6.5 km S of the centre of Belfast via the Malone Road and Minnowburn
Beeches, The Giant's Ring is an impressive and atmospheric
monument, consisting of a circular bank some 3.5 metres high
enclosing a large space some 180 metres in diameter and 2.8
hectares in area. It is unclear which, if any, of the 5 irregularly-spaced
gaps in the henge are original. The henge may have been one
of those monuments erected by the late-Neolithic "Beaker People"
of N Britain who were responsible also for the large free-standing
stone circles at Ballynoe and Newgrange, as well
as the stone circle backed by a henge at Lough Gur. Recent
excavations (outside the bank) revealed similarities with the
phased construction of Stonehenge, and the existence of a 'megalithic
landscape' of great ceremonial and ritual importance.
E of the centre of the enclosure is a small passage-tomb whose
vestigial passage faces W. It may have been erected (with a
tumulus) a little before or a little after the henge.
In the field to the E of the henge is a massive (but broken)
km ENE (via the Outer Ring road) is Greengraves portal-tomb
J 481 404
4 km S of Downpatrick,
approached by an old sunken lane,
a very large circle of over 50 stones up to 1.8 metres high
(though many smaller) encloses a space about 35 metres across.
It was modelled on the circle at Swinside in Cumbria - which
is at exactly the same latitude. In the E half of the circle
is a long low mound which contained large kists at the E and
W ends. This mound obliterated two shortlived cairns built after
the circle was constructed, in what Aubrey Burl describes as
"prehistoric bigotry and vandalism [which] ruined this magnificent
Three pairs of stones stand outside the circle at varying distances,
the nearest pair (of low stones, one overturned) at the W side
forming a kind of entrance or portal 2.1 metres wide, originally
aligned on the equinoctial setting sun (around March 21st).
Behind it is an off-centre axial stone, of distinctive prow-like
shape, whose top is a bevelled horizontal. Opposite this portal,
facing due E, is another horizontal-edged, prow-shaped stone
which may be part of another portal.
The Mountains of Mourne
to the SW form a fine backdrop to the circle, but do not seem
to align significantly either at the autumn equinox nor the
winter solstice, though at some point between these days the
sun must set in the cunnic gap between the two contiguous highest
of the rounded peaks.
Many of the stones in this circle were originally shoulder to
shoulder, as at Lough Gur, at Swinside in Cumbria and La Menec
in Brittany. They are almost all of silurian shale, but similarly-shaped
granite orthostats don't quite mark the cardinal points, and
there is one of sandstone at the NE side of the circle.
Various outlying stones have unknown function or significance.
~ About 850 metres
ENE in the same townland, in a field to the N of the Grangecam
road (J 489 406) is a quartzite block about 1.3 metres high,
with elliptical solution-pits(?) similar to many at the stone
circle, and on stones at circles in county Wicklow.
Behind a hedge to the
S of a by-road, this massive stone is 3.6 metres high and has
a distinctive concavity or 'shoulder', presumed artificial,
on the N side. This is a feature of other megaliths in the area,
such as Tamnaharry and Wateresk, below.
~ 10.5 km NE are the
pair of standing-stones at Moneyslane (see under Legananny,
~ 5.2 km WSW in Saval
More (J 122 312), in a private (disused) burial-ground to
the E of a by-road are a pair of standing-stones 2 metres apart
and 1.9 metres high. Both are of granite, and the larger is
pointed while the smaller is flat-topped (male and female ?),
metres SW, in the field on the other side of the road (J 120
310) is another standing-stone 1.8 metres high, and also of
~ 10.5 km NW of Barnmeen
(J 101 411 on sheet 20) in Greenan, just behind and between
two bungalows, are "The Three Sisters" - an alignment
of three block-like stones aligned NW-SE and barely-visible
in a field-boundary. The south-easterly one has fallen, and
measures over two metres in its entire length. The other two
stand 1.6 and 1.5 metres above ground-level. The taller one
is beautifully squared at the top and on its E face.
1 km NE of "The Three Sisters" in Drumnahare
(J 111 415 on sheet 20) on
the NE shore of Lough Brickland and visible from the dual-carriageway
is a small, knobbly, leaning standing-stone. In the lake
(visible to the right in the photograph below) is a crannóg.
km SW of Barnmeen is the phallic monolith at Crobane
(see below under Tamnaharry).
Stone Fort or Cashel, Souterrain and Kist
J 311 340
Overlooking Lough Island
Reavy, this stone fort with a wall averaging 2.75 metres high
and 3.3 thick, has been somewhat restored. The present entrance
may not be original, nor the present main entrance to the souterrain
or stone hiding-place which leads from ruins of buildings which
seem to be of recent date - though perhaps built over earlier
flimsier ones. The souterrain
is 15 metres long, 2.1 metres high, and has a rectangular chamber
facing the original narrow entrance which is at the opposite
end to the modern widened one. (For
another, more complex, souterrain see Ballyhackett under
Ballygilbert, county Antrim.)
