Knowing what is known: Ritual Centre: Balregan

Before starting to excavate archaeologists must first find out what is already known about a site. This detection gives an idea of what clues to look for. Balregan is a perfect example of this.

Balregan is a ritual site at the head of Dundalk Bay (in the past it would have been much closer to the sea). It would have been crossed by any road running around the Dundalk marshes. It is also a point where the Castletown and Kilcurry Rivers meet. This spectacular site once contained a great number of megalithic monuments, but they were all swept away between 1750 and 1835.

In 1748 antiquarian Thomas Wright recorded Balregan in his book Louthiana. However, many of the monuments he carefully drew were rather haphazardly described.  This meant the possibility that other archaeological monuments still remained at this site. Working on this belief careful fieldwork revealed part of a massive henge. A layer of ritually smashed pottery dating from 3300-2900 BC was covered with a curving foundation of rocks. This foundation was clearly the base to a large enclosing bank with a wide break in it facing Castletown Mount. From Wright's drawing of a second henge at 'Ballynahattin' (Carn Beg) there may have been standing stones on top of the henge bank.

Inside the Balregan bank was a concentric circle or two of standing stones, Site 'B' above. By the middle  of the 18th century very few of these stones remained as most were stolen for use in nearby souterrains.

Also found on the site was a large circular barrow and the pit where a massive standing stone drawn by Wright once stood.

ASI: How were megaliths moved?
The traditional view of moving stones weighing several tonnes is that they were dragged on a sled on rollers. However, this is unlikely to be the real solution. The best method of transporting a Megalithic stone is to cut down a forked tree and trim it into a Y-shape. Ideally the forked branches of the 'Y' would have a curve on them like a chickens' wishbone. The rock would then have been tied to this Y-shape and a team of cattle could easily drag this over most surfaces.

A second way of transporting a large stone is to use the sea. The stone was cut from a cliff face and dragged onto the beach at low tide. A large boat and floats are then tied to the top of the stone. The rising tide then lifts the boat with the stone and both could be rowed or towed down the coast and even up a deep river.