Needless to Drombeg (Droumbeag) was very high on my list of stone circles to visit in Cork. However, as it was on the south coast my companion (and driver) sensibly suggested we visit on our return journey to Wexford. So it was with something of a heavy heart that we drove away from beautiful, wild, West Cork towards the more lushly green pastures of the south. I'm not sure if this coloured my visit - Drombeg is in a wonderful setting but I didn't experience quite the same thrill as on the Beara Peninsula - coming across Cashelkeelty by chance on our first full day, followed by Ardgroom. Once again I refer back to Jack Robert's marvellous little book - full of inspired drawings and a comprehensive guide to all the many ancient sites in West Cork. I can't recommend it too highly (can be obtained from bookshops in Bantry and Kenmare).
Taken from “Exploring West Cork” by Jack Roberts
Droumbeag, stone circle, Fulach Fiann and Fort
Named after the townland in which it stands- drum beag (the small ridge) this is perhaps the most well known prehistoric monument in West Cork and easily found as it is liberally signposted from Rosscarbery or Leap. The circle and its attendant Fulach Fian were excavated in 1958 and the findings from this circle constitute a large proportion of our present knowledge of the use and age of these monuments.
The circle has survived in an almost perfect state of preservation, only one of the stones on the eastern side have fallen, and it probably appears now much as it did to those who came here in pre-Christian times. The circle consists of thirteen stones around an area that was cleared and paved with small flat stones. The excavations have revealed a number of burial pits, one of which contained cremated human remains. Unfortunately none of the findings has established a date for the structure but it is thought it may have still been in use towards the beginning of the Christian era.
The name ‘Recumbent Stone Circle’ is thought to have originated from this circle in which the features of this type of monument are particularly pronounced. The recumbent is a large flat-topped block that is loosely set on the ground, not embedded like all the other stones, and bears three deeply carved cup and ring marks. On the opposite side of the circle are the ‘Portal and Pillar stones’, and it is thought that the circle is set in alignment running through the pillars and across the recumbent. This alignment at Droumbeg is towards the winter sun-set which sets in a cleft of the hill to the south-west.
To the west of the circle are the foundations of what are called ‘hut sites’ one of which is set around a hollow in which there is a stone basin fed with water from a nearby spring. This type of monument is also called a Fulach Fian – cooking place of the hunters - and it is thought that the basin was used as a cooking pot. All around this area are the remains of fires and burnt stone and it thought that the pot was heated by dropping hot stones into the water. However there is some thought that says the use of such sites was actually more ritualistic in nature, a steam bath or early sauna?.
The excavation of Drombeg by Fahy (JCHAS 1959) revealed that the entire inner area of the circle was covered with a gravelled floor layer up to 10cm thick. The modern surface is therefore not only highly practical but also in keeping with the original design - perhaps for similar reasons.
A beautiful site in an equally beautiful location. Drombeg's dark reputation doesn't seem to hold up. The setting of the portals and recumbent is perfect and easy to work out. The nearby huts and cooking place add to the atmosphere.
I always leave sites with a bit of other people's litter - a used flourescent red condom from the recumbent was taken from this vist. Nice.
This well known site has long had a sinister reputation for human sacrifice. Excavations which took place in the late 1950s found offerings of human remains, suggesting this may well have been the case.
From Burl's 'Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany':
"In September, 1935, Boyle Somerville returned to Drombeg with a psychic, Miss Geraldine Cummings. She did not like the place. She felt it was a centre of nature and sun worship conjoined with the moon, a place where animals, if not small children, were sacrificed at each winter solstice. She 'saw' a priest in blue and saffron robes standing at the altar of the recumbent about to kill his human offering.
There were weekly ceremonies but 'the great Day of the Blood Sacrifice was near the end of December. Then horrible things were practised in the twilight. There were strange dances in which men and women stabbed each other in a frenzy. There was an abandonment in action and behaviour which I may not describe.' Drombeg was cursed. It was 'guarded by the spirits of darkness'."
"You enter the circle between the two largest or portal stones, which are both bigger than you. Directly opposite, on the other side of the circle, is a stone called 'recumbent' or 'axial' by archaeologists; by which they mean it lies sidewards rather than upwards. Ancient markings have been carved on it's upper surface. It's been suggested that they represent axes, and this proves that these circles were not a place of worship, but the focal points of a Cult of the Axe which existed in Western Europe in Neolithic times. Or the stones may have enclosed a market-place, and the axial stone was the counter on which goods were traded.
I have to say, though, that shopping seems an unlikely motive to me. Proponents of this undeniable imaginative theory make comparisons with shopping malls, which might be seen as the new temples. Shoppers are worshippers, McDonalds is the sacrament, Nike provide the vestments; but the theory is of course rampant bollocks, and seems so particularly in a part of the world where there are no malls, but you can still buy a bicycle in a pub. The stone is quite clearly, an altar stone, and something would have been placed or celebrated- or sacrificed-on it."
The word Drombeg means 'The Small Ridge'. The site is known locally as 'The Druid's Altar'.
Roughly 120 feet away are the remains of two prehistoric stone huts, which have a doorway connecting them. One of the huts has a cooking place, which was still in use up to the 5th Century CE. A trough located within this kitchen was used for boiling water. This was done by dropping red hot stones into the water. It has been tested, and it showed that 70+ gallons of water could be boiled for three hours using this method.