~ 400 metres SW on
a ridge at a height of 200 metres
305 336) is a
small round cairn (bounded by modern field-walls on 2 sides)
with a kist 60 cms deep whose capstone has been slid to one
side allowing a view inside.
or Pat Kearney's Big Stone, is beside a lane running
SE from the Hilltown-Castlewellan road. An enormous 50-tonne
granite capstone has slipped, exposing a chamber closed by a
slender door-slab over 1.5 metres high. As at Tirnony
(Derry) and Ticloy (Antrim) a flanking, free-standing
orthostat suggests a derivation from the court-type of tomb.
km SSW in the same townland (J 237 297) on the S slope of
Goward Hill is the first Irish court-tomb to be excavated
in modern times (1932). Previously it had been thought to
be a stone circle, because of the impressively semicircular
court of eleven stones some 11 metres across. The gallery
is 9 metres long, and the first of the three chambers has
double walling for better support of the (missing) roof. The
entrance to the gallery was sealed by a dyke of cairn material
2 metres wide crossing the forecourt, in the centre of which
was a rough pavement of slabs set in a layer of charcoal containing
many Neolithic potsherds.
J 445 736
Across a field to the
N of a by-road leading S from the dual-carriageway from Belfast
to Newtownards, this small dolmen is quite impressive with its
oversailing roofstone at a significant angle common to many
portal-tombs, supported on two orthostats and another smaller
roofstone. It has a fine half-doorslab. The name "Greengraves"
is particularly interesting, since the "Green" part of it comes
from the Irish for "sun". The name of the tomb, The Kempe
Stone[s], derives from Norse "Kampesten": big stone or prehistoric
~ 7 km SE of Greengraves,
in Ballygraffan (J 473 672) is the fine surviving capstone of
a portal-tomb supported and surrounded by the stones of a wall
in which the tomb was incorporated until recently.
Off a lane leading
N from the Newry-Kilkeel road, this granite dolmen looks like
a giant tortoise, with a big capstone 2 metres long and 1 metre
thick, and orthostats half buried in field stones and cairn
material. An early account states that the cairn (now mostly
disappeared) extended for over 7 metres in front of the N-facing
chamber, so that there might once have been a façade similar
to that of the court-tombs.
~ 5.6 miles E by S,
in Dunnaman just to the E of a churchyard behind the
hamlet of Massfort are the sizeable remains of a court-tomb
with a 4-chambered gallery but no surviving forecourt or cairn.
Some of its side-stones are massive, and seem to have been split
from a larger boulder.
from the air
~ 7.6 km E by S, is
another granite dolmen at Kilkeel.
J 307 149
In a hidden tarred
lane in the fishing-port of Kilkeel, approached through a garage
on the N side of the main street, or via Cromlech Park to the
E of the road to Hilltown, this little dolmen is quaint and
impressive, though incorporated into a hedge and fence. Known
as The Crawtree (=Elder-tree) Stone it is over
2 metres high, with a capstone nearly 2.5 metres long, resembling
the shell of a tortoise (like Kilfeaghan 7.6 km W by
N). Facing south, the low morning and afternoon sun shines on
the underneath of its capstone, making one speculate that its
cairn did not reach very high.
over 6 km NE, in Moneydorragh More (J 355 199) near the
road is The Long Stone, a granite monolith 3 metres high.
J 289 434
By the side of a lane
leading from a by-road on the flanks of Slieve Croob, this "tripod-dolmen"
is one of the most striking in Ireland, commanding superb views
of the Mountains of Mourne to the S. The capstone (at the typical
angle) is over 3 metres long supported on fine portal-stones
1.5 metres high, one of which has a distinctive L-shaped bite
in it, significant if not artificial. Around the winter solstice,
the early-morning sun beautifully illuminates the entire underside
of the capstone and tip of the backstone, while in late morning
parts of both the underside and top of the capstone are lit.
In the same townland, commanding superb views on the summit
of Cratlieve or Legananny Mountain (J 296 446), are the remains
of a circular cairn with a small arc of kerb surviving on the
E side. The interior of the cairn is flat, with a small group
of recumbent stones which may be vestiges of a kist.
~ 1.9 km WNW in Finnis
(J 272 442) is a simple souterrain
recently opened to the public and known locally as "Binder's
Cove". (The word cove, sometimes used in local,
unofficial names, is a conflation of the English cave and
the Irish uamh.) The main passage is about 30 metres
long and the two side-passages on the right-hand side are 6
metres long. All are lintel-roofed. An excellent description,
with good photographs, can be read on the Voices
from the Dawn website.
