A week of hot summer days seemed on the verge of departure on Monday 10th June but that did not dampen the spirits of the two parochial groups who met at Clifford’s school house by the bridge in Glenculloo for a summer outing.
In this year of the ‘Gathering’ it was a symbolic event. The combined ‘gathering’ of the Silvermines Historical Society and the Killoscully Historical Group amounted to close on fifty people, their mission to visit the stone circle in Glenculloo. The local Clifford and Harrington families were well represented.
The quiet valley that was once densely populated now suddenly reverberated with new voices as the group took the relatively short walk from the bridge along the narrow winding road. Turning right into the lane going up in the direction of Keeper Hill it was thankfully dry underfoot, as was the field on our left with its historic stone circle. A ‘meitheal’ from Silvermines had recently cleared the rampant rushes from the centre of the stone circle, by kind permission of the field owner.
Silvermines Historical Society member, Patsy Feehily, whose paternal grandmother was born on the other side of the river, in Lackabrack, said she was first introduced to the stone circle over 40 years ago by her late uncle, Canon Martin Ryan, PP Lorrha, who at the time was a vice president (Munster) of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. She spoke on the significance of the pre-historic monument.
Locally known as ‘Fir Breaga’ (false men) the circle, she said, is typical of stone circles found in many parts of the country. In the words of one of Ireland’s most renowned Antiquarians, Sean P O Riordain, they are ‘notoriously difficult to date’ but, stone circles are believed to belong to the early Bronze age and some to the Neolithic period, when the first Irish ‘farmers’ started producing, rather than hunting, their own food.
She pointed out that the Great Stone Circle at Grange near Lough Gur – one of the very few in this country to yield any artefacts – has been dated to 1,800 BC, and said that the circle at Glenculloo, which is smaller and less sophisticated, may be of an even earlier origin.
What the circle was used for, nobody can say for certain. Even the most famous stone circle in Europe – Stonehenge – has never revealed its essential secrets. According to a recent article in National Geographic Magazine, “ we still have no clear idea what the people who built it, actually used it for”. But archaeologists are agreed that those structures were likely to have been ritual sites, some associated with funeral rites. Evidence of burials has been found at some sites, but there was no indication of any burial at the circle in Grange.
The circle at Glencullo, in the shadow of Keeper Hill, is a ring of 14 stones, some worn and broken, and the tallest is over five feet in height. It lies amid the most stunning scenery in an area – stretching from there to Rearcross – where pre-historic remains such as megalithic tombs abound.
Another SHS member, Jimmy Quirke sang a local ballad commemorating a historic hurling match between Silvermines and Glenculloo, and local woman, Peg Lynch (nee Clifford) sang Majestic Keeper Hill praising the beauty of Keeper Hill.