Part 10 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.
The hills and bluffs of southwest Cork are not only beautiful, but also magical. It seems at every turn you may find something ancient to fascinate you. Just a short distance from Coppinger’s Court along the Glandore Road, we parked on a narrow dirt road to climb the grassy hill to Drombeg Stone Circle.
This place had interested me from afar. I didn’t intend to use a stone circle in The Prince of Glencurragh, but this one happened to sit along the travel trajectory and, despite several earlier trips to Ireland, I had never actually visited a stone circle.
I wonder if everyone who visits them secretly hopes to have some kind of mystical experience? Perhaps not of “Outlander” proportions where the novel’s heroine is transported back 200 years, but at least some kind of physical or spiritual sensation. I wonder how many actually do? For me there was just the simple thrill of being there, touching something so old and at one time sacred, and imagining the people upon whose footsteps I walked.
Also known as “The Druid’s Altar,” archaeologists say this 17-stone circle was in use 1100 to 800 BC. The stones slope toward its famous recumbent stone that seems to align with the winter solstice. Depressions and a cooking area (fulacht fiadh) may have been in use until the 5th century AD.
But I’ve got news for archaeologists: visitors to this site are using it still, based on the tokens and offerings they leave behind. Countless prayers must have been uttered here, and it feels almost intimate, the circle small and cloaked within a soft Irish mist. We were there in June, but had we been there at sunset in December, I’m sure we would have heard the spirits singing…
From there we passed Glandore where we would later eat a spectacular dinner at a waterfront restaurant, and Union Hall where I saw the view of the harbor that has enchanted people for ages (and is captured so creatively by the artists in the book, The Old Pier, Union Hall, by Paul and Aileen Finucane).
But my destination now was Knockdrum Fort, a few miles farther west. Knockdrum is one of Ireland’s many Iron Age stone ring forts, but this one was reconstructed in the 19th century. It has massive stone walls four to five feet high, arranged in a ring to provide protection as well as a 360 view of the surrounding area. Historians say that while it looks like a defensive fort, its purpose may have been sacred instead. The standing boulder just inside the entrance is inscribed with a large cross.
Through my research I learned the fort had a souterrain with three chambers cut from solid stone, one having a fireplace and flue. One source said the underground passage went all the way down to the sea.
If this was so, I would indeed plan to use this site for a scene in my book. On paper it seemed the perfect location for a pursuit, a setup, a trap, and then a wily escape through the souterrain. And this is why actual site inspection is so important for an author.
Especially for historical fiction, readers want to learn something of the history as they read, and so, while characters and their actions can be fictional, readers expect a high level of accuracy in locations and historical events. I could not portray the location truthfully and still use it in the story because it was set high on a promontory, creating an unnecessary and unrealistic difficulty for the characters. And, if the souterrain was used for the escape route, it would have been quite a long way almost straight down to the sea, with the only advantage being if you had a seaworthy vessel waiting at the bottom.
The souterrain was gated off so I could not see inside it, but I had seen enough to know that, while a remarkable site to explore, it would not serve the story well. Perhaps it will find a home in another story one day. The fort’s impressive size and appearance, and the view from all sides, is unforgettable.
Looking northeast of the site as we left it, we saw the “Five Fingers,” or rather three of them. These are megalithic stones jutting from a hill, looking like the skeletal fingers of a giant reaching for the sky—a high five for our explorations that day.
But I still needed a location for that scene in my story. And for this, the Liss Ard would serve quite nicely; coming up next week.
Thanks to Megalithic Ireland, Exploring West Cork by Jack Roberts, Irish Archaeology, abandonedireland.com, Irish Archaeology, The Old Pier, Union Hall, by Paul and Aileen Finucane.
Part 1 – Kanturk Castle
Part 2 – Rock of Cashel
Part 3 – Barryscourt
Part 4 – Ormonde Castle
Part 5 – Lismore Castle
Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen
Part 7 – Timoleague Friary
Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand
Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court
An heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?
The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.
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