County Donegal is famed for its dramatic coastline and beautiful countryside, but it is also a region that is steeped in ancient history, with hundreds of historic sites helping to paint a vivid picture of what life was like in the area thousands of years ago.
The beauty is that they can be explored from virtually anywhere, as you are never far from a welcoming, affordable hotel, guesthouse, bed and breakfast or hostel. If you are a history buff, delving into the past has never been so easy as you are guaranteed to find a perfect place to stay.
Hotels Close to Ancient History
One of the finest historic sites in the region can be found just south of the agricultural town of Raphoe, located in the fertile district of East Donegal known as the Laggan.
The Beltany Stone Circle dates from the late Bronze Age, around 1400-800 BC, and is made up of 64 stones positioned around a low earth platform or tumulus situated at the summit of Tops Hill. Experts believe that, originally, there may have been up to 80 stones on the site. Many of the existing ones now stand on an angle after being disturbed about 100 years ago.
The circle is just over 44 metres in diameter and it is thought it may have been a burial cairn. It contains some truly monumental stones and one of them, a triangular slab, features a number of cupmarks, while others have worn into fascinating shapes.
The name Beltany comes from the spring festival of Beltane, which is associated with the lighting of hilltop fires in a rekindling of the sun. A carved stone head discovered at the site is likely to date from the pre-Christian Iron Age, indicating that it may have been in use for many centuries after it was built.
Out and About
Raphoe itself is well worth a visit for its castle and cathedral. The castle was built in the 1630s and, although today it is little more than a shell, it is still an impressive looking fortress. It has a fascinating history - it was laid siege to during the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and was captured by Cromwell’s troops in 1650 before being damaged by supporters of King James II some 20 years later.
The town’s cathedral was built in the 1730s but is notable for several 9th century stone blocks which can be found in the porch and north wall, while the south-east corner dates from the 12th Century.
If you’re staying in the Raphoe area make sure you pay a visit to nearby Glenveagh National Park, home to a Scottish-style castle surrounded by one of Ireland’s finest gardens and 10,000 square miles of walking country full of lakes, bogs and oak and birch forest.
Choices of Hotel
There is a range of accommodation to suit every budget in and around Raphoe but if you want more choice you could check out what’s on offer in County Donegal’s biggest town, Letterkenny, which is about a 20-minute drive away.