever since! A hawthorn tree also grows on the circumference of the circle and has various associations with superstition, fairies, and folklore.
Address: Athgreany, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
3. Uragh Stone Circle – a truly mystical monument
Scattered along the stunning Beara peninsula along the Cork-Kerry coastline are several truly magnificent megalithic monuments. The most mystical of these is the stone circle at Uragh in County Kerry, standing between the Cloonee and Gleninchaquin Lakes, and featuring Inchaquin Waterfall as a backdrop.
While this ancient circle is relatively small with its five stones at a diameter of 2.4 metres, the monument is dominated by an enormous outlying standing stone, which stands at over 3 metres high. In the past, the centre of the circle has been dug out by treasure seekers.
The views from the monument are truly spectacular, and the location is magical. The site can be accessed by a path leading to the hilltop. The stone circle is hidden from view until you reach the top, and when you find it, it will most certainly take your breath away.
Address: Derrynamucklagh, Co. Kerry, Ireland
2. Beltany Stone Circle – shrouded in mystery
The next ancient stone circle you need to visit in Ireland is Beltany Stone Circle, a Bronze Age site dating from c. 2100 – 700 B.C, just 3km south of Raphoe town in County Donegal, Ireland. The views of the surrounding landscape are phenomenal and include the burial mound atop nearby Croaghan Hill.
This great stone circle is as old as Newgrange in County Meath and is just as shrouded in mystery. The monument features 64 remaining standing stones, of an estimated original 80 or more, and a 2-metre-high outlier stone just southeast of the main circle. The circle’s centre was reportedly disturbed in the 18th and 19th centuries by locals using loose stones to build farmsteads and field boundaries.
As its name suggests, Beltany likely had associations with the feast of Bealtaine. It is also believed that there is evidence of astronomical alignment involving two sets of two stones. One of the alignments takes place at sunrise in early May, while the other corresponds with the winter solstice. A truly remarkable feat!
Address: Tops, Raphoe, Co. Donegal, Ireland
1. Drombeg Stone Circle – Ireland’s most visited stone circle
Top of our list is Drombeg Stone Circle, located in County Cork and known locally as the Druid’s Altar. It is one of Ireland’s most visited megalithic sites and is protected under the National Monuments Act.
The circle consists of seventeen sandstone pillar stones, each at a height of about 2 metres. The midpoint of one of the stones is set in line with the winter solstice sunset viewed in a conspicuous notch in the distant hills.
In the late 1950s, the stone circle was excavated, and the cremated remains of a young adolescent were found in an urn at the circle’s centre. Also present at the site is a ‘fulacht fiadh’, or prehistoric communal cooking pit. Radiocarbon dating of samples taken from the site suggests that it was originally active c. 1100 to 800 B.C. and was reused throughout the centuries.
The best time to visit this monument is early morning as there is a continuous flow of visitors to this popular site. The stone circle can be accessed along a trackway from a carpark about 400 metres away.
Address: Drombeg, West Cork, Co. Cork, Ireland