If you’ve done any traveling in Ireland, you know you can’t go far without seeing some kind of ancient ruin just off the road or jutting high above a town. Most were built in the middle ages, but some date as far back to a time before Christ. This latter group comes in the form of dolmans, standing stones, forts or portal tombs scattered all over the country, often better preserved than many castles of the twelfth century.
Drombeg Stone Circle in County Cork, southern Ireland is one such example and remains the country's most famous circle of standing stones. Set on a hill overlooking farmland and the Atlantic Ocean, it exudes a beautiful, eerie atmosphere--as if somehow it slipped through the hands of time to stand like sentries guarding the valley forever.
Like England’s much larger Stonehenge, as well as others across Scotland, the primary function of the stone circle was to track the movement of celestial bodies to precisely capture the sunrise of summer solstice and the sunset of winter solstice directly over one of its stones. Secondary uses are less definitive, and at Drombeg there are at least three: Recovered bones reveal it was also a burial ground; folklore says it is the very spot where important underground rivers converged; and its local name “the Druid’s Alter” suggests it may have doubled as a place of pagan worship. Though sources disagree as to its exact age, a 1959 excavation produced a ceramic pot dated somewhere 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 were heated at the hearth and dropped into the pool, whereupon 70 gallons of water would reach boiling point in 15 minutes and remain hot for 3 hours. (In recent years, the process was successfully recreated to provide these calculations.) Cooking food was probably not the only use for hot water; it is likely that people used it to bathe, dye garments and brew beer too.
Recently I visited Drombeg and fell in love with the stunning landscape, marveling at the absolute silence that enveloped it. On the blustery morning of our visit, my family explored the area, took photos, and quickly returned to the warmth of the car--all as I lingered to ponder such things as why 3,000 years did little to change the area. Was the monument always thought special by the Irish? Was it somehow protected? There were no answers, but I held onto a single thought in the shadow of the giant celestial calendar: No matter the era, humans always seem to need to be connected 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 big, almighty, amazing God. At Drombeg, 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 the stones and tracked the passage of time.
Indeed, visiting Drombeg provides an awesome taste of the megalithic experience, certainly worth the drive along narrow country roads, especially if you are driving the southern coastal route towards Killarney. It is a short detour off the route, and once you park in the gravel parking lot and walk through a pathway of tall hedges, a timeless landscape unfolds beautifully before you, a vista that will make this stone circle one of your favorite ruins in Ireland.