Irish Druids And Old Irish
In many lands shapeless stones have been adored. Among several ancient
nations the idea of Divinity was symbolized by a rough stone. That aërolites
should be revered is not surprising, since they, as the idol stone of Ephesus,
came down from heaven. A single pillar stone might well, in rude times, typify
generative force. Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, Mercury, and Diana Patroa were adored
as stone columns. A circle of upright stones has been reverenced from the
Pacific, across the Old World, to the Atlantic.
Ireland was no exception to this lithic faith.
It has been customary to call circles, cromlechs, Logan stones, pillar
stones, serpentine and alignment stones, by the appellation of Druidical.
As these, however, are found in Japan, China, India, Persia, Arabia, Palestine,
Barbary, every country of Europe, North and South America, as well as in the
Pacific Isles, it would imply certainly a very wide range of Druids. No one
could deny that in some parts, as Brittany and the British Isles, so-called
Druids probably used such stones, as being already objects of reverence,
without crediting them either as their builders, or as the originators of
Because of the superstition attached to such megalithic objects, Mahometan
and Christian priests have alike sought their destruction. But Ireland and the
islands adjacent exhibit many remains of so-called Druidical monuments. Some of
these' may be mentioned.
SINGLE STONES. Finn's finger-stone, Clonduff of Down, thrown by Finn
McCoul; Deer-stone, of Glendalough; Kiltulten of Kildare; Clogh-griane,
or Sun-stone; Kileena of Antrim; Ardfert of Kerry; and several on Innis Murray. Some old
crosses have been rudely carved out of Bethels.
CIRCLES have suffered more destruction in Ireland than in Great Britain. One
at Ballynahatna, near Dundalk, has quite a Stonehenge character. In 1810 the
Rostrevor circle was 120 ft. in diameter. That at Mount Druid, Dalkey, was 150
ft. Killballyowen of Limerick has three circles. Carrowmore of Sligo is half a
mile across, and one near Belfast must have been once nearly as large. Brefin of
Cavan was a celebrated one two centuries back. Then there are circles at Deuman
of Neath, Templebrian of Cork, Ballrichan of Louth, Innisoen of Donegal, Rath
Hugh, Carrick-a-Dhirra of Waterford, and several in Louth. Cobhail was a stone
enclosure; as were the Duns and Casiols, that were often converted into
oratories. Ossian repeatedly mentions the Circle of Loda.
LOGAN STONES are the Rocking ones, and were held Divining stones. At
Magee, south of Antrim, the weight of one is twelve tons. This is thought to be
Ossian's Rocking stone of Cromla. His Stone of Power heard his hero's
voice. In the Pass of Dunloe, Kerry, is one 24 ft. round That of Carrig a-Choppian
is near Macroon, and Sligo has one at Ballina.
The DOLMEN or CROMLECH is known in Ireland generally as the burying-place of
a giant or hero, if not the bed of a Saint. Whether earth-fast or not, it
had a leaning cap-stone, resting on two or more upright stones, which sometimes
formed a sort of passage. The House of flag stones was known as the Fos-leac.
As Leaba-na-b-fian, was the grave of heroes; as Leaba-na-Fearmore,
the grave giants. An enormous one exists at Calry, Sligo Co. One bed, at Mayo,
is 15 ft. long; another is called Edward a Grace's bed; a third is named after
the hero Diarmuid who ran off with the fair Graine. A Leaba-Diarmuid
remains near Cleggan Bay, Galway. A Grannie's bed is at Glanworth of Cork. A warrior's
rest lies at Hyde, Cork Co.
