1. IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION / ULSTER ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY / EHS SOLSTICE EVENT, SATURDAY 19 JUNE. The IAA + UAS, in conjunction with the Environment and Heritage Service, will be holding another joint event to mark the summer solstice, with a visit to Ballynoe Stone Circle, near Downpatrick, Co Down. This is the largest and most impressive and complex stone circle in Northern Ireland, and one of the biggest in Ireland, and may well have a winter solstice sunset alignment.
See, for example: http://www.megalithomania.com/show/site/270/ballynoe_stone_circle.htm and http://www.megalithicireland.com/ and http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/1048/ballynoe.html
We will visit the stone circle (SC) at 14.00, where there will be talks about the archaeology and possible astronomical connections, and then adjourn to the nearby beach at Minerstown for a BBQ/picnic. In the case of bad weather, there are two local pubs for refreshments.
DIRECTIONS: Ballynoe Stone Circle is on Ballynoe Road, which runs SSW from Downpatrick towards Dundrum Bay. It's about 2.5 miles from Downpatrick, at Map Ref:J481404
From Downpatrick, there are two possible routes:
1. take the B 176 towards Killough, and turn right at the well-known FLYING HORSE Inn just on the S outskirts of the town. Then take the first left, in about 300 yds, onto Ballynoe Road. Proceed along that road for about 1.5 miles until you come to the crossroads with The Castle Inn pub on your right. Proceed on through the cross roads and in about 200 yds you'll see the small brown 'Tourist' sign for Ballynoe SC. Or
2. Take the main A25 from Downpatrick towards Clough and Newcastle etc. Turn left at the first crossroads after Downpatrick Racecourse (which is on your left) - it's about 1 mile past the Racecourse. This will take you into Bonecastle Road. Go across the first crossroads, then turn left at an angled T-Junction. In about 400 yards you will come to the crossroads with the Castle Inn pub on your left. Turn right at this cross roads onto Ballynoe Road, and in about 200 yds you'll see the small brown 'Tourist' sign for Ballynoe SC.
IF APPROACHING FROM CLOUGH (on the main Belfast - Newcastle Road) take the A 25 from Clough towards Downpatrick and turn right at the crossroads about 4 miles from Clough (it's the first proper crossroads you come to on that road) into Bonecastle Road, then proceed as for '2' above.
PARKING: There is limited parking at the roadside at the entrance to the SC, but if there isn't enough room there, more parking is available a bit further out along Ballynoe Road at a small group of houses, within easy walking distance.
ACCESS: The SC is about 1/3 mile (1/2 km) off the road along an unpaved path, and requires negotiation of an 'up and round' stile, so this visit would not be suitable for anyone with anything more than slight mobility problems. Also the site is quite exposed, with no shelter, so bring clothing and footwear appropriate for the weather. But if the weather is good, it's a fabulous spot!
BALLYNOE S/C: The Circle is unique among Irish SCs (as far as I know), because of the large internal, oval, off-centre raised cairn surrounded by its own small kerb stones, and also because of the complex of what I call 'entrance stones', which are quite large, and form a sort of portal. But the archaeologists can give a better explanation than I can. There are also more large outlying stones than I have seen at any stone circle in Ireland, which is another distinguishing feature.
Some websites also refer to a large stone with prominent 'cup-marks', but I will provide an alternative explanation!
ASTRONOMICAL CONNECTION? The astronomical connection seems to be that at midwinter solstice, the sun sets (or used to 3,000 - 4,000 years ago) from the SC in the very prominent notch formed by the gap between Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh, the two highest mountains in the Mourne Mountains across Dundrum Bay (as for Drombeg Circle in Co Cork: see http://www.megalithics.com/ireland/drombeg/drbgmain.htm). This provides a very accurate way to measure the exact date of the solstice. There may be other alignments too - all waiting to be discovered!
PICNIC/BBQ AFTERWARDS: Afterwards, unless it's raining, we will proceed to the seashore at Dundrum Bay for a picnic/BBQ: there are two parking lay-bys at the roadside just beside Minerstown Beach, about 1m East of Minerstown Caravan Site, at MR: J505361. There are no picnic tables, so bring a folding table and chair, or at least a waterproof-backed rug to sit on the ground. I will provide maps on the day to enable you to find your way there, but basically you just go to the main A2 Coast Road, 1m East of the Caravan Park. (You can bring a snack to the Stone Circle with you, but because of the distance, you wouldn't want to carry very much! Also, we don't want ANY litter at the site, and we certainly do not want any barbecues there!)
CONSUMABLES: Bring your own! Bring your own food, drink, plates, cutlery, cups, glasses etc, and if you want to BBQ, bring your own portable or disposable one. And matches or a lighter, and BBQ tongs etc.
(BTW, do NOT believe the fanciful and totally erroneous explanation given for the origin of the word 'barbecue' on the Alan Simpson Show on Radio Ulster last week! He claimed that it came from the French words for 'beard' and 'tail', but it's actually from a Spanish word, 'barbacoa', originally from Haitian, meaning a framework of posts and sticks on which animals were roasted. This is confirmed by both the Shorter and Concise Oxford Dictionaries, and Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, all highly authoritative sources.)
PLAN B: If it's wet, there are two pubs fairly nearby: The Castle Inn, on Ballynoe Road, at Ballynoe Cross Roads, just 200 yds from the entrance to the SC, and the Ramble Inn, at Corbally, about 2m to the West.
Please let me know if you intend to go, so we can get some idea of likely numbers (there's no charge, BTW)
2. NO NEED FOR 'DARK ENERGY'? I've always had my doubts about 'Dark Energy', which I'm sure many of you have heard me express on various occasions! It seems too much of an ad-hoc hypothesis, almost reminding me of the Ptolemaic System's ever increasing complex system of cycles, epicycles and deferents.
Now, new research by astronomers in the Physics Department at Durham University has thrown doubt on the present version of the 'Standard Model' of the universe, in which about 75% of the total is comprised of so-called dark energy, which is supposed to be making the expansion rate of the universe speed up, instead of slow down.
I can't say more just yet, but watch this space!