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Beltany Stone Circle

This remarkable, 5,000 year old megalithic site of stone circles in County Donegal is reminiscent of Stonehenge in Britain. Constructed before the Bronze Age, the Beltany Stone Circle is around 45 metres / 150ft in

Constructed before the Bronze Age, the Beltany Stone Circle is around 45 metres / 150ft in diameter, and contains 64 stones, some of them 2.4 metres / 8ft tall. They encircle a large area of raised ground. Research carried out on behalf of a local group, Raphoe Community In Action and funded by the Irish Heritage Council, dated the megalith to around 3,000 BCE and concluded it is almost certainly the ruins of a passage tomb / burial mound. Located just 2 miles / 3.5km  from the town of Raphoe, and a 20-minute drive from 

Research carried out on behalf of a local group, Raphoe Community In Action and funded by the Irish Heritage Council, dated the megalith to around 3,000 BCE and concluded it is almost certainly the ruins of a passage tomb / burial mound. Located just 2 miles / 3.5km  from the town of Raphoe, and a 20-minute drive from 

Located just 2 miles / 3.5km  from the town of Raphoe, and a 20-minute drive from Letterkenny, the site is somewhat dishevelled due to interference several decades ago. Many of the slabs have unfortunately been pushed into a slanting positions, where originally they would have been upright. The circular structure and mound can be clearly seen from the air.

The circular structure and mound can be clearly seen from the air.

360-degree walk around the Beltany Stone Circle

Purpose of the Mysterious Stone Circle

As well as being a passage tomb, its name suggest that this neolithic site was also used to commemorate the ancient Celtic springtime festival of Beltane (pronounced Bell-tinn-uh) -- the May Day (1st May) festival, which in Christian times became associated with the Easter festival. Easter is still translated in Gaelic as Bealtine .

  • During this feast of fertility, Ireland's ancient people lit great hilltop fires to the Celtic sun god Bel, to rejuvenate the weakened winter sun
  • The Celtic druids would recite incantations and perform other rituals here -- with the aim of producing a great harvest in the months ahead
  • The circle may also have astronomical connections, as one stone points to the spot on the horizon where the sun rises on the first of May.

The Beltany Stone Head

This Iron Age stone carving depicting what is most likely a Celtic god was found in fields near Raphoe some decades ago. The best-known example among many ancient stone idols found in the Raphoe area, its stylized features and the presence of a neck-ring or torc suggests it is from the late Iron Age period, or around 2,000 years old.

Known as The Beltany Stone Head, historians believe this and other idols indicate the stone circle was used for centuries -- even thousands of years -- after its original construction. They believe the stone head may have been used in ritual practices at the Circle -- perhaps to ward off evil spirits.

The Beltany Stone Head is now located at the National Museum in Dublin. Visitors can, however, also see a replica in the Donegal County Museum in Letterkenny.

Fees / Visiting Times

The Beltany stone circle is a public heritage site and is FREE to visit at any time.

Images

Beltany Stone Circle. Image by Philip Hay

Beltany Head (Replica). Now housed at Donegal Museum. Image by Mary Harte

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