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Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny stands near the centre of the venerated Hill of Tara, County Meath. A brooding megalith, lore tells us it was brought to Ireland by the Tuatha De Danaan. Standing approximately five feet in height, it is said to shriek when trod upon by the true king of Ireland. Tara, as the seat of kings, was the site of the coronation of each High King of Ireland through marriage to the Goddess Medb.

A royal inauguration site, the Hill of Tara, is the abode of the Goddess Medb/Maeve. It is a low hill replete with earthworks and the standing stone Lia Fail. Made of wood and wattle, the buildings on the site have long disappeared. The hollow created by sloping banks here is the area of the legendary "Banquet Hall," were great celebratory feasts took place.

This small passage-tomb, the Mound of the Hostages dates from approximately 1800 BC and is located on the Hill of Tara.

Located in the vicinity of the Hill of Tara, the neolithic passage tomb at Fourknocks Hill originally housed the physical remains of over 60 souls from around 2000 B.C. The burial niches inside the central chamber are decorated with spiral and zig-zag artwork as a grinning underworld deity, carved on a slab near the entrance, greets those still living and comforts the flitting shades of those long since passed.

Detail from interior at Fourknocks.

Spiral detail from Fourknocks interior. Similar carvings are found at Newgrange.

Lozenge pattern from interior at Fourknocks.

Astride the River Boyne in Trim, County Meath, the Yellow Steeple (so-called for its colour at sunset) stands near the former site of St. Mary's Abbey which once held a wooden statue credited with miracles. Unknown of origin, "Our Lady of Trim" drew crowds of pilgrims to Trim with her miraculous healing power from the 1300's until the Reformation when the statue was burned. Across the river from this site is the remains of Trim Castle, the largest Anglo-Norman fortification in Ireland.

The passage grave Newgrange, located in County Meath, Ireland, just north of the river Boyne, is possibly the oldest man-made structure on earth. Built of earth and stone in approximately 3200 B.C., it stands about 36 feet hight and 300 feet in diameter. The tomb is constructed to allow the sun's rays to pierce a 62 foot passageway to the centre of the burial chamber on December 21 and a day or two before and after.

Detail from entrance to Newgrange showing the decorated entrance stone and the roofbox through which the midwinter sun illuminates the centre chamber.

Entrance kerb stone bearing triple and double spiral ornamentation as well as concentric circles and lozenge patterns.

Detail from kerbstone #52 at Newgrange, a double spiral pattern on kerb stones.

Kerbstone detail at Brugh na Boinne (Newgrange).

Spiral patterns are found on relics throughout the ancient world and may be representative symbols for goddess worship, universal energy patterns or the constant spiraling of the human soul through death, initiation and rebirth.

The largest megalithic cemetery in Ireland, Carrowmore is located in County Sligo. Spread over fields and countryside, the passage graves and dolmens are among the island's oldest, predating Newgrange by up to seven centuries. Here a dolmen is surrounded by a stone kerb of upright stones.

A closer view of the massive kerbing stones.

Dolmens, or portal tombs, are usually composed of three or more stones which support a capstone and which mark the resting place of one or more people. Carrowmore, pictured here, was once an extensive site of over 100 monuments. Today only 40 or so remain after centuries of vandalism and modern gravel quarry operations.

The sites of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth are all examples of passage grave architecture. Here, a passage grave in Carrowmore cemetery points out that these graves, which house a passageway leading to a central funerary chamber, come in all sizes.

On the summit of Knocknarea Mountain, County Sligo, Ireland is the great cairn mound known as Maeve's (or Medb's) tomb. Standing 35 feet high and 200 feet at the base, the cairn dominates the view from the valley below. Folklore maintains the site as the home of Maeve, legendary Queen of Connaught, whose position on Knocknarea summit allows her a panoramic view over the land of which she is guardian. Here the cairn can be seen atop Knocknarea Mountain from Carrowmore cemetary.

Never excavated, these stones on the cairn of Knocknarea Mountain are thought by archaeologists to cover a neolithic-age passage grave.

One of seven, this satellite tomb outlies Maeve's great cairn atop Knocknarea Mountain.

The Ballymagibbon Cairn can be found east of Cong in County Mayo, Ireland. The 60 foot high cairn was erected in approximately 3,000 B.C. to commemorate a bloody battle between the Firbolg and the Tuatha de Dannan. Lore has it that the Firbolg, victors in the early fighting, each presented their king with a the head of a Danann and a stone, with which he built the cairn.

Off the Mayo coast, Ireland's largest island Achill, is home to a semi-tumbled gallery grave, high on the mountain above the village of Keel.

Achill Island, known for its rugged natural beauty.

370 feet at their highest point, the Ceide Cliffs in North Mayo, Ireland are about 300 million years old and lie close to the remains of one of the largest known Stone Age settlements in the world. Thriving around 5,000 B.C. the Ceide Fields was a farming community which consisted of dwellings, stone walls and megalithic tombs before the bogland grew to envelope it.

