09 August 2017

A 3,500-year-old stone circle
in the hills above Millstreet

The Stone Circle at Knocknakilla was probably erected in the Middle or Late Bronze Age (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Millstreet, Co Cork, last Sunday [6 August 2017], my cousin brought me to visit the Stone Circle at Knocknakilla in the hills above Millstreet.

Local historians have argued about the meaning of the placename of Knocknakilla. Some say the name of the townland is Cnoc na Coille, ‘the Hill of the Wood,’ while others derive from Cnoc na Cille, meaning ‘the Hill of the Church.’

The Knocknakilla megalithic complex is set in blanket peatland on the north-west upper slopes of Musherabeg mountain, about 11 km outside Millstreet and about 1 km from the entrance to the Millstreet Country Park. This is a level patch of bogland overlooking a deep valley.

Knocknakilla Stone Circle is a small prehistoric complex consisting of a stone circle, two standing stones, and a cairn, and is thought to be about 3,500 years old.

The stone circle was probably erected in the Middle or Late Bronze Age (1800-1600 BCE), and it is may have been used for rituals or ceremonies. It is typical of these types of monuments, and the alignments of the standing stones and circle were probably influenced by observations of solar and lunar cycles.

Given the relation of the stone to both the rising and setting sun, it may be that they were aligned with purpose and function in mind, such as the calendars used by early farmers, and it may have been related to harvest or fertility ceremonies.

The stone circle has five large stones, although two have collapsed. The entrance to the circle faces north-east.

The interior of the circle was excavated in 1931, and was found to be paved with stones, with quartz pebbles concentrated around the entrance, but no artefacts were found. The two standing stones – one of which fell about 50 years ago – are to the southwest of the circle.

The cairn just east of the stone circle was discovered during peat-cutting in 1970. This cairn is defined by a circle of 11 stones.

The area is rich with archaeological artefacts, and nearby are two cashels, a ringfort, two fulacht fiadh, a possible souterrain and a circular enclosure. Near the main site, a Dolmen made up from a long flat capstone supported by three upright stones is a modern re-construction.

Knockanilla is a national monument.

Longitude: 9° 1' 26" W
Latitude: 52° 0' 22" N

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