The Giant’s Ring – A Neolithic Mystery

Published by P&P on

Home » Places » Places to See » The Giant’s Ring – A Neolithic Mystery
Giant's Ring View from the perimeter wall
Giant’s Ring – View from the perimeter wall

What is the Giant’s Ring

The Giant’s Ring is a Neolithic henge monument pre-dating the Egyptian pyramids. It is situated in the townland of Ballynahatty, only 4 miles from Belfast city centre.

“(The Giant’s Ring) at once excites the interest of the visitor by reason of its antiquity and the mystery with which it is surrounded. We do not envy the individual who can walk unimpressed round its rampart, or stand beside its cromlech without feelings of astonishment and awe. It is an epic poem in clay and stone, appealing alike to the imagination and heart, not alone of the enthusiastic antiquarian, but of every lover of our native land”

Rev G R Buick 1895

Building the Giant’s Ring

The huge circular earthwork is 590ft in diameter and covers an area of 6.9 acres. The 11ft high banks (though originally they were much higher) are composed of soil and stones dug out from an interior ditch within the boundary of the circle. The earthwork enclosure is broken by 5 irregularly spaced gaps. Within the ring the banks block out any view of the surrounding landscape, only the sky is visible.

Just east of the centre is a small cairn or cromlech. This is composed of five upright stones with a large capstone. The vestigial passage faces west. These passage tombs are common throughout Ireland.

Cairn close up - Giants Ring
Cairn close up – Giants Ring

What was it for?

A Meeting Place?

A scientific study carried out in 1954 proposed that the inner wall of the earthworks may, at one time, have been faced with stone. This suggests that the Giant’s Ring was not built for defensive purposes, as the stone walls and the ditch would have been on the outer edge of the circle.

It is thought that the Giant’s Ring may have been designed as a large meeting place. It is situated close to a natural fording point of the river Lagan. This site has been used as a crossing point since ancient times; it is now spanned by Shaw’s Bridge.

Burial Chamber?

Another theory put forward by the archaeologist Michael J O’Kelly is that the site was based around the cult of the dead. The Neolithic tribes had a great veneration for the departed. The cairn was possibly the burial chamber of a revered chieftain, and the ringed-in circle used to host games or funereal rites in his honour.

“…the Giant’s Ring should therefore be seen as a focus of community ceremony and death rituals in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age of the Lagan valley”

Barrie Hartwell, The Ballynahatty Complex 1998
View from the cairn - Giant's Ring
View from the cairn – Giant’s Ring

Pagan Altar?

It is not surprising that in times past, the ancient cromlech was considered to be a pagan altar, perhaps even a place of sacrifice.

“Near the centre of the circle stands a cromlech, or rude altar of stone; and whether the proofs that such monuments were used in the idolatrous adoration of the sun be, or not be satisfactory, it is a circumstance which deserves to be remembered, that the Giant’s Ring would exclude from the gaze of a mistaken multitude every object but the glorious luminary himself whose beams they worshipped”

George Benn History of Belfast 1823

“In the centre of this space is a Druid altar….Few things are more calculated to awe the mind and to affect the imagination than this scene, when we contemplate it as a vast heathen temple, within the circuit of which many thousands may have assembled to witness the awful rites of their sanguinary religion….”

J B Doyle Tours in Ulster 1854

Sporting Venue or Venue for Human Sacrifices?

In the seventeenth century, the area was seen as a sporting venue especially for horse racing.

“Hard to take in is the fact that the enclosed area was once used as a racecourse, or the theory that human sacrifice may have been offered here to pagan gods”

Out and About – Lagan Valley Belfast Telegraph 18th May 1960

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was common for farmers in the area of the Giant’s Ring to find human remains churned up by the plough. There was also evidence of further burial chambers. It seems that the region around the Ring had many burial sites now covered over by earth or the stone slabs removed for later building, as the Belfast Newsletter reported on 21st November 1855.

News-Letter Story 21 Nov 1855
News-Letter Story 21 Nov 1855

In 1841 Arthur Hill-Trevor, third viscount Dungannon [1798-1862]from Belvoir house, built a stone wall around this ancient monument to protect it and the adjacent land. In 1856 he donated some uncovered ancient pottery to the Royal Irish Academy. Other discoveries of bone and pottery went to the Natural History and Philosophical Society.

Ballynahatty Woman

In 1855 near the Giant’s Ring, the bones of a woman were found. She was subsequently named Ballynahatty Woman. With modern scientific techniques it has been discovered that this woman lived and farmed in the area 5,200 years ago. She had brown eyes and black hair and came from southern Europe, most likely from Spain. Her DNA ancestry traces back to the Middle East. It is believed that a huge migration of peoples swept across Europe from the Black Sea region and eventually even reached our shores. It is thought Ballynahatty Woman’s ancestors came to Ireland via the Iberian Peninsula. In Spain they also buried their dead in passage tombs.

