Stone Circles. (What’s in a Name. 8.)




When we talk of Stone Circles we often think of the massive structures at places like Stonehenge where the stones themselves are twice the height of a man or more.

These however are the exceptions. The majority of stone circles are much more modest in size with stones of 1m. in height or less.


South West Ireland has a large number of these Megalithic monuments, and County Cork is particularly rich in them, but even so, they are much less numerous than other types of monument such as Gallauns or Ring Forts. The Archaeological Inventory shows 52 of them in Mid County Cork, of which only one lies in our Parish.


These monuments are believed to have been built in the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age (ie. 3000 to 1500 BC) although they may have been in use for much longer than this, perhaps up to 800 BC.


We do not know why they were built, but speculation usually suggests ceremonial or ritualistic uses. As with other stone structures there usually seems to be an astronomical aspect as well.


Stone Circles are distributed in Ireland very unevenly. There are large numbers in Mid Ulster and in Cork/Kerry, but very few in other parts. The Cork/Kerry ones are unique in design and these are the type commented on in this article.


A large number of Cork/Kerry Stone Circles have five stones. There are also examples that have more than five stones, but invariably in odd numbers. These Multiple Stone Circles have from seven stones up to a maximum of nineteen stones.


They are called Circles, and most of the Multiple type are indeed roughly circular. The five stone type are often D-shaped rather than truly circular.


The typical construction includes two large stones which form the entrance (the portal stones), and opposite this on the other side of the circle, and in a south-west inclination, is a small stone called the Axial. The remaining, less important stones, two to sixteen in number, are grouped around the circle equidistant from each other, and sometimes decreasing in height around the perimeter as they approach the Axial.

The entrance stones are often lying on their sides and with their axes in the line of the circumference.


Other features which you sometimes find are a further two stones outside the circle and forming a passage with the entrance stones. There was sometimes a fosse or ditch surrounding the whole structure. Many of the Multiple Circles have a single stone standing in the centre, and this is often found to be made from quartz.


Stone Circles sometimes contain burials and where these are found, they are usually single person cremations in small pits. There have not been many finds of artifacts, which would have helped with dating the Stone Circle.


The only Stone Circle in our Parish lies in the Townland of Teergay. It seems to have been a nine stone Multiple type, but only seven of the stones remain.


There are other good examples to be found nearby. There is a complete five stone Circle in Reananaree and another nine stone Circle close by in Gortanimill Townland. Others to seen locally are sited in Carrigaphooka, Coolaclevane, Carriganimmy, Carriganine, Lissacressig, Cappaboy Beg and Lumnagh More.


Most of these Stone Circles are on private land, difficult to find and difficult to access. When you do get to them, they are small, overgrown by grass and shrubbery and unimpressive. They are of enormous importance archaeologically but often disappoint the sightseer.

More visually impressive ones are to be found within a reasonable distance of us. There is the large Circle in Kenmare Town , known locally as "The Druids Circle" and situated in the Shrubberies near the Finnihy River. Another magnificent example one is to found at Drombeg near Union Hall.


There have been many theories put forward to explain how the Bronze Age people used the Stone Circle for their Religious Ceremonies but these remain theories and there is no proof of any sort. The one fact which is common to all these ideas is that there is a significant North East to South West alignment of the Circle. If you stand at the entrance of the Circle and look towards the axial stone, this alignment is usually towards the setting sun at the time of one of the great pagan Celtic feastdays such as Lá Samhna, or 1st.November. By a strange coincidence that is the very date on which I am writing these notes.

Perhaps you have your own theories as to what they got up to on these occasions, and certainly no one can prove you wrong.