The capstones of some were as large as 24 ft. in length. One near Mount Brown
weighed 110 tons. There are Cromlechs at Finvoy of Antrim, Dundonald of Down,
Ballymascandlan of Dundalk, Rathkenny of Meath, Mount Venus of Dublin Co.,
Castlederg of Tyrone, Fairy Mount and others of Louth, Kinvyle of Galway,
Leaba-na-bhfian, or Kissing-stone of Sligo, Loughrey of Tyrone, Sleigh-Grian of
Kilkenny, Kilternan of Dublin Co., Castlehyde of Cork Co., Ballintoy of Antrim,
Sliabbcroabb and Drumgoolan of Down, Garry Duff of Kilkenny, Sugarloaf of
Waterford, Burran and others of Clare, with those of Innishshark, Killeena,
Fintona, Mullimast, Kilternail, Lennan, Knockeen, Dunmore, Lough Gur Isle,
Headfort, Ballylowra, Gaulstown, Ballynageeragh, Killala, Castle Wellan, Mount
Vernes, Brown, Rathkelly, Moytara, Carlow, Carrig-na-Crioth at Drumgoolan,
While the cromlech of Howth, Dublin Bay, said to be the tomb of Oscar, son of
Ossian, is the more romantic object, that of New Grange, by Drogheda, is the
more wonderful. Formerly covered with earth, its interior was first made known
in 1699. Standing on two acres of land, it rises 67 ft. At the base the diameter
is 319 ft.; at the top, 118 ft. There is a gallery of stones 62 ft. in length,
with a number of chambers, one of which is 20 ft. in height.
Inscribed stones are not so common as in Wales and Scotland. But the symbols
of discs, double discs, circles, concentric circles, bow and sceptre, volutes,
wheels, spirals, zigzags, ogham writing, pentagons, triangles,
spectacle-ornament, sceptres, serpents, horseshoes, mirrors and combs, fishes,
boars, elephants, horses, bulls, camels, crosses, grooves, cups, &c., are
not unknown in Erin. There are figures with kilts, and. others with crowns. Some slabs, as at Lough Crew,
are seen covered with various inscriptions. New Grange has a number of them;
like as in Scotland, France, India, the north of England, &c.
What meaning has been given to these monuments?
In this scientific age, circles, &c., are simply called "the
external adjuncts of Bronze-age burials." In the East they have been
treated as Bactyles, or Bethels, to be duly anointed with oil or
milk, and adored; they are sometimes smeared over with the blood of sacrifices.
The Cabir doctrine came conveniently for others in explanation. The Cabirs
were assuredly worshipped in caves Some Welsh writers early claimed this theory
to account for their Druids These latter were said to be of Cabiric association
As Samothrace was the head-quarters of the Cabiri, which may have been of Phnician
origin and as the Phnicians visited the British Isles, it was concluded that
Druidism was the same religion, especially as associated with fire and stones.
Anyhow, the stones were a puzzle. John Aubrey, just two centuries ago,
introduced the Druidical theory, which was at once seized upon by Welsh, Scotch,
English, and Irish scholars, as an easy solution. Still, as Professor P. Smith
reminds us well, they were about as mysterious to the Greeks and Romans as to
ourselves. And De Courson asked--"But were these grand sanctuaries of stone
specially affected to the Druidic worship? Temples, altars, perfectly similar,
exist, in fact, in all parts of th earth."
"If they are Druidical," says Picard, "the Romans would not
have omitted to explain to us the nature of the place appointed for worship, for
the Druids were their contemporaries." On the other hand, Morien, the
modern Druid, declares these "temples were their Holy of Holies."
Morien's Master, the late Archdruid Myfyr, speaking of the greatest of
British temples, remarked--"Its antiquity is so great as to reach behind
the age of the circular temples themselves, inasmuch as it was in order to
correspond with the different Bardic points that the stones were so arranged in
those ancient temples."
Madame Blavatski gave the Theosophist's notion in these terms--"The
Druidical circles, the Dolmens, the temples of India, Egypt, and Greece, the
Towers, and the one hundred and twenty-seven towns of Europe which were found
Cyclopean in origin by the French Institute, are all the work of initiated
priest-architects, the descendants of those primarily taught by the 'Sons of
God,' justly called 'The Builders." Naturally, she sought a source anterior
to the age of Druids. She ascended to the ancient Aryan Masters in Thibet.
But Colonel Forbes Leslie advances further, saying--"It will not be
disputed that the primitive Cyclopean monuments of the Dekhan were created prior
to the arrival of the present dominant race--the Hindoos." Professor Benfey,
too, called them pre-Aryan; therefore over four thousand years in age, at least.
A letter of 1692, subsequently sent to the Society of Antiquaries, had these
words--"Albeit from the general tradition that these monuments were places
of pagan worship, and from the historical knowledge we have that the
superstition of the Druids did take place in Britain, we may rationally conclude
that these monuments have been temples of the Druids, yet I have found nothing
hitherto, either in the names of these monuments, or the tradition that goes
about them, which doth particularly relate to the Druids, or points them
This led Dr. Joseph Anderson, in his Scotland in Pagan Times, to
observe--"It is clear from this lucid statement that, in the end of the
seventeenth century, there was no tradition among the people
connecting these monuments with the Druids. They
were simply regarded as places of pagan worship."
