Just four miles south of Belfast city centre and close to Shaw’s bridge, in the town land of Ballyleeson stands the Giants Ring one of the finest, prehistoric fortifications of this kind in Ireland. It was built before the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge and even Newgrange. This big earthwork circle is a beautiful example of a ‘henge’ monument, built about 2,700to 3,000 B.C. during the Neolithic period. The secret of this huge stone ring is still a mystery to our historians. There is not a single scrap of recorded history on the Giant’s Ring. Traditions, written or oral, have completely disappeared. The mystic wall or ring formation is composed of stones carried there by hundreds of people, on the top of which earth has accumulated in the course of time to form the present amphitheatre. The ring, with its seven entrances now covered in grass is nearly 200 metres in diameter, with imposing four metre high banks and enclosing an area of seven acres, giving panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
The figure seven is significant in connection with this ancient place. The dolmen had two rings of seven stones each originally supporting the top stone. The enclosure surrounding the ring is divided by seven depressions in the mound, thus making the complete circle have seven arcs. Many periods of history have had their superstitions regarding the number seven. The religious meaning attached to this figure cannot be ignored in antiquarian research with a religious background like Ireland. Some will argue that the seven sections and the seven stones represent a great prehistoric chief who ruled over seven separate tribes. Some historians believe the dolmen marks the last resting place of this high king. A Neolithic tomb passage, dating back 4,000 years, was uncovered inside the circle by local farmers back in the 1850’s. The entire site is thought to have been one of Ireland’s most important pre-Christian ‘cathedrals’ with the surrounding ground being used as a burial site for hundreds of men, women and children during the late Neolitic and Early bronze Ages.
It was probably originally built as fort but the dolmen or Cromleach, the bare frame of what was originally a chambered grave, covered with a cairn of stones and earth ,standing within the enclosure tells us this was a funeral monument raised for some great chief. Possibly there was also an outer belt of stones forming an enclosure to the dolmen. The dolmen is not exactly in the center, but Stone Age man made a good guess. The Giant’s Ring has a few characteristics peculiar to itself, the dolmen surrounded by the ring fort is almost unique in Ireland. The mounds of earth and stones round these ringforts were usually formed by building up soil dug from nearby trenches. Here, there is no ditch round the outside of the ring and no evidence that there ever was one. One therefore naturally wonders where the earth and stone came from. Either the material was carried by a large number of workers and built around the flat ground or could the ring be volcanic in origin? How were these huge stones lifted with the meager mechanical tools available at that period? The stones were carried a great distance. Such labour must have meant the work of willing men, uniting in a common love and purpose before this central dolmen could have been built. The Dolmen in its original form apparently consisted of a large flat capstone resting on seven perpendicular supports. The capstone has however, slipped and now rests on three standing stones. Could this Capstone at one time been used as a sacrificial altar where on human victims were offered? Vast quantities of human remains have been dug up in a field to the North- West of the Ring and close beside it. In the same field several stone cists have been unearthed containing human remains of less than adult stature. May not these have been the remains of those offered for sacrifice? There is no doubt that human sacrifice was offered to the pagan Idols of ancient Ireland.
We have it on record by the Spaniards that the victims sacrificed of the Aztec Sun God in Mexico were either youths or maidens, and it may be that the remains found in the coffin cists at nearby Drumbo were those of victims sacrificed to the Sun God in Ireland, for ancient Druidical worship was sun worship.
This enormous henge monument must have been a very important burial place, for not only is there, a stone circle of 10 acres enclosing the dolmen, the largest in the British Isles except Avebury, but there was also an unearthed circular burial chamber of stone blocks roofed with flags divided into six compartments. They contained four cinerary urns, with upright pillar stones in the centre which was perhaps a representation of some diety of the dead. Nearby were also burial places of a third type –cists containing urns of ashes – whilst cartloads of bones were said to have been removed from the neighbourhood by the farmers.
Standing in the centre at the dolmen, you can see nothing but the heavens, the outside world being screened off the high ramparts. Your view is bounded by the circle of a massive bank, overgrown with grass, whin and bluebells that time has laid over the 15 foot stone wall around this fantastic place. Indeed it’s not hard to imagine how long ago this strange place witnessed some awesome scenes.