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Established 16/3/2000
Ireland's Stonehenge: an examination
A tentative and non-scientific examination of some imagery and data relating to the Carnbeg site
Stonehenge discovery image

The "discovery" image

This is the original "discovery" image, taken by Dr. J.K. Joseph for the Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photographs (CUCAP) in the early 1970s. It appears to show a "crop mark" revealing two concentric circular shapes and perhaps a bigger circular shape. This orientation of the image is roughly looking south. The road is the R177 Dundalk to Armagh road. At the time of this photo, Carnbeg was under tillage.

It wasn't until 1988 that the archaeologist Victor Buckley saw this image and proposed that it might show the remains of Wright's Ballynahatne site which he drew about 240 years earlier.

The small circular feature to top left of image is a quarry which was opened at some time in recent centuries. In a 1737 map of the Carnbeg estate, a field here is marked "Quarry Field".

Carnbeg in Google Earth

Carnbeg today in Google Earth

This is the same scene as the above photo taken from Google Earth. Carnbeg is now a golf course, owned by the Kirk family. Actually, it's a former golf course, now disused. There are major plans for the Carnbeg site, which include a Newgrange-shaped concert arena which will seat between 8,000 and 10,000 people. This will be built to the upper left of the road which runs through the photo to the left. This is the road up to the golf club and hotel (Park Inn). While the landscape has seen significant changes, you can see the overall scene is still the same.

Carnbeg archaeology Google Earth

Geophysics results superimposed

This is the same Google Earth image with an image from a 2006 archaeological survey superimposed. The geophysical survey was undertaken by GSB Prospection Ltd (who have appeared on the Time Time programme on TV) for Margaret Gowen as part of an Environmental Impact statement for the proposed developments at Carnbeg. I've tried here to match the "rings" in the geophysics imagery to the two concentric rings shown in the original CUCAP image taken in the 1970s. This gives us a better sense of the position and scale of the monument in the golf course landscape. See a higher resolution version of the CUCAP image by clicking here.

Carnbeg Google Earth image with Wright drawing superimposed

Wright's drawing superimposed

This is the piece de résistance. Wright's drawing of the Stonehenge is here superimposed on the Google Earth image. Again in this instance I have tried to match as closely as possible the two inner circles of stones with the concentric circles which show up in the CUCAP image and also in the GSB Prospection geophysics. The jury is still out as to whether the existing monument remains at Carnbeg are those of Wright's Stonehenge. But if they are, this image reveals something very significant. The R177 Armagh Road would have truncated the monument when it was built in the 1750s. This is likely to have significantly damaged the large embankment. Today, the land along the R177 slopes steeply downwards, as if indeed some major alteration in the landscape might have been undertaken in the past.

Wright's 1746 Louthiana drawing of the Ballynahatne Stonehenge

In the above image, I have matched Wright's orientation correctly with Google Earth's indications of North etc and this is the result. Wright said the monument was open to the east, and marks "East" adjacent to the entrance to the henge on his drawing, which is reproduced here on left. Note that, although Wright says he estimates there were originally ten outer stones, he only indicates nine, and three of these are tenative. It appears the monument was already much denuded when he carried out his drawing in 1746 (published in 1748 in Louthiana). However, his is the only known depiction of this monument, which has sadly been vandalised in the intervenining period. Click the drawing to see a larger version.

Only time will tell if this monument at Carnbeg is indeed Wright's Stonehenge. Another possible henge site in the townland of Ballynahattin can pretty much be ruled out as the possible remains of Wright's monument, and certainly the limited visual and archaeological evidence so far would suggest that the Carnbeg site is the remains of this once wonderful Stonehenge. One thing that becomes very clear from studying this monument is that even the largest archaeological remains can be swept away. If Wright had not visited Louth in 1746 and if he had not drawn this view of the monument, we might never have known anything about it. Folklore seems bereft of references to this place, and the only other accounts in the 18th and 19th centuries seem to be borrowed from Wright's Louthiana. How many more magnificent monuments, huge in size and stature, have apparently disappeared from the surface of the earth without a trace?
All information and photos, except where otherwise stated, copyright, © Anthony Murphy, 1999-2015
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