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A hand-book of Irish antiquities, pagan and Christian online

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limestone flag, set on edge ; it is 9 feet in height and
10 feet in breadth above ground. The little stream
which issues from Tobernavean, or Tobar-na-bh Fian,
the ' Well of the Warriors,' laves its base, which must
be deeply buried in the earth. Toward the east side
this flag-stone is pierced by a squarish, or rather an
oblong, perforation, 3 feet in length by 2 feet in
breadth. From its mottled appearance this slab is



popularly called Cloch-bhreac, or the 'Speckled Stone';
also Cloch-Ua, or the ' Gray Stone.' " Another pre-
sumedly pagan example, standing upwards of five feet
in height above the present neighbouring level of the
ground, may be seen upon an eminence in the im-

ift **J\**

Holed Stone in Cuil-irra, Co. Sligo.

mediate vicinity of Doagh, a village in the county of
Antrim. In the same district, near Cushendall, a
second fine holed stone until lately existed. Probably
one of the most curious monuments of the class under


notice, remaining in Ireland, formerly stood in the
very ancient Christian cemetery of Inniskeen (close to
the Cloictheach, or round tower belfry), Co. Monaghan.
It is now prostrate. This relic, which is composed of
porphyry, has an aperture through it sufficiently large
to admit the insertion of a goodly-sized human arm.
Not very long ago it was the custom at Easter to fix
in the perforation a pole, up which for a prize the neigh-
bouring young people used to climb. The stone is said
to have been formerly used for superstitious purposes,
but unfortunately no particulars of the rites or customs
then practised are now recollected.

The most famous holed stone in the world is doubt-
lessly that of Stennis, near Kirkwall in Orkney, already
referred to. It has been immortalized in his tale of
" The Pirate " by Sir Walter Scott. As stated by
Fergusson in his notice of Stennis, "it is quite cer-
tain that the oath of Woden, or Odin, was sworn by
persons joining their hands through the hole in this
ring stone, and that an oath so taken, although by Chris-
tians, was deemed solemn and binding." This ceremony
was held so very sacred that anyone breaking it was
accounted infamous and a person to be shunned.

In his "Journey to the Orkney Islands," in 1781,
Principal Grordon gives the following anecdote : —
" The young man was called before the session, and
the elders were particularly severe. Being asked by
the minister the cause of so much severity, they
answered, ' You do not know what a bad man this
is; he has broken the promise of Odin,' and further


explained that the contracting parties had joined hands
through the hole in the stone."

All this, no doubt, may be very interesting to lovers
of folk lore ; but in what manner does the anecdote
serve to indicate the original character of the Stennis
monument ? That it was at one time sacred to Odin>
or Woden, and no doubt reverenced by pagan north-
men and their successors, perhaps for many generations,
is little to the point. We are told that even Christians
used the stone on certain solemn occasions. Why may
not the Scandinavian occupiers of Orkney have, as it
were, adopted a pillar which they found associated
with old world customs and memories, and dedicated
it to Woden, or Odin, or indeed to any other member
of their Valhalla ?

Few who have paid even passing attention to the
subject of Irish antiquities, recognising the fact that
several of our holed stones, bearing apertures of con-
siderable size, and found in the immediate neighbour-
hood of remains universally acknowledged to belong to
days of paganism, will assume, I think, that the former
do not partake of the same primeval character as the
stone circles, earns, &c. &c, referred to.

But in Ireland we find at least two classes of per-
forated monoliths — the one I believe to be pre-historic ;
the other to be, possibly, of ante- Christian times in
Ireland, and to have been consecrated to the religious
services of a people recently won to Christianity, but
who still possessed some lingering reverence to the idols
of their forefathers.


