Raphoe is the smallest cathedral city in Europe, but it a site of worship over a mile south of the ‘city’ that there stands one of the best preserved stone circles in Ireland. Reputedly older than Stonehenge, it consists of 64 standing stones out of an original 80. Beltony is a corruption of Baal tine, the fire of Baal; this suggests that the inhabitants of this area worshipped Baal, the sun god, and ruler of nature. Tradition tells us that the principal ceremonies were performed at the summer solstice; a sacred fire was lit in the centre of the circle of stones, which represented the stars and fire of the sun god Baal.
The Irish word for the month of May is Bealtaine, and two fires were lit on the first day of this month. Domestic animals were then driven between the fires, so as to gain protection against diseases and the dreaded ‘Evil Eye’. This custom has also been practised in other Celtic regions such as Scotland and Brittany. One romantic tale suggests that the outlying stone represents a musician, while the circle of stones represents dancers turned to stone for their revelry during the Sabbath. The more sober explanation is the alignment was used to determine astronomical alignments. We know which version we prefer to believe.
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Beltony Hill, Raphoe, County Donegal, Ireland.