April 2010


The Holestone that is a special feature of our local valley.  It sits on a small crag and has a spectacular view of the six mile valley (or the Ollar valley if you prefer).  It is a megalith that is believed to have originated three or four thousand years ago during the Bronze age.  It is said that in recent centuries the Holestone was used for young couples to make their pledge of love to each other.  In the area around Ballyclare with its mounds, raths, cairns and Souterrains, the Holestone is probably the most famous. Yet the true purpose of the Holestone remains a mystery.

The hole in the stone is quite substantial and seems like a massive feat of achievement when the tools available at the time are considered, or the complete lack of tools!  Why would our Bronze Age ancestors have gone to such trouble to drill such a hole?  And, if they went to the trouble to build such a monument then surely they would put as much care and attention into its placement?

I myself wondered about these things and my wonder deepened when I read about Ireland’s ancient astronomers in the book; “Island of the setting Sun” by Anthony Murphy and Richard Moore. It seems that in Ireland long ago, people worshiped the sun, moon and stars.  They must have observed them closely as they seem to have made huge efforts to set up stones, mounds and alignments to keep track of the heavens.  The Boyne valley, including Newgrange, is the most striking example.  The Newgrange complex is estimated to be five hundred years older than the great pyramid at Giza and a thousand years older than Stonehenge!

So, does the Holestone have some significant astronomical alignment?  For a standing stone alignment there needs to be another stone or a hill with which to make a straight line to use as a pointer to the sky.  Standing at the Holestone there seems to be no obvious sister stone nearby.  It may have been removed or buried long ago, or simply does not exist.  The other options are hills and the view from the Holestone has many to choose from with its spectacular view point.  However, only one hill has the obvious alignment with the hole.  Leaning down and looking through the hole gives a perfect view of the top of Donegore Hill.

This is where it gets slightly geeky.  Looking through the hole to the top of Donegore hill is a straight line on a bearing of 244º (250º magnetic) and the line points up into the sky at only a slight angle of about 1º30’ up from the horizon.  So the question is; does this point to any significant star or constellation?  At the moment; no, but in the past the sky was a little bit different. Four thousand years ago the rising and settings of stars would have been in different places due to a phenomenon known as precession (or earth wobble).  Four thousand years ago in the cold dark winter nights the mighty constellation of Orion set perfectly into Donegore Hill through the window of the Holestone.  The Holestone would have been a window through which the three bright stars of Orions belt, Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak, would have been seen setting in a perfect line one after the other.

Orion is a very recognizable constellation in the night sky.  Orion seems to be the second most recognizable constellation after the big dipper (which never sets below the horizon).

The name we use for this constellation is Greek in origin; Orion was a gigantic hunter of primordial times.  Orion has long been considered as a giant man in the sky, sometimes a hunter, warrior or god. It is one of those few constellations which actually looks like what it is supposed to represent. In Ireland it seems to be known by many names down through the ages possibly including; Finn Mac Cool, Lugh (the long armed god), Cúchlainn, Setanta and The High Man.  It is ‘The High Man’ that is the most interesting as recent discoveries have linked Orion with much older astronomical alignments in the Boyne Valley.

So, is there more to the Holestone than meets the eye?  There may be more to this story as I have read that the Holestone itself has ancient carvings on its well weathered surface.  Carvings of the constellations and the night sky hidden by thousands of years of Doagh weather.

It is strange to think that thousands of years ago our ancestors probably gathered around to watch the constantly turning sphere of the heavens and maybe worshipped the giant in the night sky as it set into the earth only to return again night after night.  The clockwork of the stars probably gave them a sense of reassurance that there will be a tomorrow and the world keeps turning.

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Annalong Valley from Carrick Big

I had hoped we would bivvy out but the tent was a softer option that got played with for a while.  The weather was due to be good so the tent was left in the van.  As we arrived into the valley it was clear that the tent was a bad idea anyway.  As the Outdoor Fox pointed out to me, tents are what you get into to get away from the world around you, to cocoon yourself away and ignore the elements.  The elements were not to be ignored this night, but to be watched like a hawk.  We wished to be aware of every gust of wind and the state of the mountains around us.  The mountains were on fire, specifically Slieve Binnian was very definitely on fire.