From my Paper on Inismurray, published in the
Journal of the Boyal Historical and Archgeological
Association of Ireland, for October, 1885, No. 64, the
following notice of what may be considered the pro-
bably later class of holed stones is borrowed, in a
slightly curtailed form : —

Inismurray presents three fine specimens of the
pillar, two of which must be considered valuable and
most rare examples of the " holed" class. For reasons
presently to be explained these are sometimes called
Praying Stones by the natives of the island. The more
important stands on the southern side of Teampull-na-
Bfear, or the " Church of the Men," at a little distance
from that structure. It measures 4 feet in height, 11|
inches in breadth at top, 1 foot 1 inch at base, and
about 7 inches in thickness. A graceful cross has been
incised upon the front, or western side. It may be ob-
served that the arms and head of the symbol terminate
in spirals like those found upon the celebrated alphabet
stone at Kilmalkedar, the work upon which has been
held, by our best authorities on such matters, to belong
to the sixth, or at latest to the seventh century of the
Christian era. The monument faces east and west ;
its edges and eastern side are plain. The western face
exhibits two holes of a size just large enough to admit
the insertion of a fairly-developed thumb. These ori-
fices extend through the adjoining angles of the stone,
and open out at its sides in apertures sufficiently
spacious to receive the fingers of a hand of ordinary
proportions. In connexion with this pillar, as also with


a similar monument situated close to Tea>npul!-na-mba)i,
or " Church of the Women," a custom which is worthy
of record, very generally prevails. Women who expect
shortly to become mothers are wont to resort to these
stones, for the purpose of praying for a happy issue
from the perils of their impending travail. The natives
assert that death in childbirth is an unknown calamity
upon the island. The postulants kneel, passing their
thumbs into the front, and their fingers into the side
openings, by which means a firm grasp of the angles
of the pillar is obtained. They are thus enabled to rise
from their act of obeisance with a minimum of strain
or difficulty.

A pillar stone, uuperforated and uninscribed, of
about the same dimensions as that just noticed, is
seen immediately beside it. The two stand in line at
right angles with the northern wall of the very ancient
church, almost immediately adjoining.

The second holed stone, to which I have already re-
ferred, bears upon its eastern face a plain Latin cross.
It is 5 feet high, 10j inches broad at base, 11 \ inches at
top, and 4| inches in thickness. Like its fellow at the
"Church of the Men" it is held in profound venera-
tion, especially by the women of the island. The cross
whicli it exhibits is characteristic of the earliest Christian
times in Ireland ; this being so, the monument in its
present style may be assigned to a period not later
than the close of the sixth century. The pillar may
indeed be pre-historic, and the cross an addition. It
is much to be regretted that the Inismurray examples


do not present lettering of any description. They are
just of the kind upon which one might hope to find an
inscription carved or punched in the Ogam character.

Rock Markings, Scorings, Ac. — At the present
day one subject of considerable interest, I may say to
the archaeologists of all civilized communities, remains
to be solved. I allude to the so-called Eock Markings,
or "Scribings," which, whether noticed upon European,
Asiatic, or American rocks or monuments, often in their
general features bear so strong a family likeness one to
the other that it is at first sight difficult to believe that
they had not been executed by one and the same race
of people. Such an idea, however, it would be the
essence of absurdity to entertain. Philosophers tell us
that savages, or semi-savages, situated widely apart,
and placed under somewhat similar climatic conditions,
will instinctively run in parallel grooves of thought ;
and thus, in the form, material, and ornamentation of
their objects of veneration, arms, and implements of
everyday life, as well as in their personal decorations,
present a like development. So also with their
Fetichism, or religion, or by what other name the de-
votional feeling inherent in the hearts of even the most
abject tribes may be styled. It need be no wonder
then that, far and near, over the surface of the " Old"
and of the " New World," rock and stone scribings,
often of an unknown period, are to be found ; and that
they should frequently have much in common.

Yet how recently have archaeologists noticed these


intensely mysterious antiquarian puzzles. Petrie does
not seem to have heard of their existence ; O'Donovan
and O'Curry make no mention of them ; nor do the
older writers, except in one or two instances, where a
single stone or so is referred to as bearing work of a
mystic and barbarous character.