Most persons may agree with Rivett-Carnac
-- "It seems hardly improbable
that the ruins in Europe are the remains of that primitive form of worship which
is known to have extended at one time over a great portion of the globe"
Not a few have detected in these monuments remnants the old Phallic
worship,--some illustrating the male principle and others symbolizing the
female, Dudley's Symbolism detects the worship of the former in the
circle, and the female in the quadrangular. Others would see the feminine in the
circular, and the masculine in the standing stone
Astronomy, some think, furnishes a solution. The circle of 12 stones, or any
multiple of 12, might represent constellations, as 19 would suit a lunar
period.. Dr Kenealy, a proficient in mystic studies, wrote--"Druidical
temples called Ana-mor were composed of stones, denoting the numbers of
the old constellation with a Kebla of 9 stones near the circumference, on
inside, to represent the sun in its progress through Signs."
We may accept the dictum of Dr Clark, that the stone circles were the temples
of the British Isles; that do to the Reformation the general name in Gaelic for
church was Teampull, and is still applied to the old Culdee churches of
the Outer Hebrides. Forlong says, "In such monuments as these you see the
very earliest idea of temple" The columns took the place of tree-stems, an
later on, became circular or solar forms.
St Martin of Tours mentions "a turreted fabric highly-polished stones,
out of which rose a lofty Cone. This had relation to Phallic superstition
The worship stones was expressly forbidden by the Council of Nantes in
the seventh century, and as late as 1672, by an ecclesiastical ordinance,
ordering the destruction of circles. Welshmen were shown the impotence of these
objects, by the power of St. David splitting the capstone of Maen Ketti, in
The Irish, like their neighbours, venerated their lithic temples. They not
only anointed them, as may be still seen done to the sacred cone in India, but,
down to a late period, they poured water on their sacred surface that the
draught might cure their diseases. Molly Grime, a rude stone figure, kept in
Glentham church, was annually washed with water from Newell well; so was the
wooden image of St. Fumac washed in water from a holy well near Keith. Babies
were sprinkled at cairns in Western or South Scotland down to the seventeenth
century. Some stones were kissed by the faithful, like the Druid's Stone in
front of Chartres Cathedral, once carefully kept in the crypt.
The Cloch-Lobhirais, of Waterford, had a great reputation for deciding
difficult cases. But this virtue was lost under circumstances thus
narrated--"But the Good Stone, which appears to have been a remnant of the
golden age, was finally so horrified at the ingenuity of a wicked woman in
defending her character, that it trembled with horror and split in twain."
It seems to have been as sensible and sensitive as were those Pillar-stones near
Cork, which, as devoutly attested, being carried off to serve some vulgar
building purposes, took the opportunity of nightly shades to retreat to their
old quarters. At last, in vexation, the builder shot them into the water. After
waiting the departure of their sacrilegious captors, they mysteriously glided
back to their former standing-place.
These were not the only Holy stones endowed with sense and motion. At the
command of a Saint, they have safely borne over bays and streams one
standing upon them, The stone at the grave of
St. Declan was seen to float over the sea with his bell, his vestments, and his
candle. St. Senan, sitting on a stone, was carefully lifted with it by angels to
the top of a hill.
St. Patrick is connected with the cromlech of Fintona, the so-called Giant's
Grave. To rebuke one sceptical at to the Resurrection, he is said to have
struck the gravel with his Staff of Jesus, when the giant rose from the
dead thankful for a temporary respite from the pains of hell. After learning he
had been swineherd to King Laogaire, the Saint recommended him to be baptized.
To this rite he submitted. He then lay down in his grave in peace secure against
Stories of giants were common of old. Jocelin speaks of Fionn Mac Con as one
of them, and Ossian's heroes were often gigantic. Boetius records Fionn as being
fifteen cubits high. But St. Patrick's giant was represented by one bard as one
hundred and twenty feet in length. The twelve stones of Usnech were said to have
been cursed by the Saint, so that they could not be built into any structure.
