If you’ve done any traveling in the Emerald Isle, you know you can’t go far without seeing some kind of ancient church or castle just off the road or centered in a town. Most were built in the middle ages, but many in the form of forts, portal tombs, dolmans and standing stones predate Christ by a thousand years. Somehow many of these earlier ruins are better preserved than ruins of the twelfth century, and their practical functions were almost always combined with otherworldly significance. One of the best examples of this early kind of ruin is found in the Drombeg Stone Circle in County Cork.
Set amid farmland and a splendid view of the Atlantic Ocean, the standing stones of Drombeg sit atop a hill like sentries keeping watch over the valley. The circle they form provided a means to track the movement of celestial bodies and to capture the sunrise of summer solstice and the sunset of winter solstice, much like the significantly larger Stonehenge in England. Other uses may have included a burial ground (per the discovery of humans bones there); a monument to mark where underground rivers converged (per local folklore); and a place of pagan worship (per its alternate name, Druid’s Alter). Though sources disagree as to its exact age, a 1959 excavation produced a ceramic pot dated between 1124 and 794 BC, which plants the origins of the site firmly in the Bronze Age.
But the stone circle is only half the story. Beside it lies an equally fascinating cooking pit built around a natural spring. Stones would have been heated at the hearth and dropped into the adjacent pool holding up to 70 gallons of water, which would reach boiling point in 15 minutes and remain hot for 3 hours (calculations provided by a modern day recreation of the process). Cooking would have been the obvious purpose for this hot water, however bathing, dyeing garments and brewing beer would have been likely uses too.
Recently I visited Drombeg and fell in love with the stunning landscape, marveling at the absolute silence— no cars, people, birds, crickets, nothing! On the chilly morning of our visit, my husband and kids explored the area, took photos, and quickly returned to the warmth of the car. I lingered to ponder such things as: Why did the area change so little in 3,000 years? Was the monument always thought special by the Irish? Was it somehow protected by those who lived and died in its shadow? Standing in the center of a giant celestial calendar, I kept returning to a single thought: No matter the era, humans always need the connection to something bigger. For some, the pull is to the natural world, to mountains, the ocean, or in this case to the stars and the universe. For others like me, the pull is to the spiritual world, to a giant, almighty, amazing God. I was reminded that He knew my name before these ruins were erected, before the sun was formed and time began. As the years and centuries whip by, God’s greatness stays the same, much like the sun around which everything else revolves. I wondered if Bronze Age man had thoughts like these as he stood between stones, tracking the passage of time.
Drombeg is an authentic megalithic experience that does not require a ticket or waiting lines or security personnel reminding us ‘Do not touch’. Just a short detour from the southern route between Blarney and Killarney (closer to Blarney), visitors travel narrow country roads, follow little signs, and park in a small gravel lot in the middle of nowhere. They walk a path bordered by tall hedges that hide every glimpse of view, and when the clearing finally appears, they are overwhelmed by a panorama of vivid blues and greens. And did I mention how quiet it is? Drombeg Stone Circle is a monument to man’s ever-changing ingenuity, his knowledge and his beliefs, informed by what does not change in the heavens (and in Heaven) above.