The Eight Rev. Charles Graves (now Bishop of
Limerick), in the " Transactions" of the Royal Irish
Academy, appears to have been the first to draw atten-
tion to sculpturings of this class as occurring in Ireland,
and to Irish examples, only, I shall now refer. Sub-
sequently the subject was taken up by inquirers, in
various parts of the world, who found in their own
territories or districts kindred rock carvings. As yet
no man can say what they were intended to represent,
and until very many more than we know of at present
shall have been examined and classified, it will be
well to drop speculation concerning them. In the
meantime it may be observed that the groups of
designs found upon the surface of our undisturbed
rocks exhibit in many instances characteristics almost,
if not entirely, peculiar to themselves. For instance,
the incomplete concentric circles with a central cup,
from which extends a straight or slightly curved stroke,
called "the channel," through, and sometimes beyond
the outermost gap in the curved lines, are never ob-
served amongst the almost infinite variety of figurings
presented in our great sepulchral chambers. Again,
the spirals of the stone sepulchres are, as far as I am
aware, invariably absent in the array of designs found



upon the undisturbed or natural rock. This circum-
stance was not left unobserved by Bishop Graves when
describing his discoveries in Kerry. True it is that
upon one small stone in the neighbourhood, of Tulla-
keel, near Sneem, he found a rude carving of a short
portion of a spiral. This stone lay set in a fence ; it
may have belonged to some tomb of which no other
relic is known to remain, so that little argument can
be based on the character of its scribing.

As already intimated, although antiquaries are not
yet in a position to pronounce authoritatively on the
precise significance of our rock markings, a glance at
some early speculations as to their nature may not be
here out of place.

" It was to be presumed," wrote the Bishop, " that
the persons who carved the inscriptions intended to
represent circular objects of some kind or other. But
what could these objects have been ? Some have sug-
gested shields. This notion seems inconsistent with
the fact that the same stone presents so many circular
symbols of different sizes, varying from the small
shallow cup of an inch or two in diameter to the group
of concentric circles two feet across. It also seems pro-
bable that, as shields in general used to bear distinctive
devices, these would appear in the inscriptions ; but the
inscribed circles exhibit no such variety as might have
been expected on this hypothesis. Again, if the circles
represented shields, what could be meant by the open-
ings in the circumference of so many of them ? Lastly,
what connexion could there be between the idea of

chap, i.] ROCK SCRIBINGS. 29

shields and the long lines appearing in the Stague
monument, or the short ones on that of Ballynasare ?

" Another idea was that these figures were designed
to represent astronomical phenomena."

For several reasons the learned writer could not
accept that theory, particularly as it failed to account
for the openings in the circles, and the accompanying

" The idea which occurred to my own mind," he
states, " was, that the incised circles were intended to
represent the circular buildings of earth or stone, of
which the traces still exist in every part of Ireland.
This conjecture is supported by the following con-
siderations : —

" 1. The circles are of different sizes, and some are
disposed in concentric groups. The ancient dwellings
and fortified seats of the ancient Irish were circular ;
they were of various sizes, from the small cloghan, or
stone house of ten feet in diameter, to the great camp
including an area of some acres ; and the principal
forts had several concentric valla.

" 2. The openings in the inscribed circles may have
been intended to denote the entrances.

" 3. The other inscribed lines may have represented
roads passing by or leading up to the forts.

" The conjecture that these carvings were primitive
maps, representing the disposition of neighbouring
forts, appeared to be a fanciful one ; and discouraged
by the scepticism of friends to whom I communicated
it, I laid aside the drawings and rubbings for some


years, hoping that some light might be thrown upon
the subject by the discovery of monuments the purpose
of which was evident.

" This expectation has not been fulfilled. Neverthe-
less I have some hope that my original guess has been
confirmed in such a way as to warrant me in sub-
mitting it for the judgment of our antiquaries.

