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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Find the Bullaun!


When I was criss-cr

ossing Clane (in Kildare), asking where was the bullaun stone, people were puzzled. Some said they were thirty or forty year in the town but had never heard of it. Others cautiously asked what is a bullaun?

Actually there are 1,014 of them recorded in the National Monument database and you will find one in many of the pre-Norman monastic sites in Ireland. One well known example is the so-called ‘deer stone’ in Glendalough. The presence of such a stone on a site seemed to prove its antiquity and authenticity.

The stone in Clane should be particularly famous as it was there long before Christian times. It is more recently remembered as marking the spot where Mesgegra, king of Leinster, was killed by the Ulster champion Conall Cernach, in mortal combat in the 1st century.

A bullaun stone is a slab of rock with a small bowl or hollow carved into it. Similar stones have been identified as having a domestic use, such as grinding grain or preparing ore for smelting, but an original religious function has never been doubted.

Rocks (like water and trees), because of their unceasing presence and essential role in daily life since earliest times have had a religious significance. The hollow in the bowl is believed to have held offerings of food or liquid acknowledging that dependncy.

Early Christians recognised this symbolic value and effortlessly included bullauns in their sacred places and events. Two related practices also survived until recently. Bullauns were sometimes called ‘cursing stones’ and people would turn a small stone in the hollow to bring a curse on n individual they thought had done them an injustice. Turning the stone in the opposite direction could bring a cures or good fortune. They continued as a popular item in pilgrimage sites.

The stone in Clane ended up within the outer enclosure of the old monastic site. It is beside a stream and should be easy to find as its locations is described in local tourist information. However it took me a number of trips to find it. After going up and down the area a number of times, bothering locals for help, I contacted a local historian, Seamus Cullen, for reassurance I was in the right place.

Finally I found it between two bushes on the other side of the stream but a thick coating of weeds had made it invisible. I tried to clear the surface but the photo I took does not do it justice. Better pictures can be seen on the websites.

Bullaun stones are also found in Britain, Sweden, Lithuania, France and Belorussia. Why is so little known about them in Ireland and why are they so plentiful here?

In another country they would be the focus of research and tourism but in Ireland why we are so slow to acknowledge our heritage?

(You can read more of visit to forgotten traces of Irish heritage in the Facebook pages of ‘hugh macmahon’.)

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