|Maughnaclea and Bantry Bay
13-14th January 2007
Sunset at Kealkil Stone Circle, Co. Cork
I recently had a conversation with an aquaintance who lives in the Bantry area, our discussion made me realise that I'd put off making the long drive here for too long. The whole area around Maughanaclea and Bantry is literally littered with great sites of all shapes and sizes. There are peculiar stone rows, a four poster, five stone rings, radials cairns and recumbent stone circles all within a couple of hours touring.
Saturday evening saw improving weather as I left Cork city centre, though by the time I'd reached the Bandon roundabout I still couldn't decide whether sunset would be best spent at Gurranes or futher west around Bantry Bay. Fortunately the line of cars that sneaked into the bus lane were not very accomodating, making the decision easy. Wild, wild west it is!
With a window of about one and a half hours in which to get to the site and set myself up, it had to be somewhere that was relatively easy to find and get to. The photos I had taken before at Kealkil do not do any justice to the wonderful views from the complex, maybe they could be improved upon.
As I arrived a small group pulled up in front of me, by now the weather had turned grim and gloomy but we all made our way gingerly around the swamps and hedges towards the massive totem pole-like standing stones. Battered by wind and rain, the group of visitors took some photos of each other and the taller stone and left. I took shelter behind the smaller, squatter stone and waited.
The dark rolling clouds began to thin about one quater of an hour before sunset, though I had by now returned to the car. When a break came, I could see that there was no high level cloud above the dark ponderous rain clouds above, perfect conditions for a spectacular sunset if everything falls into place. Fortified with some chocolate, I squelched my way back across the fields.
Kealkil, Co. Cork. Standing stones and five stone circle beyond, looking west.
The town of Bantry is a short 15 minute drive from Kealkil, I had not arranged any accomodation so this tourist town was a pretty safe bet in early January.
One word easily sums up the style, comfort and general luxury of the Bantry Bay Hotel: No.
Looking fairly benign from outside and with a moderately respectable reception area, you cannot be prepared for the drab, depressing rooms upstairs. Creaky floor boards and walls of paper certainly do give the place an 'intimate' feel. The staff were cheerfully friendly and food was quite good but this place could not be recommended unless you practise extreme transcendental meditation. I finally resorted to earphones when the sound of boyracers outside the window was drowned out by the girl next door roaring at her mate for pukeing in the bath.
During a quick breakfast, snatched after a little lie-in, I pored over the map looking for inspiration for some morning photos. I hadn't realised before how near I was to Dunbeacon Stone Circle, the last attempt to photograph this wonderful circle was a complete fiasco of needless hill climbing, dissapointing light and a 3km walk back to the car in the dark with no torch. This time I knew exactly how I was going to approach the circle, though I have to say that anyone intending on visiting the circle would probably be best advised to avoid Julian Cope's directions and just use the map. I may have taken them too literally, abandoning the car on the road along the coast and taking to the hillside bravely brushing aside the thick brambles, barbed wire and impenetrable hedges only to stand on the ridge above the circle to watch an oul fella cycling up the road just one field and gate across from the circle. God rest the poor souls of the skeletons I passed on the way up the hill, still clutching their copy of TME.
Dunbeacon Stone Circle, Co. Cork
As you drive up the road thats nearest to Dunbeacon stone circle, you see a brown information sign with 'Standing Stones' on it, pointing to this field. The driveway also has a 'Parking' sign there too! This is a nice pair of tall stones pointing (almost) at the stone circle on the hill opposite. They were felled but re-erected in the past so may not exactly align with their original axis. A large new house has been built just above them, perhaps this was the site of the church mentioned in TME? Access is very easy with a short walk up a driveway and then through a specially installed gate.
Oddly enough, though the circle is quite obscure, the pair of standing stones at the foot of the hills opposite have their own tourist information sign, even some parking space! They are now situated in the shadow of a newly built house and are find themselves roughly aligned with the stone circle and a very telephone pole, placed with astonishing precision. The stones are tall and lean, like a miniature and denuded Garrane.
And now for something completely different!
Kilnaruane Inscribed Stone, Bantry, Co. Cork
Kilnaruane is a strange site, with one long, thin stone carved with a vertical boat on one side and a couple of crosses and figures on the other surrounded by four oddly carved stones set deep into the ground. Other stones lie scattered about and beyond them what looks like a small, encircling bank. I got the feeling that this could perhaps be the christianised site of a small, recumbent circle of the Carrigagulla type, with the torn up stones being reused for a new ritual tradition. Though I didn't know it at the time, this site also features a bullaun stone, two stones looked sufficiently bullaun like though for me to take notice, and some pics
Kilnaruane, Bantry, Co. Cork (note the low bank around the site, an enclosure or wall foundations??)
After some appropriately fishy food in Bantry, the afternoon was free to track down the real targets of the trip: the peculiar short row at Ardrah and the 'four poster' at Gortnacowly, so much acclaimed by Aubrey Burl.
