Irish Genius
Some Spared Stones of Ireland


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field guide

irish prehistoric tombs:





stone circles

(rock art)


stone forts, crannógs & souterrains

ogam-stones &

& cross-slabs
part two

enigmas of the irish crosses


& the phallic continuum

satan in the groin


the earth-mother's

east of brittany:
megaliths of western and southern france






from Drakestown, county Meath






and cross-slabs

part one

text and photographs by
Anthony Weir

Kilnasaggart, county Armagh: detail of Christianised pillar-stone
(south side)
For a full view in colour of the inscription on the north side, click on the image above.

Just as Ogam inscriptions were added to already-standing stones of considerable antiquity, so, with the remarkably peaceful Christian penetration of Ireland, menhirs and sacred boulders attracted Christian appropriation.

The island off the headland behind is a Promontory Fort whose causeway collapsed into the sea.

Dunfeeny, county Mayo

Although the largely-legendary St Patrick is credited with overturning 'idols' all over the island, in the unique and traditional Christian manner, it may have been just as satisfying in the 6th century - and much more permanent - to Christianise a 'pagan' stone as to destroy it. As late as the 19th century 'pagan' stones removed by priests had a propensity for returning to the spot.

Lankill, county Mayo

Some of the Christianisations had a distinctly prehistoric look, suggesting that the Irish church (which was nothing like the modern Catholic church, but much more like the Coptic and Syrian churches) was rather more receptive and assimilative than others in Europe.

Cross-pillar inside the entrance to a stone-fortified farmstead,
Knockdrum, county Cork. This type of cross is called a

By and large, the inhabitants of Ireland welcomed this tolerant form of Christianity, with its fantastic redemption, as a relief from the dark rites and realistic fatalism of Celtic religion.

Kilvickadownig, county Kerry: a design on a boulder
which incorporates an A for Alpha (the foot of the
and an Omega (W ) forming a curclicued nimbus around it.

Celts had holy stones and holy wells and worshipped trees, streams, groves, glades and genii loci. Irish Christianity seemed to be able to accommodate all these except the trees - and it was with the proliferation of wealthy monasteries from the eighth century onward (and the Norse attack that they attracted) that the first serious deforestation since Neolithic times occurred. Ireland, like Scotland, was largely covered with deciduous and holly-tree forest.
It is now the most-deforested country in Europe.

Kildreelig or Killerelig, county Kerry

Irish Christianity was essentially monastic and almost federal, whereas Catholicism is episcopal, hierarchical and totalitarian: "E pluribus unum"! The Irish church had no Rome-appointed head until St Malachy of Armagh went to Rome in the 12th century and had himself appointed Archbishop.

While large monasteries were established on the fat cattle-lands of the East of Ireland

Sun-dial, Bangor photo by John Musther county Down

and around the central Bog of Allen which covered a great deal of the interior, little monasteries were established in remote places, often called Diseart or Dysart, after the Latin Deserta. Monks modelled themselves on the early Desert Fathers, amongst whom the first monks of all, St Paul the Hermit and St Anthony - and successors such as St Onuphrios - were models for those few who went off to solitary spots, often on islands or islets, and subsisted on seabirds, sea scurvy-grass and shellfish while praising the glory of God as presented to them by wild and spectacular Nature.

A monastic settlement, containing clochans or stone huts,
and resembling a promontory fort, on an island off the North shore of the Dingle Peninsula.

Below: a typical clochan, which would have housed one or a few monks..

All over the island, monks found, carved and erected cross-pillars for themselves.

click to enlarge

Pillar and Tomb-shrine with armhole for touching the bones of St Buonia,
Killabuonia, county Kerry

Today these are found in the remnants of old monastic settlements, often with holy wells, with altars of loose stones called leachta, and sometimes with rare surviving tomb-shrines (above) and sacred (or magic) stones.

Carnacavill, county Down

These pillars can be quite small and crude - but they took considerable effort to carve when the stone was not easily worked: flaky schists, shales and granites are the most commonly-found in the old monastic sites.

Saul, county Down


Lateevemore, county Kerry

But, even in remote places, rather finely-carved pillars were put up.

Cloon West, county Kerry

There are wonderful variations on the basic designs of the Latin and Greek (equal-armed) crosses.

Currauly, county Kerry

Gallerus, county Kerry

Non-geometric elements were introduced to the designs.

Caherlehillan, county Kerry:
a dove or peacock (symbol of immortality), and snakes or trumpets (?)

click for a photo taken 25 years later


Ballyvourney, county Cork:
a 'wheel' enclosing a
cross-pattée surmounted by a monk


Killaghtee, county Donegal: a 'wheel' cross above a triple knot of Brigid
probably representing the Trinity

Cross-designs often combined in different ways and proportions rectlinear and curvilinear elements.

Castletown, county Meath


Glencolumcille, county Donegal

Glencolumcille, county Donegal

Templastragh, county Antrim

They could illustrate ecclesiastical "tools of the trade", such as a crozier and a Tau or T-shaped cross.

Broughanlea, county Antrim

They could incorporate the Chi (X) Rho (P) symbol derived from the first two letters of the Greek CRISTOS ('Christos' meaning 'anointed' - which of course he never was: he was, famously, baptised!).

Drumaqueran, county Antrim: the Rho (P) - a curclicue on the top arm of the cross - is the wrong way round on one side, but the right way round on the other side of the pillar.

photo from Trinity College, Dublin.

The Alpha (A,a) and Omega (W,w) were also popularly incorporated, as we have already seen.

Kildreenagh, Loher, county Kerry

Toormoor or Toormour, county Sligo: an entirely rectilinear design which ingeniously incorporates
an Alpha (A), in the bottom half, with an Omega (w )
in the top half of the slab.

Some strikingly incorporate Neolithic passage-tomb designs to great effect - while also obviously influenced by the Danish-Scandinavian motifs of Northern English 'Hogback' Stones.

Kinnitty, county Offaly

Killegar, county Dublin

These at Killegar are, of course, not pillars, but grave-stones in the Scandinavian tradition.

Irish grave-stones - or, more properly, cross-slabs - will be discussed and illustrated on the next pages, together with the large crucifixion-slabs which are primitive forms of the well-known sculptured or 'scripture' crosses of the rich and richly-meadowed Midland monasteries.

photograph by John Musther

Inishbofin, county Galway


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