Drombeg Stone Circle – Our visit to The Druid’s Altar, Ireland
We found the Recumbent Drombeg Stone Circle in a pastoral valley that was very similar to the one where Coppinger’s Court is situated.
The Standing Stones are high on the side of the valley overlooking a series of hills all clad in luxurious green fields and zigzagging hedgerows.
As with most directional signs in Ireland, this one has the place name given in both Irish (Gaeilge), also known as Irish Gaelic, and English. The word Drombeg means “the small ridge”, and marks where the ruins are located 2.4 kilometres east of Glandore. Drombeg is the finest of the many stone circles in County Cork, and dates back to about 150 B.C.
The lovely recumbent stone circle is also known as The Druid’s Altar, and from its location on the edge of a rocky terrace, worshippers presided over a view that gently sweeps down to the Atlantic ocean a mere 1.6 kilometres away.
One couldn’t ask for a more stunning vista; it certainly impressed Bob and me.
Drombeg Stone Circle consists of 17 closely-spaced, smooth-sided sandstone pillars, 2 of which were replaced in the sockets of missing original stones after a 1958 excavation at the site. The sculpted, honey-coloured stones enclose a circle with a 31-foot (9.5 metres) diameter…
a circle where, at one time, victims of human sacrifice died and the blood-curdling wail of the banshee announced the newly departed.
Many of Ireland’s prehistoric monuments have a similar legendary connection to the Druids that includes grisly stories of human sacrifice. Archeological findings at most of these sites, however, do not support such legends, but rather confirm that most megalithic monuments were created thousands of years before the era of the Druids, that being in the late Iron Age.
It is a different story at Drombeg Stone Circle. Excavations in 1957 and 1958 turned up cremated bones in a strategically broken pot that was wrapped with a thick cloth and buried near the centre of the circle. This tantalizing evidence gives credence to Drombeg’s rather dark reputation,
and even had the highly respected archeologist, Aubrey Burl, claiming that the cremated bones were connected to a “…dedicatory offering, perhaps a sacrifice…”.
Burl went on to conclude that “Nearby there had been a pyre on which the body of an adolescent had been consumed. The cremate bones had been raked up and placed in an already broken pot…” Other findings included additional smashed shards, bits of shale and sweepings from a pyre, all adding to the evidence of human sacrifice.
As I pondered the significance of the Stone Circle, I couldn’t help but wonder how ancient people managed to align the monument almost perfectly in the direction of the sunset at midwinter solstice.
The recumbent stone is directly opposite what is thought to be the ceremonial entrance portal, denoted by two 7-foot stones.
At the winter solstice, the last rays of the setting sun align from the portal to fall on the mid-point of the 1.9-metre (6 ft. 10 in.) recumbent stone, and almost line up with a discernible notch in the distant hills.
When Bob examined the recumbent stone, thought to be the sacrificial altar, he noticed two egg-shaped depressions that had been carved into the rock.
These concave indentations are referred to as cup marks or cup and ring marks, and in fact, there is a ring around one of the cup marks on Drombeg’s recumbent stone. They are a type of prehistoric artwork that was pecked into the rock’s surface.
Because of the archeological evidence uncovered at Drombeg Stone Circle, it has become the most-visited of the stone circles in Ireland.
Of course, we can only ever speculate as to the rituals that actually occurred there two or more thousand years ago, but the sheer existence of the stone circle evokes an other-worldly spirit and will remain forever mysterious.
Drombeg Stone Circle is not the only important historic ruin found at this location.
A mere 40 metres west of the stone circle are the ruins of two prehistoric huts that were built with stone walls and were joined together with one shared common doorway.
It is believed that, during the late Iron Age, celebrants came to Drombeg Stone Circle to commemorate the memory of the site’s original ritual. The travelers would have been housed and fed either in the larger hut that had a timber roof or the smaller hut that featured a cooking oven.
A 9-metre stone walkway leads from the two huts to a fulacht fiadh, which is an outdoor cook-site. Bob and I were thrilled to find such a good example of a hearth, the well from which water was obtained, and a trough where the water was boiled by adding red-hot stones from the adjacent hearth.
We were impressed with the size of the trough, which is large enough to hold 70 gallons of water and therefore sufficiently spacious to slow-cook a side or two of venison at one time.
Evidence provided from carbon dating suggests that this Iron Age crockpot was used right up until the end of the 5th century CE. We speculated that it may have served as a seasonal shelter for bands of hunters who spared no interest in the Stone Circle nearby.
Whatever the case, experiments carried out by Fahy proved that 70 gallons of water could be brought to a vigorous boil within 18 minutes by adding glowing-hot stones, and that the water would remain hot for almost three hours.
It is interesting to note that fulacht fiadh are the most common archeological sites in Ireland. Over 4,500 have been recorded with an astounding 2,000 being found in County Cork alone. Access to wild game, water and rocks were the three key ingredients considered when building one of these cooking sites.
Bob and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the history of the monument and exploring the Drombeg Stone Circle site. Together with the prehistoric huts, it gave us lots to think about.