And so to Whiteleas. Sometimes I wonder why we do this: what is it that pulls us through muddy fields, over barbed wire fences, calls us to tread and traipse across land that's unwelcoming, ungracious, bitter. East of here are the Wicklow hills, free and unfettered, peat-covered, wild and uneasy. But down here is order; straight lines and permissions. Well excuse me to all that. There was a stone circle here once and I'm going to find out what, if anything, remains. Lorg na gcloch indeed.
I parked at Ballysize, Bealach Saghas, the road to god knows where. About face and back across the N81, up the road towards Broadleas and Ballymore Eustace, over the first field gate on the left and back into Kildare. The ground is marshy, reedy and there are two streams to ford.
This is a search for traces. The heroes of the various archaeological surveys have kept at it, pulling together a disparate range of sources, from folklore to old maps, aerial archives and fieldwork. 50 years of the Archaeological Survey of Ireland was recently celebrated with, amongst other things, a supplement in Archaeology Ireland magazine. It contains a short piece about he NMS public viewer, a highly addictive resource for the likes of us here, and I would never have been able to investigate this ruin without it.
Go to the red dot that marks the site and what does remain is a slightly raised platform and two pillar-like stones, one embedded flat into the turf, beside a gate in a large pasture field. It has probably been used as a tillage field in the past. Beyond the platform to the south-east the ground starts to slope quite rapidly down, ending in a boggy swamp over the field wall that is bordered by massive and, in their own way, ancient beech and birch trees.
Face south-east from the platform, for the views in any other direction are flat and obscure, and the eye is pulled towards the cleavage-like display of Sleivecorragh and Church Mountains. Slievecorragh is 418 metres high, Church Mountain is 544 metres high, but the illusion created from our viewing place shows them to be of equal height. Both have cairns. I've been to the top of Sleivecorragh and have seen that its cairn has been robbed out and mostly denuded, so its nipple is less prominent than its neighbour.
Broughills Hill, visible further east may well have been the mother's head, placed as it is in the landscape, but I think we can leave that speculation aside and definitively say why the circle was built here.
When Walshe visited the site in 1931 it was already in ruins. Today it's nothing but a memory, a trace, with 2 possible circle stones left (why?). What happened? I don't really know, but sometime between 1931 and 1985 the circle was destroyed. That is the deliberately neutral view. The biased view is that some ignoramus of a landowner, either maliciously or thoughtlessly rode over this place of heritage, smashed all traces of the old (I hesitate to use the word) temple and nearly erased the memory of a people that worshipped the land, the very land from which he sought to wring a few more dollars or shekels or beads. But sure who am I to judge his actions? Isn't there always hunger? But Slievecorragh remains, and so does Church Mountain, testament enough.
Liam Price visited the circle in 1929 and was unimpressed:
"Whiteleas. The stone circle is S of Whiteleas House, about 600yds, and just N of the county boundary. It is a roughly raised circular piece of ground with a number of boulders in disorder about it, and two or more in the centre. A very rough monument. Lord W. Fitzgerald mentions it. The only noticeable thing about it is there are two white quartz boulders on N part, and one on E."
21st April 1929
The Liam Price Notebooks – The placenames, antiquities and topography of County Wicklow
Edited by Christiaan Corlett and Mairéad Weaver
2002 Dúchas, The Heritage Service
In gently undulating, wet, rushy pasture. Walshe (1931, 127) describes it as, ‘a ruined stone circle, 26 yards [c. 23.8m] in diameter. Of the fifteen stones still extant, only 6 remain in their original position.’ In 1985, the stone circle was found to have been destroyed, with two large displaced pieces of rock on the site which may originally have formed part of the circle (SMR file). A second stone circle (KD029-023----) stands c. 830m to the NNE in Broadleas Commons townland.
Compiled by: Gearóid Conroy
Date of upload: 16 September 2013
Date of last visit: 25 October 1985
Walshe, P.T. 1931 The antiquities of the Dunlavin-Donard district. Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 61, 113-41.