~ Just under 5 km SW
at Moneyslane (J 254 399 at the top edge of sheet 29)
is a fine pair of standing-stones, visible to the E of the road.
One is flat-topped and female, while the other, a little taller
at 1.7 metres, is remarkably phallic from the E side, with a
mend of cement delineating a scrotum. For many years these stones
(in the middle of a field) have been curiously and separately
wrapped with barbed wire, still present in 2003.
Because it is crammed
between a juniper tree and a suburban stone-clad wall, on the
W side of the Donaghadee-Groomsport road opposite a jetty, this
veined sandstone pillar, though 2.5 metres high, is not really
worth a detour. It was excavated in 1968 and found to be the
survivor of a pair half a metre apart. To the N in the same
townland are two more stones, both just over a metre high, and
one standing below the present high-tide mark. The other is
in the little valley of the little Portavo river, on the N side
of the stream, some six metres above the high-tide mark, and
might be the remains of a portal-tomb.
An excellent history of the townland over the centuries has
been written by Peter Carr. PORTAVO
is published by The
White Row Press,
28 km SE, down the same peninsular coast and marked on the wrong
side of the road on sheet 21 is another standing-stone close
to the shore at Ballyhalbert (J 647 636). It is is a
sandstone erratic, two metres high and only 50 metres S of a
A rare of example of
an intact, unexamined hilltop tomb of which only the large capstone
can be seen. It is not a collapsed portal-tomb as suggested
by the published Archæological Survey of 1966, and its
commanding position above a lake, offering vistas across the
Irish Sea to the Isle of Man and Cumbria, and westwards towards
the Mountains of Mourne suggests a hilltop megalithic kist typical
of Leinster rather than Ulster, with an untypically huge roofing-slab.
km NE in Carrownacaw (J 544 464) is "The Long Stone"
a tall thin standing-stone of schist, 3.3 metres tall - and
the only Irish menhir to be supported by a hawser wrapped around
a tree. This is reached by a road which passes picturesque Loughmoney
"Dolmen": just two sidestones and a roofstone of a
destroyed court-tomb in a field.
~ 6.3 km NE in Audleystown
(J 561 505), close to Strangford Lough, is a well-preserved,
small double-court tomb built of low stones and comprising shallow
forecourts, two galleries of four chambers each, a cairn some
27 metres long, and a kerb made of orthostats instead of dry-stone
~ 4.6 km ENE, in the
front garden of 109 Ballyculter Road in Ballyculter Upper,
40 metres from the road-junction, is part of a natural rock-outcrop
decorated with two worn sets of concentric circles - best seen
when wet. One of the sets has a remarkable 10 rings, while the
other has 6. This is an example of the overlap of passage-tomb
art with Bronze Age rock-scribings or petroglyphs.
under 5 km WSW of the Ballyculter rings, 1 km NW of Slievenagriddle
at Ballystokes (J 5263 4577), in a field a few metres
to the NW of St Patrick's Way, is a small group of typical (but
very worn) Bronze Age petroglyphs featuring cupmarks and penannular
rings. The Archæological Record states: 'This outcropping
slab of shale is known to bear cup & ring marks, but is
now largely covered with loose soil & vegetation & the
ornament is barely visible. Nearby is the find spot of axes
& a possible kist grave'. In
fact, it is fairly clear from vegetation, but water should be
brought for pouring over the rock to make the petroglyphs visible.
From the site the sun sets behind Slieve Croob at the summer
equinox, and behind the Mourne Mountains at the winter equinox.
Near the other end (and immediately E) of the Ballyculter Road,
below Slievenagriddle, in a dense thicket in Ballyalton
(J 532 448) is a court-tomb hardly worth visiting because of
the thorny impenetrability of access, but which features in
the literature because it was excavated in 1933 and gave its
name to a kind of Neolithic pottery first found there. Six stones
of a court remain, two of which are portals leading to a two-chambered
gallery, many of whose stones survive. None is more than a metre
high. Click here
for an early drawing - transposed to the top of Slievenagriddle!
~ Just over 10 km ENE
(by expensive ferry across the strait from Strangford) is Millin
Bay (J 628 495), a remarkable and unique neolithic site
in the townland of Keentagh, which was so fragile that it had
to be filled in again after excavation. Only the tops of the
dozen stones of the cairn's peristalith can be seen today, overlooking
the little bay. One of them has fairly sketchy Neolithic
~ 2 km S of Millin Bay is another remarkable (but not megalithic)
site: "St Coey's Wells" in Templecowey (J 627
475) which, like the better-known stone-housed Struell
Wells and mediæval baths just E of Downpatrick, are pools
in a single stream (Srúthail is Irish for 'stream').
