Beltany Stone Circle
For thousands of years the landscape around Raphoe has been an important centre of ritual practise, a place of worship , to where pre christian ancestors came to pay homage to their spiritual rulers - the Sun and the Moon. Just three kilometres south of Raphoe on the summit of Beltany Hill stands a Neolithic stone circle (800 – 1400BC) called Beltany Stone Circle. This stone circle comprises of 64 standing stones but it is thought that there may have been originally 80 stones. One of the stones which is about 2 metres in height stands to the southeast of the circle. It probably had some function related to the pagan ceremonies held in the circle.
The name Beltany is derived from the word Beltane which is linked to the Celtic festival of fertility. This festival was usually held in May the Irish for which is Bealtaine. It is said that on the first day of Bealtaine two fires were lit and the animals were driven between the fires. This was done to protect the animals from diseases, to promote regeneration and also to pay homage to sun god Baal for the following season.
It has been suggested that the arrangement of stones was also used by the people to determine astronomical alignments such as the winter and summer solstice. The builders of this enigmatic monument did not leave behind a set of plans, these were a pre literate people. Yet this was far from a haphazard construction. Each standing stone placed with precision, set in the ground with a purpose and built to last. This was a well organised, structured society connected to the land and the elements, a people with a vision who would leave behind a powerful testimony to their ritual practises. We do know is that this was the setting for complex religious practices of a multi faceted people for several thousand years. The surrounding landscape is dotted with standing stones, and the ruins of passage tombs where the cremated dead were placed.
The area is dominated by Croaghan Hill where it is said the Milesian warrior Magh Itha is buried on the summit in a passage tomb.