Unlocking the secrets of Ireland’s ancient sacred landscapes and stone circles

Geoff Ward
12 min readAug 26, 2023
Summer solstice sunrise between the Paps of Keecragh mountain-tops at the Ardgroom Outward stone circle on the Beara peninsula, south-west Ireland. Photo: Geoff Ward.

New research suggests the stone circles of Co Cork and Co Kerry were planned as solar monuments constructed for prehistoric fertility rituals involving sunrise ‘shadow dramas’ symbolising a ‘marriage of the gods’

The deep mysteries of the stone circles of south-west Ireland are being unravelled by the archaeologist, meteorologist and retired physics professor Dr Terence Meaden following a decade of meticulous study.

Not only were they practical sites for determining seasonal dates important to farming communities, but they were places of worship and hence effectively simple temples in the strictest definition and use of the term, concludes Dr Meaden. They were not burial grounds; there was no cult of the dead. They were places for the living, spiritual and sublime.

West Cork and South Kerry have the highest concentration of stone circles in Europe, dating from 4,000 and more years ago. Dr Meaden is working to complete an invaluable scholarly guide covering 60 of these intriguing monuments, interpreted by recognising the symbolism to be found in the shapes and positions of the stones relative to each other and the direction of the rising sun.

He has traced their alignments to sunrises at key times of the year — the solstices and the quarter and cross-quarter days of the Celtic tradition related to the eight festival dates familiar to agricultural communities of Britain and Ireland during the last 2,000 years. This tradition is now proved to have begun up to 2,000 years earlier in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. The evidence is ‘set in stone’.

Planning similar guides to the stone circles of north-east Scotland and southern England, Dr Meaden, 88, who has a doctoral degree in physics and a master’s degree in applied landscape archaeology from Oxford University, has written extensively on archaeo-astronomy, especially with reference to Stonehenge, Avebury and the Drombeg stone circle in Co Cork.

‘Deified and glorified, the sun held a special place in the minds of ancient peoples,’ says Dr Meaden in a paper entitled ‘The Sun’, published in December 2022 for a professor of English literature in Sweden. ‘In ancient times, the sun was esteemed for its everlasting…

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Geoff Ward

Writer, journalist, book editor, poet, musician and tutor in literature and creative writing (MA and BA Hons degrees in English literature).