In the cromlech on the Walsh Hills, Fin-mac-coil was said to have kept his
celebrated hounds. A cromlech was a Bethel, or house of God. St. Declan's Stone,
Waterford, had a hole through which people crawled for the cure of maladies. The
Pillar Stone of Fir Breige had the gift of prophecy, and was duly consulted by
those who had lost their cattle. One Pillar Stone, much frequent in pagan times,
split with a great crash after a discourse on the better faith, when out leaped
a cat--doubtless a black one.
The Rock of Cashel--for ages a consecrated place--once known as St. Patrick's
Stone. Cashel was said to have been the place where angels were waiting for the Saint's arrival in
Erin. The tooth of the Saint was a venerated piece of sandstone, which somewhat
resembled a tooth in shape; possibly as much as Guatama's footstep on Adam's
Peak in Ceylon.
St. Columba, likewise, among the Hebrides, had a reputation for stones. There
is his Red Stone, his Blue Egg Stone in Skye, his Blue Stone of Glen Columkillo,
his stony beds of penitence, his Lingam Stones, which worked miracles. He was
born on a stone, he was sustained in famine by sucking meal from the Holy Stone
There are Pillar Stones, indicating Phallic origin. That on Tara Hill was
popularly known as Bod Thearghais, with especial reference to generative
force. Several of them bore names connecting them with the Tuatha; as the Cairtedhe
Catha Thuatha de Danann, their pillar stone of battle. The Ship Temple of
Mayo was Leabha na Fathac, the Giant's Bed.
The Clochoer, or gold stone, at Oriel, Monaghan County, spoke like an
oracle. So did the Lia Fail, the Ophite Stones of old, the anointed Betyles
of Sanchoniathon. It is even reported of Eusebius, that he carried such in his
bosom to get fresh oracles from them. Mousseaux calls some mad stones. Pliny
notices moving stones. The old Irish had their rumbling stones. The
Celtic Clacha-brath, or judgment stones, must have been gifted
with sounding power. Yet La Vega has a simple way of accounting for these
reverential objects, as--"the demons worked on them." One may credit
priests with hypnotic power, or we may think, with a writer, that without magic
there could have been no speaking stones.
Some holy stones had curious histories. The hallowed Pillow stone of St. Bute
had been flung into the brain of Conchobar mac Nesse, where it stayed seven years, but fell out one Good
Friday. Another stone was mentioned, in the Book of Leinster, as causing
the death of an old woman, 150 years old, who, having been brought into a great
plain, was so charmed with the sight, that she would never go back to her
mountains, preferring death there by knocking her old head upon the stone.
Elf-shots--the stone arrow-heads of their ancestors--were long regarded with
reverence. As with Western Islanders, they served as charms for the Irish--being
sometimes set in silver, and worn as amulets about the neck, protecting the
wearer against the spiritual discharges of elf-shots from malignant enemies.
They were the arrows of fairies. They ought not to be brought into a house. In
1713 Llwyd found this superstition existing in the west.
Martin speaks of finding at Inniskea a rude-looking stone kept wrapped up in
flannel, and only in the charge of an old woman, as formerly with a pagan
priestess. On a stormy clay it might be brought out, with certain magical
observances, in the confident expectation of bringing a ship on shore, for the
benefit of the wreck-loving Islanders. The Neevougi, as the stone was
called, did service in calming the sea when the men went out fishing. It was
equally efficacious in sickness, when certain charms were muttered over the
stone We have been privately shown, by an Australian aborigine, a similar sacred
stone, a quartz crystal in that case, wrapped up in a dirty rag, protected from
the eyes of women. Pococke, in 1760, saw pieces of a stone on Icolmkill used to
cure a prevalent flux.
Walhouse regarded such superstitions as belonging "to the Turanian
races, and as antagonistic to the Aryan genius and feeling" Gomme esteems
"stone worship as opposed to the general basis of Aryan culture." The
unshapely stones worshipped in India belong to non-Aryan tribes.
Authors, then, contend that this Irish form of belief came not from the
Celts, though accepted by them. Rhind amusingly talks of a "non-Aryan
native of Ireland, who paid unwelcome visits to this country as a Scot; that
Scot by and by learned a Celtic language, and insisted on being treated as a
Celt, as a Goidel." As it was the non-Aryan, or Tartar race, that
introduced magic and devils into Assyria, so may the same have been here the
originators of Stone-worship, and other superstitions, long before the Celts
reached these Islands.
