Huge ringed fort is thought to date back 4,500 years to Neolithic times and is one of only eight left in Northern Ireland

Joe Nelson
Joe Nelson

Archeologists are probing a Neolithic henge in the middle of Aghagallon which they believe dates back more than 4,500 years. It the reason why Aghagallon has its name and now the Standing Stone is to be given its proper place in history.

Aghagallon, translated from Gaelic means Field of the Standing Stone, and it was just a few years ago that its true significance was uncovered when they discovered the giant ringed site.

Aerial view Aghagallon from Google Earth

Aerial view Aghagallon from Google Earth

For many years it was unclear where this standing stone might be, however when the local community association made plans to extend its building on the Aghalee Road, it was discovered that they were right beside the standing stone.

The ringed site which is in the townland of Derrynaseer was designated as a scheduled historic momunent in 2003.

It is formed by a large earthen bank which encloses a domed area some 180m in diameter and is clearly visible on Google Earth.

Archeologists from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency have been on-site recently and are carrying out non-invasive investigations to try and discover what lies beneath this historic site.

And plans are afoot to create a historic tourism trail and link the Lagan Tow Path to the Standing Stone site, local SDLP Cllr Joe Nelson has said.

A spokesperson for the NIEA said: “Based on the physical form of the surviving remains of the earthwork we believe that it is probably a henge, a prehistoric ritual monument, which would have been built some 4,500 years ago by local early farming communities.

“There are only eight surviving examples of this type of monument in Northern Ireland, the most famous being the Giant’s Ring, which is located just outside Belfast.

“They would have been hugely significant focal points in the landscape in Neolithic times and are often indicative of more ceremonial activity in the surrounding area.

“The site is situated on the edge of Aghagallon village and now contains part of the graveyard for St Patrick’s Church, and part of the primary school grounds.

“NIEA has commissioned a geophysical survey of the south-western part of the enclosure, which belongs to the primary school, and also part of the surrounding land, to try and get a sense of what lies below the ground here.

“We hope to get evidence for features or structures that would be associated with the henge’s original use.

“If successful this will help inform any future work at the site. Following completion of the survey an NIEA archaeologist will be arranging a talk to the local schoolchildren.”

Joe Nelson believes the monument is hugely significant and says the local community are eager to discover what secrets the mound can uncover.

Councillor Nelson said there is a strong local community spirit and they are eager to maximise the potential such an important historic site can offer.

Already work has become to restore the old Lagan Canal Towpath into an important recreation amenity for residents of Aghagallon and the surrounding area.

Part of the towpath has been restored from Cranagh Bridge to the west and part of the section to the east towards the Goudy Bridge, where the Lock House and associated towpath is in private ownership. The Lagan Canal Trust is progressing the opening of the complete link from Lough Neagh to Belfast and the community in Aghagallon felt that the completion of the section between the two bridges would initially provide an excellent walking route for the village.

The Lagan Canal Trust [LCT] is attempting to secure £100m investment to open up the 27 mile stretch of the canal with an important emphasis on community ownership and are lobbying to restore the Aghagallon stretch of the towpath.

Whilst there is pedestrian access to the canal at the Cranagh Bridge, efforts are being made to provide a more direct link into the village which would benefit existing traders and support a social economy cafe at the new community facilities. A potential route was identified leading from the Aghalee Road at the Post Office, which could potentially link to the Canal at Chapel Lock and across to the towpath via a swing bridge and link a route to the historic monument at St Patrick’s Church.