The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian


Stone Circle


Information taken from leaflet obtained from the Heritage Centre at Raphoe.

Beltany Stone Circle (also spelt Beltony):
“On the summit of Beltony Hill just over a mile from Raphoe there stands one of the finest stone circle in Ireland. Reputed to be older than Stonehenge, it consists of 64 standing stones out of an original 80. The stones range in height from 4’ to 9’ (1.2-2.7 mts) while the diameter of the circle is 145 ft (44.2 mts). To the S.E. of the circle is an outlying stone 6 ft(2mts) high.
Beltony is a corruption of Baal Tine – the fire of Baal, this suggests the people who lived in this area worshipped Baal the sun god – ‘ruler of nature’.
Tradition tells us that the principle ceremonies were performed at Summer Solstice. A sacred fire was lit in the centre of the circle. The circle of stones were supposed to represent the stars and the fire in the centre the sun god Baal.
The Irish word for the month of May is Bealtine and on the first day of May two fires were lit. The cattle and other domestic animals were driven between the fires so as to gain protection against diseases. This custom is also practiced in parts of Brittany and Scotland.
One romantic tale with a puritanical flavour suggests that the outlying stone is a musician whilst the circle of stone are dancers who are turned to stone for their revelry during the Sabbath.
A more credible theory suggests that the outlying stone as well as other features of the adjacent horizon were used by these ancient peoples to determine astronomical alignments. Various alignments have been pointed out including the Winter and Summer solstice. The Spring and Autumn equinox and early November sunrise marking the beginning of the Celtic festival of Samain. But the most persuasive alignment must be from the tallest stone at the S.W. to the triangular stone decorated with cup marks at E.N.E. This alignment points to a small hill about five miles away known as Tullyrap where the sun rises over its small summit on the first day of May – the Celtic festival of Bealtaine from which this stone circle gets its name.”

Our visit took place on Thursday 26th May -
after stopping off briefly in the nearby town of Raphoe we followed the brown heritage signs to Beltony about 2 km outside of the town. There is a small parking place and a rather lovely wooded walk uphill to the Circle. The stone circle is one of the best I’ve seen, in my view comparable to Castlerigg and Sunkenkirk in Cumbria as, like them, it is surrounded by hills. There is an outlier stone similar, though not as big, to the Heel Stone at Stonehenge. A wonderfully atmospheric place in the lush green fields of east Donegal.
tjj Posted by tjj
31st May 2016ce

Comments (4)

"The stone circle is one of the best I’ve seen, in my view comparable to Castlerigg and Sunkenkirk in Cumbria as, like them, it is surrounded by hills."

Sounds perfect, looks lovely in your photos, yet another reason to get off this island and head next door.
thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
1st June 2016ce
Thanks for taking the time to read my notes tsc. I was staying on the west coast near Gleancholmcille which has some amazing and well hidden prehistoric (pre-Christian) sites. Donegal is a magical place. tjj Posted by tjj
2nd June 2016ce
Did you use any public transport or where you "with car"?

(I always read your notes!)
thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
2nd June 2016ce
Thanks Alken, much appreciated. I was with a friend who owns a small car and who enjoys driving. It would be very difficult indeed to get around in Donegal without a car though I did see some backpackers. We went by ferry from Holyhead to Dublin and then Friend drove up to Co Tyrone where we broke the journey overnight. We did visit a friend in Derry after Beltony though, and I really liked it as a city. Would consider going back there by public transport and seeing some of north Donegal from there.

Am still processing some of the ancient places and much to write about yet. In the broadest possible sense it was something of a pilgrimage :)
tjj Posted by tjj
2nd June 2016ce
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