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

Dun Ruadh

Stone Circle


Sometimes when we head out we aim big from the get go. We’d been in Tyrone and Derry a few times this year and there was a seriously glaring omission. Ten or so years ago I’d made a fairly feeble attempt at Dun Ruadh and had been thinking about it since, kind of saving it for some sort of epiphanic occasion from deep within my imagination.

We parked at the old, abandoned schoolhouse at the bottom of the farm lane. Turns out this was built ‘of stones looted from the cairn’ in 1877. There was, what we thought to be, a dead sheep lying in the small courtyard at the front of the building. Creepy. We headed up to the farmhouse and knocked looking for permission. Nothing doing, no-one in, except the dogs in the yard. Well, here we are, and Dun Ruadh is just up there, a couple of gates and fences away. So here we go, spending some time at the small chamber on the way.

The territory is reclaimed farmland, sheep and some cattle. Estyn Evans, writing in 1966, says that the cairn “reaches a maximum height of 7 ft. and it is unlikely to have been much higher because at this point it is capped by a small patch of peat which presumably covered the entire site before the cairn was plundered.” And plundered and plundered and excavated or, again Evans, “much mutilated”… to the point where you wonder what the point is.

So first off, let me say I loved Dun Ruadh. It truly is special. But, and I didn’t want there to be a but, but there is… gorse is colonising the whole south-western paved area and ‘entrance’, hugely detracting from the impact of the place, eating into the inner ‘courtyard’, gobbling up the space and crowding out the vibe. Which is not to say that there’s no vibe there at all.

The ancient rubble of the horseshoe cairn retains such a huge amount of rustic magic as to obliterate my cynicism. Some of the excavated cists are visible in the cairn and the whole place has an air of quiet mystery. There’s no activity on the expanse of the hillside save a very few sheep and the atmosphere of the place seems to be funnelled through the monument. The orthostats of the ring, though gradually being encroached on by the gorse, blankly stare into the inner space, silently ceremonial, transporting us willingly to a lost time of mystery and wonder.

There is the possibility that such an important site as Dun Ruadh could be taken into state care, like at Beaghmore six kilometres to the east, where the manicured intrusiveness hardly detracts from the magic of the place, but in the end I know I’d hate that, all perfect fences, no doubt tight up to the stones, and explanatory noticeboards and the rugged ruin-ness all tidied up. Which is not to say that a half an our and a bushman wouldn’t improve matters. Arriving back at the car, the ‘dead’ sheep was back on its feet, corralled temporarily at the schoolhouse, giving us a lesson in lightheartedness.
ryaner Posted by ryaner
23rd October 2021ce
Edited 26th October 2021ce

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