High in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains, around the West Wicklow town of
Baltinglass, lie some of the most remarkable remains of ancient civilisation in the
world. This area, extending across mountains like Baltinglass Hill, Spynans,
Kilranelagh, and beyond, contains the greatest concentration of prehistoric hillforts
in Europe. There are many other monuments too, from Neolithic tombs
to stone circles. It is a place of immense beauty and profound archaeological significance, nationally and internationally.
Why not join us on an amazing Journey of Discovery…
From Kilranelagh, the site of one of the nine hillforts around Baltinglass, watch Phillip Gaffney’s stunning aerial film footage of ancient grandeur and contemporary beauty.
View up close this amazing natural landscape that lies on our doorstep
Follow the unique solar alignment of this ancient stone circle
The Project, Save Wicklow’s Ancient East, centres on Kilranelagh, one of the
mountains of the Baltinglass Hillfort Cluster, but it has grown to embrace all the
hillforts and ancient monuments of one of Ireland’s most important heritage
landscapes. The creation of these hillforts is an extraordinary feat of prehistoric
construction, spanning over four thousand years and on a par with the building of the
Pyramids. Unique in Ireland and Europe, and still little known to the world,
archaeologists are only now uncovering the secrets of this ancient landscape.
These hillforts, along with graves, cairns, standing stones and circles, speak of a
landscape of great political power and ritual significance. They include the oldest
hilltop enclosure in Ireland, built almost thousand years ago by Ireland’s first farmers.
Construction of these earthworks continued through the Bronze and Iron Ages into
Celtic and Christian times. On Kilranelagh Hill, at the White Stones of Aife, registered
as a national monument through this Project, is the only place in Ireland where an
image from an ancient saga can be seen now, precisely as described in Old Irish.
The Project has observed the relationship of monuments and adjacent hills to the
solstices. This alignment has now been filmed at the summer solstice, establishing
for the first time a religious and astronomical context to the landscape.
The Project uses resources from archaeology and medieval literature right through to
the online Atlas of Hillforts in Britain and Ireland. The Project team has spoken at
length to archaeologists, including Dr Alan Hawkes and Robert Hambridge, who
recognise the international significance of the landscape. We have explored the area
physically, filming it extensively, and gathering local knowledge and stories.
This landscape is at the heart of our community. It is a tangible link to our past, and a
priceless heritage asset for our future. Through our website and through local
community involvement, we hope to nurture and preserve this unique environment.
Conservation, historical and ecological, as well as support for archaeological
exploration, must go hand in hand with greater care and access. That is our aim.
The Baltinglass Hillfort Cluster is a place of ancient power and ancient sanctity,
comparable with the area around Stonehenge. The hillfort on Kilranelagh Hill, while
not the largest, is made important by mythology and history. There is a stone circle,
there, along with other standing stones, one carved in the ancient Celtic Ogham
alphabet. The book of Leinster says a High King is buried here. Stories of the
legendary figure Buchat, ‘the most hospitable man in Ireland’, place his home at ‘the
Green of Kilranelagh’.
On one side of the mountain is a place unique in Ireland, where an image from an ancient saga, Fingal Rónáin is clearly visible. The tale describes Bae Aifi, ‘the cows of Aife’, as stones on Kilranelagh that look like white cows from a distance. Behind this is ancient mythology and links to a
Celtic goddess. And the stones are still there on the hillside, just as the ancient saga tells us.
This landscape is so unique that it has the potential to become a World Heritage Site.
All of this, along with an irreplaceable ecological environment - a watershed for streams into the Slaney, a wild space where buzzards and peregrines hunt and threatened curlews nest - is precious. It is at the heart of an ancient landscape touched only by traditional agriculture and a little forestry. That landscape is so unique it has the potential for a World Heritage Site. In its history and ecology, it has the capacity to offer the people of the area new opportunities in high-quality, low-density tourism, with all the spin-offs. It could help regenerate a countryside rich in beauty and heritage but sorely lacking the jobs and businesses its community needs. This kind of historical- environmental tourism is one of the fastest growing leisure areas in Britian and Europe.
© Eamon Sinnott & Partners 2020