Slieve Binnian from the north end of Annalong Wood

I don’t think I can properly describe standing in the dark valley with the quarter moon hanging over the burning mountains.  The fires burned a deep red colour like lithium.  They were ribbons across the hillside and moved like a gigantic living snake.  It was scary to see how one small fire started by some idiot could grow so vast and spread so much, and this was on a relatively still night.

In our position, kilometres away, we were safe as long as we kept an eye on the conditions and kept the fire in the far distance.  The air was so still that we were intermittently woken from our light slumber by the noise of the trees as they gave away every light breeze or momentary gust.  Often during the night we would wake up and nervously stand to see how things had progressed then move on to awe at the sight.  It was a truly unique experience.  Then I would drift off to sleep staring up at the stars blooming over the tall pines as the cool air smelt of burning wood and peat.

At one point during the night I felt the presence of a person nearby, right behind me.  In a half dream I felt paralysed to do anything as the person moved nearer.  The Outdoor Fox was snoring only a few feet away but he was in front of me, the presence I felt seemed right behind me at this point, near my head, near my rucksack at my back.  Still paralysed I feared they would be stealing my stuff.  Then a low, very angry growl began to grow.  Then very loudly the very awake and angry Meg Dog burst from her sleeping state beside the OutdoorFox.  She seemed to move like lighting over my head and proceeded to bark and prowl along the edge of the woods behind me.  She was standing her ground and protecting us from the creatures of the night, probably a real outdoor fox.  The foxes in this area are very bold.  Recently I heard a story from a climber.  He relayed how his friend was bivvying at the base of the crags and, fast asleep, slowly began to wake and open his eyes as he sensed he was being watched.  He saw in front of him only mist then something rapidly coming out of the mist.  A fox ran towards him and ran straight for his head, then it snapped…… at a packet of jaffa cakes which were lying beside his face.  I am nearly certain he would have had to check his sleeping bag for incidental damage.

Meg Dog was in a semi primal state all night.  Several times she growled at the woods and prowled around our little circle, answering some programmed behaviour hundreds of thousands of years old.  She was protecting her pack from things that go bump in the night.

Last night I got to unpack my new toy and I went out into the back garden to play with it.  With my new newtonian reflector I got to see mars, the walls and craters on the moon and star clusters.  Tonight I wiped off the dust on an old webcam someone nearly threw out but gave to me.  The webcam images do not do the telescope justice but they show a bit of detail on the moon:

I don’t know what  these craters are called but I am sue that will come in time.  I have to stop soon, I am getting cheese cravings.

this has me laughing every time I see it

Oh my!

Amazing picture, source.

Back to school today after having been sick all weekend.  And when I mean all weekend I mean from arriving home on Friday after school!  I Feel robbed, but I am so glad I am feeling better today.  I had lots of phone calls as soon as I arrived into school; everybody sang songs to me.  I love my crazy family.

Must remember to take it easy today.

An interesting day today.  The radio woke up and spoke calmly of a volcano and all northern european flights cancelled.  More news later revealed the extent of the travel chaos it was causing, but I must admit I thought there would be more cries of protest from the unreasonable minority of the general public.  I did not hear much protesting, maybe people are more accepting of the natural world flexing its muscles and authority.  Maybe the cold winter and flooding are all contributing to our acceptance.  Although one teacher did come to school in a fluster.  She began the day in a highly stressed state as she stole some frantic moments on the phone before school began.  It seems that she was organising a massive party and it relied upon people making flights from England.  She did not appreciate the amazing geology of Iceland.

In class we shared stories of not believing the rumours this morning, not believing little sisters and brothers until assembly when the principal told them.  Later we all learnt together about British Airways Flight 9 and we all agreed that flying with the risk of ash is a bad idea.

The European Space Agency has a nice image taken today.

It also has some nice animations from a computer model that shows the current situation and predictions; click on the images to se the animation.

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Today I started back into exercise.  The end of last term was far too hectic to think of such things and the holidays were…. holidays.  But now I have no excuse so I ran to a local standing stone and enjoyed the amazing view.  It was not a massive distance but it was worth it as it was the first time I have visited the stone, I just wish I had brought my compass!

unknown source

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