The well-worn path leading up the Hill of Uisneach, the revered site of the annual Beltaine celebration and the area of the territorially elusive fifth province of Mide.

Nearly 15 feet high, Aill na Mireann is a glacial erratic which marks the mythological Centre of Ireland. Also known as the "Cat Stone" or "Umbilicus Hiberniae," this personable boulder resides on the Hill of Uisneach.

The Mayday sun shines brightly on a pond near the summit of Uisneach. Whereas Tara was the political centre, Uisneach was the priestly centre of Ireland and the location of great communal assemblies. Associated with Druids, the Otherworld and the Well of Life, Uisneach is the Centre, the end and the beginning, a place of primordial unity.

These carved "Leperchaun Stones" in County Roscommon, Ireland are a set of three carved standing stones of uncommon character which reside close to the Ballintober-Castlerea Road.

The Rathcrogan complex in County Roscommon, Ireland is the eastern sanctuary of the Goddess Medb. Rath Cruachain is a natural hill which has been shaped to a near circle. The mound, roughly 5 metres in height, dominates the area. A smaller mound, ditch and bank once stood atop the mound and was thought to be the site of the coronation of the Kings of Connaught, via marriage to Medb, "the Intoxicating One."

A fallen pillarstone in the Rathcroghan complex commemorates the resident goddess Medb, also known as Maeve, the Queen of Connacht.

Sometimes known as the Hill of the Corpses at the Rathcroghan complex, this seven-foot standing stone situated within a ringfort is said to mark the grave of the last pagan king of Ireland, King Dathi.

Rathcroghan (the name stems from "Cruachain" referring to the limestone plain that stretches from Roscommon to Castlereagh) is an area of approximately two square miles that is rich in earthworks of varying types and sizes.

The Ballyallaban ringfort, located in County Clare, Ireland is a good example of the circular enclosures that were used as farmsteads from about 500 to 1200 AD.

The Ballyallaban ring possesses a particular feel of enchantment and a pooka, in the form of a small pony, can sometimes be seen guarding the enclosure.

The Burren (meaning "rocky place") is a unique sweep of limestone in County Clare, Ireland. Probably the richest site in Ireland for megalithic remains there are upwards of 60 wedge tombs and 500 ringforts located here. The area is unique for its flora and its concentration of Fairy Folk, who do not (take it from me), like to be disturbed.

The Burren "pavement" -- limestone created by ancient marine sediment and transformed into rock over the millennia. Late Stone Age farmers cleared the land and grazed their cattle here. Over centuries, these farming practices and erosion combined to create the stark rocky landscape we now see.

A wedge tomb on the Burren.

Probably the best recognized monument in Ireland, Poulnabrone ("the hole of the sorrows") in County Clare once housed the bones of 16 former residents of a farming community which existed in approximately 3,000 B.C.

The complex of Magh Adair in south-east County Clare, Ireland, is thought to be a royal inauguration site with associations to the O'Briens, who rose to prominence under the leadership of Brian Boru.

Magh Adair contains elements similar to other royal inaugural sites in Ireland, including water (the nearby Hell River), a stand stone (pictured), a legendary sacred tree and a mound surmounting the complex. Royal sites were often located on areas with earlier prehistoric associations.

Another ringfort with a distinctly otherworldly atmosphere is Beal Boru, the seat of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland from 1002 until his death in 1014. Located in County Clare between the River Shannon and the Killaloe-Tuamgraney road, the overgrown site is another to be approached with caution lest a trespasser offend the resident invisibles.

Near the south shore of Lough Gur, County Limerick, are the remains of this wedge shaped gallery grave. This site is known locally as a "Giant's Grave;" that is, a site among many in Ireland whose god and goddess spent a night in lusty love-making. From this evolved the myth of Diarmud and Grainne and lore makes the Giant's Graves sites of particular fertility. From this particular site, archaeologists recovered the remains of at least eight adults and four children. Built in approximately 2600 B.C., local residents report that the wail of the banshee was heard throughout the hills and around the lake when the site was excavated in 1938.

The largest stone ring in Ireland is not far from Lough Gur. The entrance to the ring of 113 megaliths is aligned upon the Lughnasadh sunrise and Samhain sunset.

Looking back through the Samhain Horns toward the ring entrance, the stones outline the blazing Samhain sunset, signalling year's end. Even now, though farm houses are located nearby, the sense of ancient partnership of mortal mythos and divine presence permeate the ring.

Erected around 2500 B.C., Rannach Com Dubh or the "Lios," is the enchanting home of Crom Dubh and his fairy queen.

Crom Dubh himself stands in the form of an enormous megalith almost seven feet in height.

Looking across Lough Gur from Knockadoon Island. The stone circle in the foreground is thought to be a remnant of a prehistoric dwelling.

The "Stone of the Tree," representative of the World Tree and the phantom tree that is said to appear at the bottom of Lough Gur on a moonlit night every seventh year.

English and Scottish sites

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© 2009 C. Austin