Giant’s Ring Festivals

The Giant’s Ring continued to be used occasionally for festivals and meetings. One example was the Ballycairn Prebyterian Church ‘Grand Bazaar and Summer Fete’ in June 1895. There were numerous stalls and entertainment to raise funds for church projects – Art and Photographic Stall, a Flower Stall, Bran Tub and a Gentlemen’s Stall.

Current status of the Giant’s Ring

The Giant’s Ring is now safeguarded as a State Care Historical Monument and has an Area of Significant Archaeological Interest status. While of intense interest to antiquarians and historians the site is a lovely place to visit. It is a particular favourite of local dog walkers. Within the circle is a feeling of calm and you can almost forget that Belfast and modern day life is only a few miles away.

“The quaint iron gate guarding the entrance to the Giant’s Ring quietly and decisively lets interested visitors through, one at a time, and the mystic ring formation with the dolmen in the centre lies still and impressive before us. Time has made on it but little impression. Feelings of loneliness and sadness steal over one unconsciously, heightened by the thought that the secret of this huge ring is still a mystery to the learned”

Belfast Telegraph 16th July 1923


Click to enlarge images

Location of the Giant’s Ring

There is no charge to visit the Giant’s Ring and there is a small free car park.

Giant's Ring on Openstreetmaps
Giant’s Ring on Openstreetmaps

Location: Giant’s Ring, Belfast, County Antrim BT8 8LE

Due to illness it is likely that BelfastEntries posts will appear less frequently for the near future. We hope to see things back to normal in coming months. P&P
Do you want to see all new BelfastEntries Posts?
If you like our Facebook posts and would like to see more then please add yourself as a friend to our PandP profile screen or follow our BelfastEntries page. We cannot add posts to all groups and the only way to be sure of receiving notifications of new posts is to follow our page. You will see that the Belfast Entries page has a 5 star rating from readers

If you enjoyed this article please consider a small donation

Belfast Entries is a husband & wife hobby website featuring articles on our shared history, memories and entertaining stories of our past. To help us meet rising website hosting costs please click the coffee cup below to learn how to make a small donation. Please note that every contribution is valued and that we will not contact you directly in order to respect your privacy.

Buy Us a Coffee
Buy Us a Coffee

Donations this month 4 🙂

Thank you Mrs O. B

Thank you Cathy

Thank you Anonymous

Thank you Irene

We had 2 donations last month

Help Us Find New Readers

If you like our posts please help us to grow our readership by sharing any posts that you like using the social media sharing icons shown with each post.

What are others reading now?

Galboly cottage view

Galboly – The County Antrim Village Lost in Time

By P&P / 30 September 2021 / 4 Comments
Mill chimney - a common sight in Belfast

Ardoyne – The Story of a Village

By P&P / 13 November 2021 / 2 Comments
Bodies Illustration at the scene Belfast Telegraph 13th March 1890

Nora’s Grave 1890 – Love & Death

By P&P / 19 March 2022 / 0 Comments
Belfast Long Bridge crossed the River Lagan between 1688 and 1841

Unusual Laws in Old Belfast 1613 – 1816

By P&P / 11 March 2022 / 0 Comments

Cost of Living Crisis

Given the current cost of living crisis that will impact so many in coming months we have added a page signposting organisations that may be able to offer support. We have no relationship with these organisations and cannot offer financial advice but we hope that some of the links may prove useful.

Ancestry Antrim Arthur Chichester artist Belfast Belfast Entries Belfast Family belfast roots Carrickfergus Castle Cemetery Church Clifton House County Antrim County Down Department Store Donegal education. family tree Famous Folk Forgotten folk Genealogy Ghost graveyard Historical places History Hotel Ireland Irish Census Records Irish Family Irish genealogy irish roots Mary Ann McCracken Operation Overlord Otto Jaffe Outlaw People Philanthropist Places to see Poor House Sailortown St Patrick Titanic Tourism United Irishmen

Belfast Entries posts & photos are our intellectual property and copyrighted to us. Where we use photos that do not belong to us, it is because we believe them to be in the public domain or shared under a Creative Commons licence with appropriate attribution. None of our content or images can be used without our consent. Note that a link to our Copyright & Takedown notice is included in the website footer on all pages.


We are a Belfast couple adding information on Belfast and the surrounding counties. Over coming months we will add a range of posts covering the people, places, products and stories that interest us and will hopefully be of interest to you. Over time we hope to build up information of use to locals & visitors alike and welcome your feedback on subjects of interest or stories that might be interest to the wider audience. Let us know what you think.


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Would you like notifications of new Belfast Entries posts? OK No thanks