Irish Druids And Old Irish
THE LIA FAIL, OR THE STONE OF
Elsewhere, mention has been made
of the Irish Lia Fail, Stone of Fate,
Fatal Stone, or Stone of Destiny, generally believed to have been the Irish
Kings' Inauguration Stone, afterwards used for Pictish and Scottish kings at
Scone, ultimately becoming the Coronation Stone in Westminster Abbey.
Like other subjects connected with Irish history, this point has been
considerably discussed. As the present work is mainly intended to give ordinary
readers a citation of opinions upon ancient Irish religious topics, it is
unnecessary to do more here than present various authorities upon this
There are two competitors for the honour of authenticity, and both to be now
seen; one, a dozen feet long, standing erect, half out of the ground, on the
Hill of Tara, in Ireland; the other, twenty-six inches long, in the coronation
chair at Westminster Abbey.
A legend in the Scalacronica, dated 1355, declared it was Simon Brec
(a name of solar association) "who brought with him a stone on which the
Kings of Spain were wont to be crowned, and placed it in the most sovereign beautiful place in
Ireland, called to this day the Royal Place; and Fergus, son of Ferchar, brought
the Royal Stone before received, and placed it where it is now, the Abbey of
Scone." The Royal Place was Fordun's Themor, and Blind Harry's Canmor
or Teamor; i. e. Tara.
Baldred Bisset, early in the fourteenth century, had another version; saying,
"The daughter of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, with an armed band, and a large
fleet, goes to Ireland, and there being joined by a body of Irish, she sails to
Scotland, taking with her the royal seat, which he, the King of England, with
other insignia of the Kingdom of Scotland, carried with him, by violence, to
England." This Bisset sought to gain the Pope's good offices for its
restoration to Scone by our Edward I.
The Irish story in the Leabhar Gabhala, or Book of Conquests, mentions
the bringing to Ireland, from Falias in Scotland, of the Lia Fail,
by the Tuath de Danaans.
Upon this, W. F. Skene has stated--"The two legends at all events are
quite antagonistic to each other, and there is one historic fact certain as to
each. First, the Lia Fail, or Irish Stone, did not leave Tara, but was
still there in the eleventh century; and secondly, the Scotch one was not in
Argyle during the existence of the Irish colony of the Dalriada, nor was used in
the inauguration of their kings."
Wintownis Chironikel, written in St. Serf's monastery, of Inch, Loch
Leven, about 1420, has this account--
"A gret Stane this Kynge than had
The Latin inscription said to have been on the stone has been thus rendered
That for this Kynge's Sete was made;
And haldyne was a great Jowale
Wytht in the kynryk of Spayne hale.
This King bad this Simon (Brec) ta
That Stane, and in-tyl Yrland ga,
And wyn that land and occupy
And halde that Stane perpetually,
And make it his Sege thare
As thai of Spayne did it of are,
Broucht this Stane wytht in Scotland
Fyrst gwhen he came and wane that land,
And fyrst we set in Ikkolmkil,
And Scune pare estyr it wes broucht tyl;
And there it was syne mony day,
Qwhyll Edward gert have it away,
Nor will I the werd rehars
As I fynd of that Stane in wers;
Ne fallat fatum, Scoti quocung locatum,
Invenient Lapidem, regnare tenentur ibidem;
But gyf werdys faly hand be,
Qwhare euer that Stane yhe segyt se
Thare sall the Scottis be regnand,
And Lorddys hale oure all that Land."
"Except old seers do feign,
This has been fulfilled, say some, by James VI. of Scotland, but of Irish
descent, becoming James I. of England; or, by so many Irish and Scotch holding
official posts in England and the colonies.
And wizards' wits be blind,
The Scots in place must reign,
Where they this stone shall find."
But James Mason did not believe the story, when he called the stone in
Westminster "a spurious relic, and utterly worthless"; as "not
the ancient coronation stone of Scotland at all," but a base imitation
palmed off on Edward I. That the Scots in their retreat should abandon the real
stone, is to him "the most monstrous of suppositions." Hidden awhile,
it may have been lost sight of in the subsequent wars, or lost by the death of
the custodian, as many another treasure has been.