" In the course of last autumn, after a careful ex-
amination of the drawings — those which had been made
chiefly of the Kerry examples — I came to the con-
clusion that the centres of the circles and the neigh-
bouring cups and dots arrange themselves generally
three by three in straight lines. This disposition of
the symbols could not be said to be perfectly accurate ;
but I thought I could observe close and designed
approximation to it. If, then, the circles represent
forts, and are disposed three by three in straight lines
on the inscribed stones, I saw that we might expect to
find the forts disposed in like manner over the surface
of the country ; and I think that I have succeeded in
verifying this inference. The ancient raths have for-
tunately been laid down on the six-inch Ordnance
Survey maps of Ireland ; and unless I am deceived by
fortuitous collineations, I find that the forts are actually
arranged three by three in straight lines. The dis-
covery of this fact, if it be a fact, would be of much
more consequence than the explanation of the meaning
of the inscriptions of which I have just given an
account. But this further inquiry must be conducted
with care. Large portions of the country must be ex-


amined, and those difficulties must be confronted which
the disappearance of ancient remains must inevitably
give rise to."

So the question of the meaning of a large majority
of those primitive carvings seems, at least for the pre-
sent, to stand.

It has been objected to the map theory that in the
parts of Scotland and England where circle and channel
scorings occur most numerously, no raths or forts, or if
any, very few, are to be found. Upon this fact little
stress need be laid, as the early British strongholds,
corresponding to our raths, cathairs, duns, &c. &c, may,
very frequently, in the manner of the sister island, have
been composed of perishable materials, such as timber,
or the interwoven branches of trees, stockades, in fact of
which in the course of a few centuries, at most, no trace
would remain.

The Bishop has hitherto published only a compara-
tively small portion of the rubbings and drawings
which he was able to make, or procure, of the scorings
under notice ; and it is certain that even in the districts
examined by him very many have escaped observation.
Mr. Eobert Day, f.s.a., of Cork, has noticed and pub-
lished some highly interesting examples which occur in
his district ; the late Gr. Y. Du Noyer mentions not a
few which he found in various parts of the country ;
other antiquarians have largely added to the list ; and
chief amongst these is Gr. H. Kinahan, m.r.i.a., whose
Papers in the Journal of the Boyal Historical and
Archaeological Association, especially those descriptive












f]^'% k \

































of the Mevagh and Barnes inscriptions (Co. Donegal),
have deservedly attracted great attention. Neverthe-
less Mr. Kinahan has not yet been able to give any
account of a very great number of scorings which it
was his lot to detect on certain undisturbed rocks
scattered over the north-western district of Ireland,
and lying chiefly in the Co. Donegal.

I myself was fortunate enough to discover, near
Boho, Co. Fermanagh, about nine miles from Ennis-
killen, a cluster of large rocks bearing a vast number
of the cup and circle devices. These subjects have
all been engraved, and published in the pages of the
Journal just referred to. In the same neighbourhood
were similar markings on the living rock. They occur
a little to the south of Lough Blocknet, on the slope of
the hill. Many more might be here brought to light,
were the scraw or skin of turf which covers the emi-
nence removed.

It would thus appear that the scorings of the undis-
turbed rocks present only dots, cups, plain and entire,
or imperfect concentric circles, and straight or curved

In connexion with the sculpture found on the stones
of sepulchral remains I shall have presently not a little
to say. In the meantime it will be well to glance at a
class of work which appears upon the walls of certain
natural, or, perhaps, semi-artificial, caverns occurring
at Knockmore, close to the village of Derrygonnelly,
Co. Fermanagh. The chief of these is the " Lettered
Cave," so called from the carvings, symbols, or inscrip-

D 2









Scribings on sides of Knockmore Cave, near Derrygonnelly, Co. Fermanagh.

