Set high on a Donegal hilltop with extensive views over the surrounding landscape, Beltany Stone Circle is a truly stunning example of the prehistoric landscapes of Ireland. The circle is made up of 64 stones of various sizes, though it is thought there may once have been up to 80 stones. Its diameter of 45m (around 148 feet) makes it one of the largest stone circles in Ireland. Within the circle, you can a raised mound, with a number of small loose stones displaced around the interior. This displacement may be evidence of disturbance, as noted by archaeologist Oliver Davies in the 1930s. The disturbance is likely to date to the 18th or 19th century. The Ordnance Survey Memoir of 1836 recorded that there had been a ‘vast heap of stones’, presumably a cairn, within the circle but the stones had been removed to form field boundaries and fences in the vicinity. Thomas Fagan who visited the monument in 1846, described the interior of the circle as being ‘much disfigured’. He recorded a local account that said that the ‘interior was raised with earth and stones covering and encircling sepulchral graves’, and that ‘decayed bones’ were unearthed here (information from the Archaeological Survey of Ireland, and Archaeological Inventory of Donegal).
This description of a raised mound of earth and stone, covering ‘sepulchral graves’ suggests that Beltany may be the denuded remains of a large megalithic tomb, particularly a passage tomb, rather than a stone circle. This is supported by its landscape setting, with its prominence being similar to other passage tombs. Indeed, there are views across to a passage tomb cemetery at Kilmonaster and another possible tomb at Croaghan Hill.
If Beltany Stone Circle was indeed such a tomb, then the ring of stones would represent the stone kerb around the base of a tomb rather than it being a stone circle. However, it is rather strange that local farmers would largely remove the cairn and mound and leave such useful stone behind. It is not impossible however, and folklore and practicalities may have both played a role if this was indeed the case.