Geikie, the geologist, who found it perfectly resemble the sandstones of the
Scone district, says, "To my eye the stone appears as if it had been
originally prepared for building purposes, but had never been used." Even
Shakespeare in Richard III. called it
"A base, foul stone, made precious by the foil
It is curious, also, that while the stone Holy Rood, containing a portion of
the true cross, was given up by Edward at earnest Scottish solicitation, no
pressing was used for the return of the Coronation Stone, not even after the
crushing battle of Bannockburn.
Of England's chair."
It was, perhaps, intended to return the stone to Scotland, and a writ for the
removal was dated July 1, 1328, according to the decision of a council at
Northampton. Dalrymple states that it was further determined on at a conference
between David I. and Edward III. in 1363. The Londoners, however, who accepted
the belief of the stone being a national palladium, strongly objected to its
Irish, Scotch, Culdees, and Anglo-Israelites have honoured the stone from the
fancy that it was the stone pillow of St. Columba, after having been the stone
pillow of Jacob at Bethel, afterwards transferred to Scone. The material,
however, is unlike the geological formation of either Judah or Iona, any more
than of Ireland itself. But it is like that of Scone. McCulloch's Western
Isles has this notice--"The stone in question is a calcareous
sandstone, and exactly resembles that which forms the doorway of Dunstaffnage
How came Columba to have this Stone of Destiny for his nightly pillow? It is
said, however, that when Fergus carried it from Ireland, it was placed in Iona,
before being transferred to the monastery of Dunstaffnage. If it had been
Jacob's pillow, the reported visit of the angels at night to Columba is easily
In Camden's time, the Jacob theory was received. But the Scottish Reformer
and Historian, Buchanan, left this testimony three hundred odd years
ago--"The connecting this stone with the name of the patriarch Jacob was
most likely a monkish invention, and not improbably had origin in
this Abbey, since the most ancient document in which it was thus described
appears to have been a tablet that was formerly suspended above the chair, but
which has long ago partaken of the same fate as all the other written memorials
that were in this chapel."
As to the nature of that one in our Abbey, Neale, in his Westminster Abbey,
describes it as "chiefly quartz, with light and red-coloured felspar, light
and dark mica, with probably some green hornblende, intermixed; some fragments
of a reddish-grey clay slate or schist are likewise included in its composition;
and, on the upper side, there is also a dark, brownish, red-coloured, flint
pebble." Dean Stanley thought the stone certainly from Scotland. Scone is
of Old Red Sandstone formation. The Dean had a piece of it tested in Percy's
laboratory, when it was found to be slightly calcareous. Examined under the
microscope, grains of quartz and small scales of mica were detected. Prof.
Ramsay, 1865, had the like opinion of its geology.
Keepe's Monumenta Westmonasteriensia, in 1681, tells us--"Here is
likewise on the west side the Feretory (shrine) of St. Edward, hard by the
screan that separates the High Altar from the Chappel, the chair or seat whereon
our Kings are accustomed to be inaugurated and crowned. It appears extreamly
antient both in its fashion and materials, being made of solid, hard, firm wood,
with a back and sides of the same, under whose seat, supported by four lions
curiously carved, instead of feet, lies that so much famed Stone, whereon the
patriarch Jacob is said to have reposed.--The ruines of this chair itself shows
that heretofore it hath been fairly painted, and gilt with gold." The cost
of the labours of carpenters, painters, and gilders upon the same, nearly seven
hundred years ago, was £1 19s. 7d.
The chair itself is 6 ft. 9 in. by 3 ft. 2 in. The seat is 2 ft. 3 in. from
the ground. There appears a groove in the stone. The circular iron
handles, for lifting it, are fixed to a staple.
A crack may be observed. The stone is 26 in. long, 16 ¾ broad, 10 ½ high.
