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Concentric circles Ballynahattin (Carnbeg) - Ireland's Stonehenge Concentric circles

A huge Irish monument once dubbed Ireland's "Stonehenge", may at one time have been a "school of astronomy", where ancient skywatchers studied the risings of various heavenly bodies during the year. The ancient ceremonial enclosure, at Ballynahattin just north of Dundalk, Co. Louth, was recorded by Thomas Wright in 1748 in his 'Louthiana', a survey of castles, antiquities and ancient remains of County Louth.


Ireland's Stonehenge in 1748
Britain's Stonehenge

Britain's Stonehenge - it seems Ireland had one too

Wright described the site as the "ruinous remains of a temple or theatre on the planes (sic) of Ballynahatne, near Dundalk, enclosed on one side with a rampart and ditch, and seems to have been a great work, of the same kind with that at Stonehenge in England, being open to the East and composed of like circles of stones within."

"But it appears to be much older, many of the stones being broke, and others removed: The number of large ones in the outward circle, I judge to have been originally ten . . ." His drawing of the site shows a massive circle of stones outside the earthwork and a double ring of smaller stones in the interior.


In an amusing aside to this story of ancient astronomy, the 130-metre enclosure seemed to have disappeared in 1907, when Henry Morris wrote in the County Louth Archaeological Journal that the site was, "Gone! Cleared away; its very site not exactly known". Morris continued, "The townland of Ballynahaitinne is still there . . . but there is no Irish Stonehenge to be found in it. The site of this lay somewhere near the railway line, and some persons believe that it was destroyed when the railway line was being constructed."

Archaeologist Victor Buckley, co-author of the Archaeological Survey of County Louth, explained that the site had not disappeared at all, even though extensive enquiries by Henry Morris, and a field survey by the Office of Public Works in the 1960s, failed to 'unearth' the enclosure. "The answer to this lost 'site' lay in looking for it from the air," Buckley explained. Ireland's Stonehenge 'reappeared' in an aerial photograph of the townland of Carn Beg a few kilometers north of Dundalk taken in the early 1970s by Dr. J.K. St. Joseph, of Cambridge University.

"On re-examining Wright's account of the site, it can be seen that he relates the site to the "planes (plains) of Ballynahatne", not to the townland of Ballynahattin. Carn Beg is the townland immediately to the west of Ballynahattin and is one of a small number of townlands forming a level plain with rough and rising ground to the north, east and west," Mr. Buckley explained.

"Showing on the aerial photograph is a cropmark, formed by wind-blown cereals, revealing the pattern of a large enclosure roughly 130m. in diameter with two smaller concentric rings in the interior. The flattening of the crop is an effect known as "lodging" and is due to less wind resistance in crops which have grown higher over buried ditches and pits."

Ballynahattin cropmark

The cropmark at Carn Beg which is all that remains of Ireland's "Stonehenge"


Despite not being able to find the site in 1907, Henry Morris did have some tantalising information about the site: "I have read or heard it stated somewhere that this place was the site of a school of astronomy. Its position on the plain, with a semicircle of mountains around would enable an ancient astronomer to observe and mark the places where the various heavenly bodies appeared on the horizon at different times of the year."

This little anecdotal gem is important because it may show how the ancient monument builders used significant landmarks and distant horizon features to mark the risings and settings of heavenly bodies, as is the case at the Baltray standing stones, where the Rockabill Islands were used to mark the position of Winter Solstice sunrise.

Morris says that stone circles shown in Wright's illustration may also have been used for the same purpose. He has some praise for the 18th century author also: "Peace to the ashes of Thomas Wright! But for him we of this generation should never know of the existence of these mysterious monuments."

To read more about this fascinating monument, don't forget to refer to Island of the Setting Sun - In Search of Ireland's Ancient Astronomers, where you will find the fascinating story of this Stonehenge in chapter 5: 'Cosmic Circles: The Giant Rings'.

2008 UPDATE: I am now devoting my research time to finding out more about Ireland's Stonehenge with the intention of writing a book about it. In recent weeks I have made significant progress in the hunt for information about what happened to this huge monument. It turns out the monument may not have completely disappeared and some answer may yet be given as to what happened its giant stones. But to reveal that here would be to spoil the surprise! Watch this space.

In my hunt for mentions of this place, I have found a number of references, but sadly all the writers seem to have simply borrowed from Wright's description of the monument. Therefore no new information can be gleaned from these reports. They include references in Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837, p.572) which describes the monument as "the remains of a Druidical temple partly enclosed by a curving rampart"; James Norris Brewer in his 'The Beauties of Ireland' says, "On the plain of Balynahatne are the remains of a circular temple, appearing to have been originally composed of four concentric circles of upright stones. This temple was encompassed with a rampart and ditch, admitting of an opening towards the east"; Joseph Guy in Elements of British History (1836) tells us, "The ruinous remains of a circular temple near Dundalk is like that at Stonehenge and composed of similar circles of stones". However, as stated above, some new information has come to light about what happened the stones. I will announce further updates here as they arise.

NEW: A tentative and non-scientific examination of aerial photography and other imagery associated with the possible ceremonial enclosure (Ireland's Stonehenge). Click here to see this brief study.

Works consulted: Buckley, V.M., 1988, "Ireland's Stonehenge - a lost antiquarian monument rediscovered", Archaeology Ireland 2, no. 2, pps.53-54. Buckley, V.M., and Sweetman, P.D., 1991 "Archaeological Survey of County Louth". Morris, Henry, 1907, "Louthiana: Ancient and Modern", County Louth Archaeological Journal, Vol. 1, No.4, pp.61.

The British Stonehenge, located on Salisbury Plain, is perhaps even more famous worldwide than Newgrange. The earliest portion of Stonehenge dates to approximately 2950-2900 BC, so it is a few hundred years later than Newgrange. To find out more about Stonehenge, visit this website.

Free Stonehenge Wallpapers and backgrounds

Stonehenge Wallpaper by Christopher Holt
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Stonehenge in the mist by Christopher Holt
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Stonehenge in the snow from
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Sunrise at Stonehenge
Sunrise at Stonehenge - an image by Sem 1024x768 1152x864
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All information and photos, except where otherwise stated, copyright, © Anthony Murphy, 1999-2015
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