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 The Abbeyquarter Stone Circle by the Garavogue River in Sligo Town.
The Abbeyquarter Stone Circle by the Garavogue River in Sligo Town.

The Abbeyquarter stone circle.

The Abbeyquarter stone circle is one of the most unusual monuments in County Sligo, or indeed anywhere in Ireland. It is known locally as the Garavogue Fairy Fort. The circle of 44 boulders is 23 meters in diameter and stands on a knoll overlooking the River Garavogue. The Shelly River is only 5 km long, flowing from Lough Gill through Sligo Town and into the sea.

 The Abbeyquarter Stone Circle in Sligo Town.
Abbeyquarter Stone Circle, with Carns Hill visible beyond the houses.

The Abbeyquarter monument is the oldest building in Sligo town. It is a stone circle of the same type as those found in Carrowmore, which possibly originally had a cruciform chamber at the centre. The Carrowmore circles have been firmly dated and range from 5,800 to 5,000 years ago. This is a stratiegic location marking an ancient ford the river; Abbeyquarter may be the oldest of all the circles, the burial place of the first colonists to come to Sligo.

Abbeyquarter Stone Circle from Google Earth.
Abbeyquarter Stone Circle from Google Earth. The monument is at the crown of a low hill beside the River Garavogue.

The Abbeyquarter Circle was lucky to survive as the town of Sligo grew and expanded from the 12th century onwards. The name indicates the circle was on lands owned by the Abbey, the oldest medieval building remaining in Sligo. In the Seventeenth century the monument appeared on the Seal of Sligo Town.

Abbeyquarter by William Wakeman.
William Wakeman's illustration of Abbeyquarter from 1882. Illustration © Sligo County Library.

The Catholic Church erected statues at the centre of the monument to celebrate the year of the Assumption in 1954. Crosses were erected all over Ireland throughout that year to celebrate the Pope's definition of the Dogma of the Assumption. Other crosses on ancient monuments in the region were erected at Tobernalt three km south of Abbeyquarter, above the Caves of Kesh Corran near Ballymote, and on the Hill of Sheemor near Carrick on Shannon in Co Leitrim.

Today the Abbeyquarter Stone Circle sits within a roundabout surrounded by houses in the estate called Garavogue Villas.

The Christian statues at Abbeyquarter.
The Christian statues were added to the site in the Marian year of 1954; crosses were erected on many ancient Irish sites including Kesh Corran and Sheemor at that time.

Abbeyquarter - Borlase

This circle of boulders is nearly perfect, forming a ring on a raised mound 65 feet in diameter. The inside surface is perfectly level. On the north there are two stones, seemingly the remains of an inner circle. There are several gaps in the ring, one of which is on the north side, immediately opposite the two stones.

Abbeyquarter circle.
Abbeyquarter circle and Carns Hill.

Three large boulders, which Col. Wood-Martin thinks may have been rolled out of their place in the circle, have somewhat the appearance of the commencement of an avenue leading up to it. A little north of the centre, two stones are to be seen which seem to have formed a portion of a dolmen or cist. One of them is a flat slab; the other, seemingly, a supporting stone.

An excavation at the foot of the latter disclosed "traces of the flooring of the cist, upon which were some bones, the greater portion of which were calcined." This cist was. Col. Wood-Martin thinks, only "a division, or septum," of the original structure.

Fairy Garden.
A local at Garavogue Villas, beside the circle, keeps Sligo's largest collection of garden gnomes in the front garden.

Dr. Frazer states that the discoveries consisted of "1 3/4 lb. of calcined bones, seemingly all human, but in a very fragmentary state; 2 1/2 ozs. of uncalcined human bones; three molars, and one incisor tooth of a young person; the tooth of a goat, and another, probably of a dog; also bones of goat or sheep."

Garavogue Villas from the air.
Garavogue Villas from the air. Photo © Eyeflight.

This circle, in point of its standing on a bank, of the contiguity of the stones, and their number, and of its diameter, may be compared with one on the island of Inishowen, or Ennishowen, in Lough Mask.

The view from Abbeyquarter to the summit of Carns Hill.