Another overcast morning as we leave our Downpatrick B&B under the watchful gaze of himself - well, at least a statue of St Pat, anyway - on the hill opposite... and head for Belfast. Ah, Belfast. As an Englishman, brought up with lurid BBC news reports of sectarian violence and Stiff Little Fingers' searing tales of youthful repression from all sides, I'm not surprisingly brimming with preconceptions about the place. And not a little nervous, too. But when there just happens to be a veritable 'super henge' located at the southern city limits, a stonehead's gotta do what a stonehead's gotta do.
Sited above the River Lagan between Carryduff and Dunmurry, the surroundings are surprisingly rural, despite high rise buildings looming through the trees not more than half a mile distant? The henge is so large that the impression is of arriving at a hillfort, the mis-conception heightened by numerous locals arriving to 'walk the dog'... a universally popular activity at hillforts, it has to be said. Ascend the earthworks, however, and this is clearly no hillfort. Especially with the rather fine remaining chamber of a former passage grave set at the centre. Albeit a passage grave currently being utilised as a temporary (one hopes?) dwelling by two Buckfast swilling loons, in accordance with what would seem to be local tradition here? Yeah, by all accounts people have a different 'take' on life and their relationship with others in these parts? Perhaps this is inevitable in light of the well documented history of social unrest and outsiders are not really informed enough to comment. Anyway - luckily - they keep their 'curtains' drawn, enabling me to have a good look around the upstanding chamber before undertaking several circuits of the massive henge bank.
And it is the henge which is the star of the show here. Apparently it measures almost 660ft in diameter, with an average bank height of 15ft. Amazing stuff. The distinctive profile of Cave Hill rises to the north-west of the city, itself crowned by the remains of an Iron Age fort. Apparently this was the venue for the meeting leading to Wolfe Tone's rebellion of 1795 - the not altogether 'successful' one, that is. Yeah, there's clearly a lot more to Belfast than an outsider might first think.
Described in 'Mourne Country' by E.E.Evans as a court grave in a tangle of thorns and briars, consisting of three chambers. He first identified it (as a megalith) in 1947. Thankfully there were no briars when I visited (Oct 10). Knarly old hawthorn trees grow on the site, giving it a very peaceful air. The large boulders are still loosely arranged in the shape of 3 chambers, but I couldn't make out a forecourt. There is a pile of smaller boulders just downhill (maybe 25m) of the site.
This site is much degenerated. A few large stones mark the tomb in the centre of a roughly circular area of stones/boulders about 30 metres diameter. The area is overgrown with trees. It is described in an article "The Horned Cairns of Ulster" by O.Davies and E.E.Evans in Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, Volume 6 1943. The site is described as a later monument, having two chambers. Even in 1943 they described it as having been badly disturbed to the extent that few human bones were found. The bodies were not fully cremated, but 'toasted' and dismembered and laid in the chambers (perhaps one body in each).