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.
I remembered from last visit that you only need follow the signs from Raphoe to get here quickly and easily. Well, yet again another Donegal signpost has been molested. As you leave Raphoe, the brown sign on the grassy knoll should point to the right hand road from the fork, not straight on.
After asking a very enthusiastic walker I found my way back and parked up at the bottom of the lane, slipping into something more uncomfortable as I got out of the car. My walking boots and waterproofs. Walking up the lane I realised you can see the circle as you approach, this didn't hit me last time because it was pitch black. Anyway, its a nice way to view the circle as a whole so check it out if your passing.
Arriving in the gate the light was absoltely perfect, strong low sun to the south and dark menacing clouds to the northwest. Fantastic! Arriving back at Beltany circle was exhilerating, I left in gloom the last time so didn't really get a good view of its magnificence in good light. This is one site with serious vibes. As the clouds came and passed the shadows and shapes cast by the light were almost surreal, I felt like running and shouting and perhaps I did, there wasn't another sinner for miles! This is what its all about.
I spent some time exploring what remains inside and I became more and more convinced that this was not just a simple pile of stones and earth inside, with the light raking over the protruding stones broken shapes and patterns appeared and dissapeared in the ruins. Whatever was once here truly must have been magnificent, why waste all those beautiful views?
After the mind boggling Beaghmore at sunset the evening before, Beltany feels a wilder, more foreboding place than the almost amusingly scattered Tyrone complex. Maybe this was due to the fact that I arrived here while it was still dark and the tree lined laneway up to the circle was much longer and spookier than I had anticipated.
There are lots of curiously shaped stones, the two largest stones are extraordinary. This site was once a true masterpeice, now in its slightly ruined state it still hits the psychological nerve ends.
Even after dawn there was not enough light to find all the marked stones but I did find the large stone with dozens of cup marks on its inner face and attempted to get a good photo of them.
beltany tops, near raphoe, co. donegal... on a wild windy day,made my way through the hills of inishowen to this fabulously dramatic circle. it is in the centre of a circle of mountains itself on a small hilltop easily found ( signposted from main road ) and then easy to lose yourself in!! the whole cairn is raised up and the stones lean out and up into the sky, some shot with white quartz and sparkling with energy.. as with so many beautiful sites, this is wonderfully unspoilt, a small heritage sign, scattered incense stick, tut tut.. but otherwise an incredible 360 degree view of the land all around you.. even the rain stopped for a short while, enough to light your face and warm the cockles.. this truly is a place with a playful joyful vibe and the stones an extremely comfortable place to sit awhile.. go to and enjoy! love lissy X
"A Druidical temple somewhat resembling that at Stonehenge in size and structure…The place is called Baltony, a name not uncommon in some districts of Ireland. It is supposed to be a corruption of Baal tinné, the ‘fire of Baal,’ — intimating a spot where that Deity was particularly worshiped in Ireland…Among the rigid Presbyterians of the North, such remains of antiquity are lightly regarded because they are deemed remnants of superstition and idolatry, although some respect has been paid to them by its respected proprietors."
Mr. & Mrs. Hall, Ireland: Its Scenery, Character, etc., 18411