There’s one more thing we saw during our lovely honeymoon in County Cork that I’d like to write about: Drombeg Stone Circle. I’ve always been fascinated by those mysterious prehistoric monuments, but I’ve got absolutely hooked on them ever since I visited ‘my’ first Neolithic burial chamber earlier this year in Anglesey, Wales:
So, when we started studying the map of West Cork, I noticed immediately that Drombeg Stone Circle lies just a few miles west of Skibbereen – one of the most famous ancient monuments in all of Ireland! Ian and I agreed: we HAD to see it! ‘My’ first stone circle…
Just like Bryn Celli Ddu in Anglesey, Drombeg literally lies in the middle of nowhere, in between meadows with cows and sheep. There’s a small car park about half a mile away, and a narrow path leads on to the site. And what a magnificent sight when you take that last turn, the path opens up, and there it is: a perfectly well-preserved Bronze Age stone circle.
The stone circle was built around 1,100 BCE; it consists of a ring of 17 stones, one of them a recumbent ‘altar’, and two large portal stones. As usual with this sort of prehistoric ritual place, the recumbent stone and the portal are in alignment with the sunset on winter solstice. Right in the centre of the circle, remains of cremated human bones were found – which leads to various speculations: was Drombeg (‘Small Ridge’ in Gaelic) a burial site, or was human sacrifice performed there?
The latter proposition doesn’t sound too plausible, though, if you have a look at the rest of the prehistoric site: besides being a ritual place, it was also a residence for a group of people who obviously lived together peacefully and practised a kind of early socialism. The Fulacht Fiadh (deer pit) further up the hill was a communal cooking place with a hearth and a pit; stones were heated up in the fire and then thrown into the water in the pit, which would start boiling within a few minutes, and the women of the settlement would prepare a big meal for the whole group, and maybe even for people from other communities arriving here for one of the big ancient festivals, like summer and winter solstice, or Samhain and Beltane!
A few yards away from the Fulacht Fiadh, there are remains of two round stone huts, once joined together by a doorway. In the corner of one of them, there used to be a roasting oven – our Bronze Age ancestors obviously were great cooks!
Our visit to Drombeg wasn’t only very informative, but also enormously atmospheric – to stand on such historical ground, to imagine what life was like 3,000 years ago, to picture the ancient festivals connected to the seasons and the sun. Interestingly, though, our ancestors would either have celebrated the quarter days (i.e. the solstices and equinoxes) or the cross quarter days (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasadh), never all eight together. Logic suggests that the people who first built Drombeg would have celebrated the quarter days (hence the astronomical alignment), and the Celts who came later, during the Iron Age, the cross quarter days – anyway, it was all about the seasons and the agricultural year, so that the people would know when to sow, when to harvest and when to preserve so that they’d have food provisions all year round!
And, without disrespect towards our ancestors, it was also great fun – a touch of historical adventure during our oh so perfect and wonderful honeymoon!!