Sun Worshipping at Carnsore Point
Catching the first glimpse of the green fields of Ireland on the skyline is one of the highlights of a sea crossing bound for the port at Rosslare Harbour. While many different vistas present themselves to the traveller depending on the angle of approach; the headland of Carnsore Point is one of the more prominent.
In the 1970s, the Electricity Supply Board acquired a large tract of land surrounding Carnsore Point with the intention of constructing a nuclear power plant on the site. The plan never materialised and in 2003 a wind farm was opened on the site comprising fourteen Danish-made Vestas V52/850 turbines.
Long before the turbines defined the headland, early Celtic settlers knew Carnsore Point as "Cape Ireland"; the southeastern cornerstone of the island was probably their first glimpse of the country when they were journeying to Ireland by sea.
In the second century AD, the classical geographer Claudius Ptolemaeus, or Ptolemy of Alexandria, compiled the Geography (Geographia), a gazetteer, atlas, and treatise on cartography. In the Greek version of his atlas he refers to a headland as Hieron Akron (Ιερον Ακρον), in the Latin version it is Sacrum Promontorium; both placenames translating as "Sacred Cape". Some scholars have argued that the headland in question may be Hook Head, even Greenore Point, but most experts agree that it is almost certainly Carnsore Point.
The cape part of "Sacred Cape" is easy to understand as it obviously refers to the outcropping, cliffed promontory or headland; but what was sacred about the site? Since Ptolemy compiled the Geography hundreds of years before Christianity was introduced to Ireland it wasn’t an enclave of Christian saints or of hermits seeking solitude in the remote location to enhance their spiritual experiences.
In south Co Wexford, there is a strong local tradition that a pagan community of sun-worshiping druids had a temple at Carnsore Point capitalising on the headland being the heartland of Ireland’s Sunny South East. The tradition is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters that chronicle medieval Irish history before AD 1616. Apart from the tradition, there is no archaeological or historical evidence to support the view that such a structure or community ever existed.
Scholars don’t agree on the interpretation of the placename Sacred Cape. Ptolemy did not reference his source, so it is not known where the name came from. Ptolemy worked in the Great Library in Alexandria, a thriving sea port and an important Roman metropolis on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. Maybe sea captains returning to Alexandria from trips to Roman Britain told stories of a wooden temple visible from offshore on the skyline at Carnsore Point, the southern limit of the Irish Sea?
Another suggestion is that Ptolemy may have had no first-hand information about Carnsore Point and that he was simply quoting information gleaned from the works of earlier cartographers housed in the Great Library. It is possible that a translation error was made, or that a modernisation was imposed during translation, resulting in the word "sacred" emerging as a Greek corruption of the much earlier Celtic word for "Cape Ireland".
If it ever existed, the wooden temple of the sun-worshiping druids is long gone from Carnsore Point, like the plan for a nuclear power plant. However, the first glimpse caught on the skyline of the green fields on the 430 million-year-old granite headland still features as one of the highlights at the end of a sea crossing with the imminent prospect of landing at the port at Rosslare Harbour.