Each is used for a different complaint: a washing-well (for
skin conditions), an eye-well, and a drinking-well. The eye-well
has a magic hawthorn beside it, festooned with rags which now,
typically and deplorably, include paper tissues. Between the
stream and the modern outdoor altar is an ancient Killeen (Irish
cillín = little church or little churchyard),
rare in the Northeast of Ireland but common in the West and
South. These were the burial grounds of the rural Catholic poor
in times when Ireland was poorer than, say, northern Albania.
The graves are marked by small and uncarved, un-dressed pieces
of shale set upright in the ground.
4.7 km W by S, at the NW edge of Downpatrick, approached via
the cathedral and Down County Museum, is The Mound of Down,
a fine Iron Age defensive earthwork in the middle of which a
Norman motte-and-bailey was built. It has recently been damaged
by 'conservation' prior to excavation in 2012. The cathedral
stands in the middle of another defensive site or Dún,
which gave its name to the citadel before the spurious 'Patrick'
was added by a Norman war-lord in the 13th century. Signs similarly
motivated proclaim Downpatrick as "Ancient City of Down"
when they really mean "Ancient Citadel of
under 7 km SW in front of the church door in Chapeltown
(J 572 400) is a fine triple-bullaun with one large depression
almost 30 cms in diameter and two smaller ones carved out of
a massive block. On the other side of the path is another boulder
with a single bullaun and the remains of another. Above the
door is a good example of a 'Clonmacnois-type' early grave (pillow-)
slab. These remains probably came from the early church at Ardtole
2 km SSW.
Just S of a rocky track
leading E off the Burren-Mayobridge road, commanding fine views
to the Carlingford Mountains and Slieve Gullion, this Cloghadda
is a fine granite standing-stone some 2.8 metres high with a
concave and probably artificial 'shoulder' on the N side, to
be compared with the stone at Barnmeen (8.5 km NNE).
Beside it are traces of a prehistoric enclosure.
~ 2.2 km NNE (J 161
266) in the townland of Mayo, is "The Long Stone",
an impressive and sculptural granite monolith 3 metres high.
km NE of Tamnaharry in the same townland of Mayo (J
164 252) is a less impressive but more accessible standing-stone,
some 1.6 metres high and commanding extensive views. The N side
of it is sheer and rectangular, suggesting that it might be
the remnant of a portal-tomb, as indeed, many standing-stones
of similar height could be.
~ 1.4 km SW in Burren
(J 134 226) are the remains of a court-tomb - the only one to
form part of a bungalow rockery! - comprising a granite roofstone
resting on 2 parallel slabs of gritstone. The
former cottage next-door is advertised as the birthplace of
the great Irish Socialist, Jim
~ 2.2 km W by N in
Milltown (J 133 247), immediately W of a by-road are
the remains of a double-court tomb whose cairn survives to a
height of 2.5 metres, and one of whose forecourts and possibly
4 chambers of one of the two galleries can be distinguished
from the cairn material and dumped field stones.
~ Between 2 and 3 km NNW in different townlands are cashels and standing-stones marked
on the map. One of the cashels (in Edenmore, J 145 267)
is better-preserved than most in Northern Ireland, with walls
approaching 4 metres high in places and constructed of massive
stones, but, typically, is littered with refuse and junked machinery.
200 metres S, in the same townland is a curious standing-stone
(J 145 265) incised with a cross and the letters IHS JC - a
good example of 19th century Christianisation of a menhir. More
curious still is the little teat-like cap cemented on the top.
Like several phallic
stones, this pillar was whitewashed until the 1970s.
~ 4.5 km NE in Mullaghmore
(J 193 272 - not marked on Sheet 29), immediately E of a lane
leading to house N° 46, is what Aubrey Burl considers to be
one of the few "four-poster" stone circles in Ireland,
measuring 2.7 by 2.7 metres diagonally between the low stones,
the tallest of which has broken, with more than half of it lying
nearby. A large pot and two cremations were found within it.
Beside the circle is
a saucer-shaped depression: a Ring Barrow which was constructed
over a pit which contained Late Bronze Age potsherds, a very
small blue glass bead & the cremated bones of at least 4 individuals.
The site is known locally as "Murphy's Fort".
J 394 344
In a field to the W
of a by-road running parallel with the new Dundrum-Newcastle
road, this sculptural tomb looks very different from different
angles. Known also as The Slidderyford Dolmen its granite
capstone is 3 metres long by 1 thick, resting on three support-stones,
the tallest being 1.8 metres high. The capstone fits very neatly
into a concavity in the smaller portal-stone, echoing other
megaliths in South Down. The chamber is no longer definable.
metres SW to the E of a by-road, in Ballyloughlin, are
the remains of another megalithic tomb with a portal-stone 2.7
metres high and carved with the name of Jeremiah Atkins. There
is another stone just under half as high at the other side of
the hedge and bank.