(Scale, one-third.)


tions of an early date with which its sides are scored.
These are placed, without any attempt at symmetrical
arrangement, upon almost every smooth portion of the
rocky surface of the interior. Many are extremely
well marked; others have become all but obliterated
through the influence of time, the efflorescence of the
stone, and the action of persons who have in many
places scraped away the ancient figurings, or portions
of them, in order to find space for the introduction of
their respective obscure names, as visitors. Neverthe-
less a goodly portion of the ancient carving remains in
a perfect condition, and in no place has it been com-
pletely destroyed. These scribings consist for the
greater part of a number of figures and designs usually
considered, by antiquaries, as pre-historic ; others are
clearly of an extremely early Christian date. The
supposed older work consists of quadrangles, divided
internally by lines extending from point to point (see
sheets n., in., and v.), as also a leaf-shaped de-
sign like that found in monuments of a pagan, and,
probably, archaic age in Ireland and in Brittany (see
sheet i.). There are also numerous cups, knots, and dots,
and many irregular lines which would suggest the idea
of some ogamic kind of writing (see sheet n.). But
whatever may be the age and character of such carv-
ings, there can be no doubt amongst antiquaries that
an elaborately-formed interlacing cross, which may be
seen engraved upon the left-hand side of the entrance
to the cave, must be referred to an early Christian
period (see sheet vi.).


The first notice of these scribings appears to have
been made by Mr. P. Magennis, a talented school-
master under the Board of National Education, re-
siding at Knockmore, who sent some tracings, rubbings,
or rough drawings of a small portion of the engravings
to the late Eev. C. Eeade, by whom they were for-
warded to the late Eev. James Graves. That enthu-
siastic archaeologist, with his characteristic zeal, laid
the drawings, &c. &c, before Professor Greorge
Stephens, f.s.a. (a very high authority on the subject
of Scandinavian inscriptions), who, in a letter addressed
from Cheapinghaven, Denmark, described the work as
representing " Scribbles of the Northmen, wild runes,
and blind runes not now decipherable." Mr. Magennis,
who kindly drew my attention to the cave, was very
willing to acknowledge that his attempt to copy the
markings was anything but satisfactory to himself.
There are at any rate no scorings at present in the
place from which the " diagram," from which Professor
Stephens drew his deduction, could have been copied.
The dimensions of this singular retreat are as follows : —
Height, at the mouth, 10 feet 5 inches ; these propor-
tions gradually lessen to a distance of about 18 feet
from the external opening. There the passage takes
an oblique turning to the southward, and continues to
a distance of about 9 feet further into the heart of the
limestone. The height of the chamber at its extreme
end is about 5 feet. The opening faces north-east,
and is well sheltered from the wind by a grassy knoll,
which extends, right and left, in front.



The cave would be considered a dry, airy, and even
luxuriant habitation, by persons accustomed to occupy
the ordinary rath habitation as a place of retreat or
repose. There is reason to believe that for many ages
it was so utilized.

sheet, x

FIG.4\ \





Scribings in Gillies' Hole, a Cave in Knockmore, Co. Fermanagh.
(Scale, one-third.)

Knockmore contains on its northern side, in a situa-
tion rather difficult of access, a second inscribed and
partially artificial cavern.

This little eyry, which is only large enough to retain
in a recumbent position two, or at least three, persons
of ordinary size, must while yet the slopes of the knock


were covered with, trees and brushwood, have formed a
very secure retreat. That it was inhabited in very
early days is certain, as upon digging up a considerable
portion of the floor, indications of fires having been used
were traceable on at least three separate levels. At a
little distance from the surface, amongst burnt-looking
earth and particles of wood charcoal, I found some
bones of animals, which had been used as food. They
were generally very small, and difficult of identification,
but amongst them occurred those of the red deer. The
cave is known by the name " Gillie's Hole," and was
used as an abiding place, about a hundred years ago,
by a pair of lovers who in consequence of an imprudent
marriage had been discarded by their friends. Such is
the local legend. The carvings here are rather of an
elaborate character, and form an interesting combina-
tion of the older style of sepulchral rock-sculpture with
what is generally considered early Irish work, but of a
period subsequent to the spread of Christianity in this
country. (See figs. 1, 2, 3, and 4 of sheet i., p. 39;
see also sheet n.)

A third " Lettered Cave," situated, " as the crow
flies," three-and-a-half miles from that of Knockmore,
and slightly over four from the police station of Boho,
contains some very interesting examples of cavern
scorings. There is no road or path by which it can be
approached nearer to it than four miles. No antiquary

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