Ardrah Stone Row, Co. Cork
There's no real difficulty in finding the route to the Ardrah row with the OS map, the best advice I can give is simply to give yourself twice as much time as you think you'll need and pick up a pair of knee (or higher) boots. This is the easiest route through the abandoned farmhouse:
Abandoned Farmhouse, Ardrah, Co. Cork
I've wanted to visit this row since I saw RedBrickDream's photos here a year ago or more. The setting and the arrangement is just superlative, hats off to whoever chose this spot and picked the stones, they really had a very good eye.
The row is peculiar, in a funny kind of way it reminds me of those cartoons you see of the mother duck leading the ugly ducklings across the road. Its a little overgrown now since the older photos, whatever lived in this field must have ate that typical rush-like grass. The sheep that live here now sure dont. Someone also left one of those horrible large black plastic sheets that they cover bales with, lumped between the last, smallest stone and the second last. I tried removing it but that, and the massive digger a hundred yards away took away a little of the magic of the visit, just a little bit.
As in the other fieldnotes, this is a bugger to get to, the driveway past the old farmhouse is now a swimming pool and all the fields are serioulsy boggy. Bring wellies when you come, but do come.
After a glorious hour at Ardrah, moving on to Gortnacowly left me with little in the way of expectations. The clouds and rain had rolled in once again and yet again I found myself taking the most difficult of several available routes, but once I climbed down the large stone wall east of the stones and made my way over, the sheer size of the largest stone here and the silent affirming of its accomplices really spun my imagination in a hundred directions: Why? Who? What? How??? No time to think, the rain sudden;y began to retreat and spectacular sunshine lit up the hills behind me, racing down across the fields, drawing a spectacular rainbow across the sky as it went.
Sun breaks through the rain clouds, Gortnacowly, Co. Cork
Gortnacowly 'Four Poster' and rainbow, Co. Cork
I forgot to print off the directions below and made a complete yak of getting to the stones. I parked in a driveway and knocked on the door, there was noise inside but no-one answered. This is getting more common in the depths of rural Ireland. Anyway, I walked up a lane and then along the side of a small stream into another field. I then crossed a hedge and up in the corner I had to scale a wall at an open gate. At first glance over, there seemed to be no way in or out of the field but once you are near the stones you realise there are a few gaps on the southern hedge.
The stones themselves? Wonderful! One massive, bulky hulk and two skinnier but still quite large accomplices. Like the big boss man and his two cronies. The setting is again spectacular, this is stunning countryside. The stones dont seem to have ever formed a rectangle, it must have been quite askew when complete (if there was a fourth stone) in much the same was as the comparable, but slightly less dramatic, arrangement at Lettergorman.
The weather continues to oscillate though many dramatic shifts, it rained quite a bit which meant constant wiping of the lens for the brief burst of sunshine that produced a magnificent rainbow.
Back in the car, it seemed like the day had gone on for weeks, incredibly it was still only three o'clock and I wondered if it was possible for my legs and batteries to tackle any more of the west Cork marvels. Burl's guide says of Maughanasilly; 'convieniently located by the side of a road', at that moment in time, this sounded like my kind of place!
Maughanasilly Stone Row, Co. Cork
Maughanasilly Stone Row, Co. Cork
Driving through the hills north of Kealkill, you could forget that your on the way to visit one fo the few excavated and restored stone rows in the south west, the scenery is incredible. Just as you pass a peacefull little lake in a natural amphitheatre you come to a small cross roads. Maughanasilly stone row is on the hillock to the right, overlooking the lake. The name mey be ridiculous but this is a seriously wonderful place. A small space just outside the gate is handy for parking and the site has a little, informative sign just inside the swinging gate. Visitors are welcome here and the site is very easy to access, though not for the disabled.
I arrived here just as the sun was re-appearing for a few minutes of glorious colour before sinking below the horizon, there are wide views across wild mountains to the north and west but no view to the east. To me, it looked like this row is very closely aligned to the sunset at midwinter, the sign suggests a lunar alignment.
The stones that remain standing are all similar but look bizarrely mismatched or arranged, they are all quite small, none above 1.5m. One lies prostrate on the south side but there doesn't seem to be a gap for its socket, as if it had missed out on megalithic musical chairs.
With a few decent photos now in the can and still plenty of sites to occupy me another day, I packed up, squelched out of the wets and mud caked boots and high tailed it out of the mountains, next stop: Dublin! Not so fast!
Inchincurka Wedge Tomb, Co. Cork
I cant explain how I managed to miss Inchincurka on my way past here before, it stands proud as punch in the centre of a field, impossible to miss if you are driving north from Bantry to Cork. Its in excellent condition structurally but is encased in weeds from the north side into the chamber, like one of those bicycle helmets made of leather strips with manic hair protruding wildly, from the south. The light though was fading fast, and my batteries even faster. As darkness fell I folded my tripod away and stole into the night...
Posted by CianMcLiam
20th January 2007ce
Edited 20th January 2007ce