Fog banks roll in from the sea. Seagulls wheel in the air, their screeches mixing with muffled noises from the land. The Drombeg Circle stands tall but is hidden in the mist. So is the small tribe. A sudden gust of wind opens the curtain of fog and the Druid comes into view, his voice thundering over the ancients. They respond, chanting, singing, praying. Are they celebrating – or sacrificing?
Ireland counts almost 200 Stone Circles still, and more than half of them are in County Cork. Put in place with respect for a higher purpose, they were built well, with amazing precision, lasting for millennia. We, with all our technology, build highway bridges that crumble within a handful of decennia.
Drombeg and Druids
Deep into West Cork, one of Ireland’s prettiest corners, the Drombeg Stones stand quietly in their circle. Even after roughly 3,000 years, they’re hardly weathered. No vandalism, no graffiti. Drombeg is on the National Monuments list and protected, yet you can just walk up to it, no entrance fee, visitor centre, shop or ice cream van. You can stand right where that Druid stood, and see the hills and the sea – until the mist rolls in again!
Road rage mystery
By the way, kudos to the Irish. They never did that crazy thing the English did at Stonehenge: putting a major highway right along it! OK, England finally removed that outrageous road, so no more traffic buzzing by, but it sure took them long enough. Drombeg Stone Circle is no Stonehenge but its mysteries are the same. Why? How? And why here?
Rites of passage
Drombeg Circle’s name in Irish is “Ciorcal an Droma Bhig”. Note that the Irish “bh” is usually pronounced as the ‘v” sound in English (see this useful website) but, we say Drombeg with the “b” sound anyway. The name means as much as “small ridge”. Drombeg is also known as the Druid’s Altar. Brrr. A name with “altar” in it conjures up fearsome images of sacrifices and slaughter by scary druids rather than happy villagers singing and dancing!
A valiant effort
The Drombeg Stones rise up to about 6 feet and there are 17 of them. Tallest of them all is the main stone, the “recumbent”, positioned to align through the centre and over the axial (or altar) stone with the winter solstice sunset through a dip between two distant hills. It’s rather well done, but without the unimaginable precision of the roughly 2,000 years older Newgrange.
Pit stop for a meal
About 150 feet from the Circle, you can see traces of a couple of prehistoric stone dwellings, as well as a typical cooking pit. In Irish, the latter is called a “Fulacht Fiadh” and there are thousands of them to be found throughout the country. Again, most of these are in Co. Cork, but Stone Circles as perfectly preserved as Drombeg are rare anywhere.
The quiet bones
The most recent excavation and restoration occurred in the late 1950s. Archaeologists found remains of timber then stone huts, the cooking pit, hearth – and cremated bones of a young person, wrapped in cloth and put into a pot, buried in the centre. We’ll never know who this person was, why he or she deserved this special burial honor – or was it punishment and damnation?
Fun fact: the ancients heated stones in the fire, then dropped them into the water-filled cooking pit. Replicating this method, researchers found the water would boil for hours, plenty long to cook and soften even the extra-lean Bronze Age grade venison!
Drombeg can be puzzled into the common Kilkenny-Cork-Killarney route – if you get an early start. The route will add over an hour’s driving, plus your stop time at the site. You might want to consider adding an overnight in the area, like Cork or Kinsale east or, on the west side, Skibbereen or Bantry.
To find Drombeg, you’ll want the R597, which loops off of the big N71 highway. Between the towns of Glandore and Rosscarbery, look for the southside signpost to Drombeg. It’s clearly marked. You’ll then be driving on one of those narrow hoping-for-no-oncoming-traffic side-mirror-threatening make-sure-you-bought-the-insurance narrow country lanes to a small but decent car park. A short and flat walking path leads you to the site.
Circling the wagons
Drombeg is the most visited Stone Circle in Ireland and can get busy. To avoid crowds, go early or late in the day, or off-season like we did. That country lane may be narrow but some tour buses do barrel through!
Drombeg is worth a stop for sure and there’s more to its history than I described here. There are some good websites with history and detail, such as Megalithic Ireland, Discover Ireland, Wikipedia and more. As for me, time to bring this full circle: it’s my turn to cook dinner, so I better go heat some stones in the fireplace and fill the bathtub!
DISCLAIMER: My travel blog “Con’s Corner” takes a sometimes irreverent look at 4+ decades of travel in the British Isles. My trips are real: no months of staging the perfect photo, no waiting for the perfect weather, no Photoshopping, no promo story in exchange for a freebie: I pay full fare. It’s true travel. Note that the company does not necessarily share my opinions and views. In fact, they may be shaking their heads. The photography is mine except where credited as noted, as are all typos, grammatical errors, and odd expressions. It’s a blog, people, not literature! I also accept full responsibility for any puns, varying on a scale from hilarious to ouch… Be all that as it may, I intend to keep at it until I get it right. Con Jager, Santa Rosa, USA.
(R) Photography by Robin Gabbert
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