Bonane is a beautiful valley situated in the picturesque south west of Ireland. The valleys perimeter is surrounded by the Sheehy and Caha mountains. It is situated on the main Kenmare to Glengarriff road (N71).
Bonane is steeped in ancient history being home to over 250 archaeological sites, this identifies Bonane as having one of the highest concentrations of sites in the country. More importantly, recent studies show many of these sites are interrelated and some have major astronomical significance.
Further research will identify the area to compliment if not equal other areas of national and international significance such as the Boyne Valley in Co. Meath, Lough Gur in Co. Limerick and the Ceide Fields in Co. Mayo.
The stone circle is situated in the townland of Dromagorteen and is one of the finest examples in the Cork/Kerry region. One of its most striking features is its vantage point overlooking the valley. It is known locally as the “Judge and Jury” as it consists of thirteen stones with a central bolder burial. It is the centrepiece of a complex astronomical calendar, which
includes both solar and lunar cycles. Monuments on the horizon mark the rising and setting of the moon on significant dates. An imaginary axis drawn from these points to the stone circle reveals the astonishing fact that many of the monuments in the valley are on or close to these radial lines.
The Rolls of Butter/Petrified Dairy
The ‘Rolls of Butter‘ is a multiple bullaun stone situated adjacent to the Drom-Fiachna Cemetery in the townland of Garranes. It is one of the most significant Stone Age monuments in Western Europe.
The bullaun stone itself is a flat-topped rock embedded in the ground at one end, about two metres square with eight holes or bullauns on its surface. Two of the holes are merely slight indentations; the others are good-sized cavities. Ineach bullaun is a smooth oval shaped stone, locally known as the Rolls of Butter. In the middle of the rock there is a quern stone with another oval shaped stone standing in its centre.
The proximity of the bullaun stone to the present day St. Fiachna Cemetery is also significant. The cemetery generally regarded as one of the oldest Christian burial places, still in use in Ireland, almost certainly predates Christianity. The western boundary of the ancient cemetery with its highly important “kink” together with the bullaun stone form a perfect alignment with the rising sun at the winter solstice (the mid winter sunrise – 21 st December).
It has been observed that on this date, the shortest day of the year, the rising sun seems to ‘climb’ up along the side of a nearby mountain in a rolling fashion. The full disk becoming visible as it reaches the summit. This spectacle can be observed as you walk along the boundary of the cemetery to the bullaun stone.
Amazingly the mountain top, the bullaun stone, the boundary of the cemetery and the stone circle form a perfect alignment.
Ancient Egyptians and indeed most ancient civilisations believed the sun and stars to be their gods. In Egypt the chief god was Orion (Osiris), which is the most distinct consolation of stars in the night sky. His wife Sirius (Isis) the brightest star and their son Horus the sun god. Horus was believed to be part of his father Orion and was seen in the night sky as a bird depicted by the stars on the lower half of Orion and two associated stars. Amazingly this set of stars mirror image the pattern of the bullauns on the stone we call “The Rolls of Butter”, the brighter stars are represented by the deeper bullauns.
Dating the stone
The stars rise at a different position in the sky today as they did in the Stone Age. Thanks to the aid of a computer program “Sky Map” it was possible to determine when the star in the middle of the constellation (The Orion Nubla) rose at the same position as the mid-winter sun, It was 3,427 BC. To our further amazement we learned that Sirius also rose at this point at that time.
Court tombs are believed to be the oldest communal burials surviving in Ireland, dating from about 5,000 BC. This type of tomb is mostly found in the northern half of the country so the existence of one in Bonane, where wedge-tombs predominate, suggests very early habitation.
The typical court tomb has an elongated cairn of small stones leading to a court of roughly circular shape. A stone burial chamber opens from the inner end of the court and consists of a gallery of two or more chambers.
The court tome at Milleens is set in a cluster of other monuments, including a bullaun stone, and is within easy walking distance of the N71.
These megalithic tombs are characterised as having a gallery constructed with side stones, which decrease in height from the entrance, and are either parallel or give it a wedge shaped appearance. They are roofed with large stones, which sit directly on the walls of the gallery and are frequently oriented east – west and a single stone often closes the entrance. Generally they date from the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. There are many fine examples in Bonane.
Standing stones, or gallaun (gallan), are the simplest and most numerous megalithic monuments found in Ireland. These Monoliths are merely large oblong shaped stones, often weighing several tonnes, set upright in the ground. They could have been erected for a variety of purposes and may have marked boundaries or burial sites.
Stone rows consist of two or more standing stones, and are sometimes aligned to the sunrise or sunset positions on significant days of the year a good example is at Releigh, Bonane.
Boulder-burials, dating from the Bronze Age, consist of a large cover-stone, or boulder, resting on three or more low stones, above a shallow pit containing cremated remains. They are found almost exclusively in the Southwest of Ireland, the majority occurring in west Cork. They may be found singly or in small groups, and in some instances they are associated with stone circles, as in the case of the stone circle at Dromagorteen.
Ringforts, known in Bonane as Liosanna or Raths, are by far the most numerous and well known of the archaeological remains. Dating from the first millennium AD they were built as fortified farmsteads to protect against intruders and predators. Typically, they consist of a circular enclosure protected by an earthen bank and external foss or ditch. One of the best examples of a lios or ringfort in Bonane lies within a few metres of the stone circle at Dromagorteen.
Souterrains are artificial subterranean structures and are usually associated with habitation. They are common in ringforts and appear to have been used as an underground bolthole if a ringfort was attacked or were used as a secure place to store valuables and perishable food. They vary in size and complexity and may contain several chambers with interconnecting creepways. Again souterains are to be found in and close to the ringfort at Dromagorteen.
Fulachta Fiadh, or cooking pits, consist of a horseshoe shaped heap of heat-fractured stones and are usually sited close to a stream or water source. A pit would be dug and filled with water from the nearby source, heated stones were then used to boil the water in which meat, wrapped in straw, was cooked.
There is a fine example of a fulacht fiadh within a few metres of the stone circle at Dromagorteen, which would have been the norm for any ceremonial site.