Campaign notebook: A prehistoric monument full of clues but no answers | Inheritance
VSCompared to the surrounding rush fields that have been hard-earned in the upland bogs, the compound grass is a well-trimmed lawn. Gravel beds, added in the 1960s, complete the impression that the Drumskinny stone circle, cairn and alignment could be an eccentric feature of the garden.
However, the monument is one of a plethora of megalithic structures that began to emerge across Ireland during the Neolithic period (around 6,000 years ago). After the widespread deforestation of the land, a highly organized agrarian society was established. These people built massive edifices, including the famous Newgrange Tomb in County Meath, which was the resting place of a ruling elite. A glimmer of their rituals and spirituality is still visible through the passageway which traps the light of the rising sun at the winter solstice.
The disappearance of this society is marked by more modest monuments. Like this one. The tallest stone in Drumskinny’s circle only reaches my nose, while those in the adjacent row are mostly below knee height. With its curb finish and turf roof, the cairn resembles a miniature Newgrange, but excavations of the site have revealed no evidence of human burial.
Which begs the question: what were these stones used for? Clues lie in the fact that the Drumskinny line and circle are part of a network that winds its way through the northern counties to the settlement of Beaghmore in County Tyrone. Pottery fragments have dated part of this network to the Neolithic – or may simply show that these sites were occupied through the ages.
Analyzes of pollen from bog sediments suggest others were erected in the Bronze Age (about 4,000 years ago), when the climate was wetter and the forest had grown back. At Beaghmore, a number appear to be oriented towards solar events. Perhaps they reflect the despair of a people imploring the sun to revive the fertility of the soil?
I drop onto the cairn and point to my cell phone. The phone’s compass confirms the perfect north-south alignment of the row of stones. Running my hand over the grass, my fingers touch shards of gravel. Someone arranged them into a smiley face.
As I leave, I look towards the setting sun. Along an axis perpendicular to the alignment, it is a patch of white glare behind a thick bank of clouds.