The Mystery Of Standing Stones
Intriguing Simple Monuments
They have stood through time and outlived human memory. They range from the very modest to tall imposing monuments and beg us to ask ‘Why’ and for what reason were standing stones first erected.
The reason for their placing in the landscape is uncertain as is the choosing of their location. Were they markers of ancient routes through the land, meeting places or perhaps territory indicators set down by the earliest farmers. Through excavation, some are known to have been memorials or grave markers as evidence of burials have been discovered at their base. Others, in more modern times have quite simply been erected as scratching stones for livestock which unfortunately adds a bit to the confusion as to the authenticity of some stones.
However, when taking into account the size of some of the bigger monoliths, one would certainly be tempted to say that it was most unlikely that they would have been erected as scratching pillars and that farmers would have went to so much trouble for the care and comfort of their animals.
The majority of stones have their long axis are oriented in a NE- SW direction. This orientation makes for the likelihood of solar and lunar alignments which could have accurately indicated the turning of the seasons for the early farmers of Ireland. Some are also believed to have had much significance in the role of burials rituals etc.
The Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford which was published in 1999, lists 267 standing stones in the county, a number of which are categorised as “possible” Standing Stones. True Standing Stones are all unworked and typically range in height from 1-3 metres. However, height is not necessarily a criterion and identifying what is authentic and what isn’t is not an easy task.
Known as Dalláns or Galláns in Irish, these stones were a simple and convenient form of early monument as no foundation was required, just some smaller packing stones needed to secure and maintain their upright position through the ages. Some may have been shaped and sculptured to resemble figures while others can be found with an early form of rock art called a ‘Cupmark’ which can be seen on a stone at Kilmovee.
In Waterford standing stones are most numerous in the east of the county and are sometimes found near mounds, Ringforts or occasionally in the vicinity of Portal Tombs. They can also be encountered close to early church sites.
A question occasionally asked is how deep were these stones inserted into the ground. One stone (of modest size) which has fallen recently, shows that almost 40% of it’s total length was below ground level. So, when looking at much bigger monoliths it’s reasonable to assume that that the same percentage or perhaps more would apply to maintain long term stability.
Some standing stones are very simple and basic in appearance while others take on a more imposing profile and exude a special air of presence and mystery. Standing next to such stones one gets a special feeling of a very distant past. They provoke the mind to speculate and urges one to try and visualise what it must have been like in the landscape in which they are standing all those thousands of years ago.
Despite an ever changing and modernising world, these stones remain and for many of them their mystery also continues, leaving us to ponder on their significance and on a past that holds many great mysteries.
Cup marked stone at Kilmovee
Article first published March 2012
A delightfully situated monument
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Waterford's tallest standing stone is located 5 km from Tramore. The impressive stone measures 3.7m in height. See it Here
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