Drombeg is a carefully restored and well-preserved example of a south-west Irish axial stone circle, probably built in the early part of the second millennium B.C.E. Located near to the south coast of County Cork, a few kilometers from the village of Ros 0 gCairbre (Ross Carbery), it commands a

The axial stone circle at Drombeg, Co. Cork, Ireland, viewed along the axial alignment toward midwinter sunset. (Courtesy of Clive Ruggles)

wide view southward down toward the sea. It is relatively large as axial stone circles go: it is a little under ten meters in diameter and contains seventeen stones.

Drombeg is significant astronomically because of its axial alignment. As viewed along the axis from outside the circle to the northeast, looking in through the portals, the recumbent stone on the far side sits beneath a relatively close hill, less than a kilometer (half a mile) distant. In this hill, above the center of the recumbent stone, is a shallow but prominent notch. The axis and notch mark the setting position of the midwinter sun. The solstitial alignment of Drombeg was first recorded by Boyle Somerville in 1923 and has been much noted since. In fact, it is not exact: at around the time of the circle's construction the midwinter sun would have set somewhat to the left of the notch, only reaching it about two weeks before and after. Nowadays it is much closer. Nonetheless, even at the time of construction it would have been close enough to impress.

Much has been written about Drombeg, including speculations about other sunrises and sunsets that might have been observed from the circle at different times in the seasonal year. But everywhere has a horizon, and a circle of seventeen stones must of necessity form many alignments. Although it is not unreasonable to imagine Bronze Age people tracking the annual pas sage of the sun along the horizon, the archaeological record does not speak clearly about this. Even the intentionality of the main solstitial alignment is in some doubt. When Drombeg is considered in the wider context of the group of monuments of which it is a member, it is found that—despite the general consistency of the orientations of the axial stone circles toward the southwest or west—not a single other example is solstitially aligned. The obvious conclusion is that solstitial alignment was not important to the axial stone circle builders—even though the general design and orientation was— and that the solstitial alignment of this single example was probably fortuitous. On the other hand, however strong the framework of beliefs and traditions that governed and constrained the construction of one of these circles, it is always possible that the builders of this particular one had a special reason for going beyond the prevailing convention and incorporating a deliberate alignment upon sunset on the shortest day.

See also:

Alignment Studies; Somerville, Boyle (1864-1936).

Axial Stone Circles; Stone Circles.

References and further reading

Aveni, Anthony F., ed. World Archaeoastronomy, 470-482. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Burl, Aubrey. A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, 218-219. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

Ruggles, Clive. Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland, 100-101. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.

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