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Drone snapshot of Grange Stone Circle.

Grange Stone Circle: A Place of Ritual Gatherings, Sacrifice and Worship from Prehistoric Times to the Modern Day

Mysterious stone circles dot the landscape of Ireland captivating travelers with their spiritual presence. Grange Stone Circle is one of the finest and it sits in the beautiful landscape of Lough Gur, an ancient sacred lake in Limerick, which is surrounded by prehistoric ruins, ring forts, megalithic monuments, romantic castles, and ritual enclosures. The area is steeped in mythology and spirituality, the Grange circle itself named after the sun goddess Grainne.

The magical landscape of Lough (‘Lake’) Gur (CC by SA / Diarmuid)

The magical landscape of Lough (‘Lake’) Gur (CC by SA / Diarmuid)

Grange stone circle, also known as Lios na Gráinsí  (Gaelic for “Fort of the Grange”), is located just west of Lough Gur, and it is one of eleven stone circles that are known about in the surrounds of this special lake. But it stands out above the rest – it is the second largest in the whole of Ireland and contains the greatest number of upright standing stones anywhere in the British Isles.

A map of Lough Gur showing just some of the significant historical sites in its surroundings. Grange Stone Circle can be seen to the left of the lake.

A map of Lough Gur showing just some of the significant historical sites in its surroundings. Grange Stone Circle can be seen to the left of the lake.

The Grange Stone Circle was built at least 4,000 years ago but may go back as far as 6,000 years. It is a complete ring made from 113 stones that stand upright in close proximity to one another. The largest stone is Rannach Chruim Duibh  (Crom Dubh’s Division) which stands over 4 meters (13 feet) high and weighs 40 tonnes (2200 lbs)! The circle is sunken into the surrounding landscape by about 1.2 meters (4 feet) and it is 45m (150 ft) in diameter.

A Perfect Circle for Festivities

The entrance to the circle approaches from the east and is perfectly aligned with the rising sun at the Summer Solstice. It is paved and lined with even more upright stones. The entrance stones are echoed on the southwest side of the circle by a pair of orthostats, whose tops slope downwards towards each other to form a v-shape.

Grange Stone Circle, Limerick

Grange Stone Circle, Limerick

The formation is a perfect circle, this combined with the central posthole suggests that the perimeter was measured out using a central pole and rope to mark the ground. Along this perimeter, there are 12 “orthostats” (large and slab-like stones that are usually situated upright) that have been placed at regular intervals. The perfect geometry and the orientation suggests that the site was used for ritual purposes. In fact, it is used in a similar way even today. Every Midsummer’s Eve people gather for festivities which end at dawn as everyone watches the rising sun shine through the entrance passageway.  

The entrance into the stone circle

The entrance into the stone circle

The largest monolith (center) in Grange Stone Circle

The largest monolith (center) in Grange Stone Circle

A Place for Fairies?

A small distance to the northeast from Grange stone circle is a second smaller circle, constructed in the same way. Within this second circle, there is a hawthorn tree growing out of a large stone; the tree has completely split the stone in two! To the north of this second circle is another large free-standing stone with another tree growing out of it. This tree is said to be a fairy tree which is associated with the elemental beings of another realm. It is seen as very bad luck to disturb these trees, therefore this tree is left alone out of respect for the fairies that may dwell within it.

The fairy tree that split the rock at Grange Stone Circle II (Thin Places Mystical Tours)

The fairy tree that split the rock at Grange Stone Circle II ( Thin Places Mystical Tours )

Rituals in the Circle

When the Grange stone circle was excavated in 1939, it was found to be full of late Neolithic Beaker pottery which seemed to have been deliberately smashed. No other structures were found aside from two hearths. Some un-burnt human remains, animal (mostly cattle) bone, some bronze materials, and the previously mentioned pottery pieces were all that was found at the site.

The Lough Gur area itself is shrouded in myth and mystery. There is evidence of 6000 years of continuous human habitation in the area going back into the Neolithic period. Aside from Grange stone circle, there are numerous landmarks in the Lough Gur area. To the east lies the Hill of Knockadoon which once formed an island in the middle of the lough (however the lake was drained in the 1840’s for archaeological purposes). At the top of another nearby Knockfennel hill is a ring-cairn of stones where archaeologists found burnt human remains! During the excavations of one of the ring forts in the area, archaeologists discovered hoards of Danish silver suggesting the presence of Vikings in the area.

Neolithic pottery was found in the lake and the surrounding area that matched the pottery found at Grange stone circle meaning that Grange stone circle and the Lough Gur area was probably populated and used at the same time. To accompany the beautiful and ancient landscape are numerous myths and stories told by the townsfolk. Tales are told of the ancestors of the Fitzgerald family and the goddess Áine which all emerge from the lake at certain times of the year. Today, the stone circle, the lake, and the surrounding area are a big tourist attraction in Ireland.

The stone circle once dominated the landscape with its ritualistic dances and ceremonies paying homage to the sun. Today, the stone circle remains a prominent landmark of the Lough Gur area and travellers continue to flock to the site to celebrate the sun just like it was nearly 4000 years ago, with singing, dancing, and feasting!

Top image: Drone snapshot of Grange Stone Circle. Photo Credit: Ioannis Syrigos

All images courtesy of Ioannis Syrigos unless otherwise stated.

By Veronica Parkes

References

Ballyhoura Failte. Grange Stone Circle – Lough Gur, Grange. Available at: http://visitballyhoura.com/index.php/2012/03/12/grange-stone-circle/

Byron, S. (2017). Lough Gur Stone Circle. Available at:  http://www.irelands-hidden-gems.com/lough-gur.html

Lough Gur Heritage Centre.  The Stone Circle.  Available at:  http://loughgur.com/destination/the-stone-circle/

Lough Gur Heritage Centre.  Bronze Age: Grange Stone Circle.  Available at: http://loughgur.com/learn-more/history/bronze-age/

Roberts, J. (2016). The Sacred Mythological Centres of Ireland . Bandia Publishing.

Seán P. Ó Ríordáin. “Lough Gur Excavations: The Great Stone Circle (B) in Grange Townland”. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature , Vol. 54 (1951/1952), pp. 37-74

Thin Places Mystical Tours. (2017) Fairy Tree at Grange Stone Circle. Available at:  https://thinplacestour.com/fairy-tree-grange-stone-circle/

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