- By Niall McCracken
- BBC News IS
It may seem unlikely, but a visit to an ancient Neolithic site in rural County Tyrone can evolve into a journey through time and space.
Local historians and Mid Ulster Council are trying to raise awareness of the astronomical connections of the Beaghmore Stone Circle.
The seven mystical circles and 10 rows of stones are located amidst the green grass and heather-clad moorland of the Sperrin Mountains.
Just a few miles outside of Cookstown, a state-of-the-art observatory has been built in Davagh Forest.
The location of Northern Ireland’s only Dark Sky Park is no coincidence.
‘The Milky Way shines on you’
Local historian and tour guide Hugh McCloy believes it is important that more people know about the connection between the Beaghmore stones and modern astrology.
He said: “You can come here and look up at the night sky and you’ll see the Milky Way shining down on you, as bright as you can see it almost anywhere else in the world.
“Thousands of years ago our ancestors came here at night to look at the stars, and now we’re recreating that.”
The Beaghmore Stone Circles are located at the foot of the Sperrin mountains – one of the few places in Northern Ireland not affected by light pollution.
Beaghmore (Bheitheach Mhór), meaning “big place of birch trees”, was once a dense woodland before being cleared by Neolithic farmers.
Hearths and deposits of flint tools found here have been carbon dated to 2900-2600BC.
The stone circles and alignment were discovered in the late 1930s when a local labourer, George Barnett, was cutting peat.
Following an archaeological excavation an additional 1,269 stones were discovered.
The site and the surrounding bog indicate that the area was occupied from the Neolithic period to the Bronze Age.
The exact purpose of the site is still uncertain.
But some archaeologists believe that the circles were built in connection with the rising of the sun at midsummer, or to record the movements of the sun and moon acting as markers on a calendar to determine certain lunar events, solar or stellar.
Some of the stones have ancient chisel marks that archaeologists say resemble ancient Celtic writing known as Ogham.
Ogham is an ancient Irish alphabet, represented by a series of markings on stones and is the earliest written source of the Irish Language, dating back to the 4th Century AD.
The ancient language also inspired the name of the Davagh Forest observatory – The OM Sky Park.
As well as being an abbreviation for the ancient Irish alphabet, OM (or Aum) is sometimes referred to as the sound of the universe.
It is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and one of only 78 sites worldwide with official International Dark Sky accreditation.
Hugh McCloy said: “The exact purpose of the stones may remain a mystery but they certainly point to an ancient man who understood astronomy.
“So when you visit the rocks and the dark park of the sky and you look up, you will see that the people who built these monuments were observing the same sky, the sun, the moon and the stars.”
Mr McCloy said the ancient connections to this area did not end with the night sky.
The Sperrin mountains currently host several giant troll sculptures created by Danish artist Thomas Dambo.
He uses recycled materials to build sculptures around the world as part of his Trail of 1000 Trolls project.
One of the giant trolls can be found in Davagh Forest next to OM Dark Sky Park.
One in 150 people in Mid-Ulster have been found to carry AIP – known as the “giant gene”.
This can result in an overproduction of growth hormone, which is produced and released by the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland just below the brain.
Geneticists have determined that living carriers of the gene in Mid Ulster shared a common ancestor who lived around 2,500 years ago.
Mr McCloy said: “It’s amazing to think that people with the same genes were alive in this area when the Beaghmore rocks were built.
“And now the giants will return to the place in a way with these sculptures.”
He added: “It just goes to show, even in this small area of County Tyrone there is so much history.
“Never underestimate what you have at your own back door.”
#Ancient #rocks #night #sky #giant #trolls #BBC #News