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.