IRISH ASTRONOMICAL ASSOCIATION / ULSTER ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY / NIEA SOLSTICE EVENT, SATURDAY 19 JUNE - UPDATE
The forecast is very good, so it's almost certain that we won't need to resort to pub grub, but can have our Picnic/BBQ. And bring your Speedos / bikini too!
The IAA + UAS, in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, 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.
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
There are two possible routes:
1. via DOWNPATRICK:
N.B. There are roadworks in Downpatrick so I suggest that if possible you try to go via Clough, on the main A24 Belfast - Newcastle Road. But if not.....
If you are going through Downpatrick via the B176, follow these directions to avoid these roadworks. - For those coming from Saintfield/Crossgar: when you reach the first roundabout, follow the sign for 'Town Centre', (it's the 2nd exit), you'll see a set of traffic lights in the distance. There's a filter road to the left just before these lights, This is 'SCOTCH STREET. Take this filter road, and follow the road, (there's a left bend, and then a sharp right turn) until you reach the first T junction (ignore all other junctions)... At the first T junction, turn left onto EDWARD STREET, keep driving until the next T junction, here you turn right, onto ARDGLASS ROAD, and drive on that road until the next T junction (with DOWNE HOSPITAL on your right) and turn left onto the road which will be the B176, it'll be signposted for 'Killough'.
Proceed round a noticeable left hand bend, then go straight ahead at a mini roundabout, then take the second right (it'll be signposted for 'Tyrella' with the Stone Circle tourist sign underneath). This is the Ballynoe Road, which leads straight to a crossroads with The Castle Inn pub on your right after about 1.5 miles. Proceed on through the cross roads and in about 200 yds you'll see the small 'Tourist' sign for Ballynoe Stone Circle. Maria adds "And the last time I was there, the sign at the actual SC was green, not brown which made it a bit more difficult to spot in the midst of the hedges!"
2. Via 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. 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 green 'Tourist' sign for Ballynoe SC.
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.
Let's see lots of you there for what promises to be a good day out. And escape from some rather awful football! (You can record it, if you really have to, I suppose....)