Returning to its Scotch history, Skene discovers not a single example of a
Pictish sovereign being crowned thereon; and, supposing an instance were known,
he wonders why the Scots, as racial foes of Picts, should have used it for the
purpose. Robertson, the historian, traced Columba's relics to Dundalk, not
A work published about 1686 describes the stone as 22 in. long, 13 broad, and
11 deep; and says, "whereof history relates that it is the stone whereon
Jacob is said to have lain his head in the Plain of Luga; and that it was
brought to Brigantia (Corunna) in the Kingdom of Spain, in which place Gathol,
King of Scots, sat on it as his throne. Thence it was brought into Ireland by
Simon Brec, first King of Scots, about 700 years before Christ's time, and from
thence into Scotland about 300 years before Christ, and in A.D. 850 was placed
in the Abbey Scone." Will. Rishanger mentions Milo, King of the Spanish
Scots, giving it to his son Simon Brek.
Dr. O'Connor cites an Irish MS. which records the removal of Lia Fail
from Tara to the Connaught Kings at Cruachan, and so it lost its sounding
property till Con's day, second century; that it was sent by Murtagh Mac Earca
to his brother Fergus Mac Earca of Dalriada in Argyle. O'Flaherty, confounding
its asserted removal from Iona to Scone in the ninth century, affirmed it was
sent then by Aodh Finliath to his father-in-law, Kenneth Mac Alpin. Another
version is, that Simon Brek (speckled sun) brought it up with his anchor off the
west coast of Ireland.
Pennant narrates--"The stone which had first served Jacob for his
pillow, was afterwards transported into Spain, where it was used as
a seat of justice by Gathalus, contemporary with
Moses." Boece declares this Gathalus was the son of Cecrops of Athens, and
that he married Scota, daughter of Pharaoh. Haydn's Dictionary of Dates
relates that "the Lia Fail, on which the Kings of Munster were
crowned, was laid in the Cathedral of Cashel."
The Royal Irish Academy had the full Tara story from Dr. Petrie's pen.
Referring to what he considered the Lia Fail, the author mentioned its position
by the Mound of Hostages, though removed to the Forradh Rath in 1798, over some
graves after the Tara fight. "But the mound," said he, "is still
popularly called Bed Thearghais; that is, Penis Fergusii, an appellation derived
from the form of this stone." Other MSS. "identify the Lia Fail with
the stone on the Mound of the Hostages." Elsewhere he said--"Between
the Irish and Scottish accounts of the history of this stone there is a total
want of agreement, which shows that the Scottish writers, when they recorded
their tradition, were not acquainted with, or disregarded, the accounts of it
preserved by the Irish. The Irish accounts uniformly state that the Lia Fail was
brought into Ireland from the north of Germany by the Tuatha de Danaan
The conclusion of Dr. Petrie is as follows--"It is an interesting fact,
that a large obeliscal pillar stone, in a prostrate position, occupied, till a
recent period, the very situation, on the Hill of Tara, pointed out as the place
of the Lia Fail by the Irish writers of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth
centuries; and that this was a monument of pagan antiquity, an idol stone,
as the Irish writers call it, seems evident from its form and character."
It is, in fact, the remnant of an ancient object of worship, the honouring of
the symbol of production, or source of life.
One may smile at a clergyman, the Rev. Mr. Glover, saying of the stone of
Jacob, that it was reverenced long by the Jews, and "being lost in the
destruction of their sanctuary, 588 B.C., has appeared in Ireland as the
precious Liag Phail brought thither by Hebrew men in a ship of war, cir.
584" Mr. Hine, in Leading the Nations to Glory, regards that stone
as "a witness to God's covenants in the futures."
One may, also, smile at Dean Stanley's enthusiasm over the rival stone at
Westminster, as a "link which unites the throne of England with the
traditions of Tara and Ions."
Skene determines that the Lia Fail "never was anywhere but at
Tara," while the other stone "never was anywhere but at Scone."
Mr. G. Hudson rightly exclaims--"It is a matter of surprise that the
Council of the Royal Irish Academy, if they believe this (at Tara) to be the Lia
Fail, have made no effort to save such a relic." But Skene's conclusion
upon this vexed question of, authenticity is as follows--
"There was no connection between the stone at Scone and the Lia Fail at
Tara, and the legends of their wanderings, like those of the tribes with whom
they were associated, are nothing but myth and fable."
It is uncomfortable to have one's pleasing romances disturbed; and the Stone
of Destiny has had to encounter the searching light of modern inquiry, to
the destruction of many pretty fancies. It is good to be happy; it is
better to be true.