The Giant's Ring
At this time a couple of years ago I wrote a post about Newgrange, the impressive neolithic passage tomb on the Boyne river where the rays of the rising mid-winter sun casts a beam down the entrance tunnel.
Today I visited a similar Stone Age monument somewhat closer to home but in many ways more impressive. The Giant’s Ring is a henge monument, a vast circular earthwork just outside Belfast. It has a dolmen (an ancient grave) just off centre. Dated to 4715 years ago, it was built before the Egyptian pyramids. Like the pyramids, it’s huge in scale. The ring is made of dikes 12 feet high and 50 feet wide. The ring encloses a space of 6.9 acres and is 600 feet in diameter.
Other barrows with ancient bones in them surround it. But like other neolithic sites, the place is shrouded in mystery. For example, why is the dolmen off-centre?
The vast ring is almost perfect, so it can’t just be sloppy measurements. Also what was this place for? Conjecture is that it was part of a major European cult of the dead that venerated holy ancestors. The tombs, cremations and inhumations that have been excavated in the area suggest there was something like that going on. Perhaps like, the pyramids, this was a vast monument to departed members of an important dynasty. We will never know. Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias”, springs to mind.
It’s sobering to think that the trees which grow around the site are generations older than me, but even their lifetimes are mere specks compared to how long the Giants Ring has stood here. This site is akin to a medieval cathedral in terms of the effort and organisation it must have taken to build it. Perhaps even more so when you think that the place was constructed by people with no metal tools. Like at Stonehenge, the Ring of Brodgar, Callanish or any of the other huge megalithic sites, the sheer scale of the transformation imposed on the landscape by these people some folk still see as “primitive” is humbling.
Most who know me will not see me as a superstitious person, but when I walked round the ring today I did not go widdershins. Instead I went clockwise, with the sun, like the earth making its annual circuit. The druids were supposed to be able to see portents in the flights of birds and I was slightly disconcerted by the single magpie that hopped around the dolmen for most of my circuit. When I got three quarters of the way round, it was joined by another one and I have to admit I felt a bit happier.
The Giant’s Ring - a fascinating place well worth a visit.