As with other peoples, the Pluto and his attendants were believed to have
been no less connected with celebrated stones than were the giants themselves.
The story told by a Welsh visitor into Ireland, seven hundred years ago,
preserves an Irish tradition of stones--"There was in Ireland, in ancient
times, a pile of stones, worthy of admiration, called the Giants' Dance,
because giants from the remotest parts of Africa brought them into Ireland; and
on the plains of Kildare, not far from the Castle of the Vaase, as well by force
of art as strength, miraculously set them up. Those stones, according to the
British story, Aurelius Ambrosius, King of the Britons, procured Merlin, by
supernatural means, to bring from Ireland into Britain."
This origin of Stonehenge was long accepted as history. If not holy stones,
they were, at least, indebted for their rambling to the exercise of demoniacal
or occult powers. They came not from heaven, as did those of Phrygia, Mount Ida,
Various authors have contended that our ancestors in the British Isles were
never so lost to common sense as to worship or reverence stones, though other
peoples may have done so. O'Curry considers cromlechs "never were intended
and never used as altars, or places of sacrifice of any kind; that
they were not in any sense of the word Druidical." In
this opinion he is opposed to Welsh, English, and Irish writers. But Arthur
Clive declared--"Our Irish ancestors of Aryan race worshipped the air, stone,
Forbes Leslie conceives that many figures represented on stones "are
disconnected from any Christian symbol." Certainly the Comb shape,
so common upon inscribed stones, may be viewed on Indo-Scythian coins. The zigzag
was a Gnostic sign. The double disc and sceptre symbol may refer to solar
worship, as that of the crescent and sceptre to lunar worship.
A Buddhist origin is attributed to inscriptions by G. Moore. Dr. Longmuir
considers them "the earliest, existing records of the ideas" cherished
in these Islands. Leslie looks at them as associated with old Oriental
divination Tate esteems them "to express some religious sentiments, or to
aid in the performance of some religious rites." Not a few regard them as
emblems of religious worship.
The meaning of the Cup symbol--observed on stones at Fermanagh, and in
the west of Kerry--has puzzled the learned. In India it is frequently found both
with and without grooves The common observance upon kistvaens and on mortuary
urns, would seem to bear a religious significance. Professor T. J. Simpson
imagines the emblem "connected in some way with the religious thought and
doctrines of those who carved them" He saw no reason to doubt the origin of
cup and ring being still earlier than even the age of the earliest Celts.
Vallencey, commenting upon the spiral marks at New Grange, fancifully says,
"The three symbols (3 spirals) represent the Supreme Being or First
The most wonderful and deeply reverenced Irish stone
was the Fâl, by some strangely enough identified with the Coronation
Stone brought by King Edward from Scotland to Westminster Abbey. Arbois de
Jubainville gives this account of it:--
Conn Cetchathach, chief King of Ireland. in the second century, accidentally
put his foot on a magical stone called Fâl, which had been brought to
Ireland by the Tuatha de Danann. It cried out, so that all in Tara heard it.
Three Druids present were asked what the cry meant, where the stone came from,
whither it would go, and who had brought it to Tara? They asked a delay of
fifty-three days, when they answered all but the first question. They could only
say that the stone had prophesied. The number of its cries was the number of the
kings of the royal race, but the Druids could not tell their names. Lug then
appears to them, takes Conn to his palace, and prophesies to him the length of
his reign, and the names of his successors. A number of idle legends are
attached to the Fal stone.
As late as 1649, Commissioners were appointed by the Scottish General
Assembly to dispel the popular superstitions respecting sacred stones. In
Ireland the superstitious observances had a longer possession of people's minds.
As circles are known in Icelandic as domh-ringr, or doom rings of
Judgment, it has been suggested that Stonehenge itself may have been a chief
Seat of Judgment with the foreign colony, whose capital on Salisbury Plain may
have been Sorbiodunum, afterwards Sarum.
Clemens Alexandrinus spoke of stones as images of God. Aurelius Antoninus
brought to Rome a black stone, and paid homage to it. The Laplanders, until
lately, sacrificed the reindeer to a stone. Lactantius records the worship of Terminus
in the form of a stone. Damascius mentions consecrated stones in Syria. Black
stones are still honoured at Mecca, Benares, and elsewhere. Herodian names one
worshipped by the Phnicians, since it fell from heaven. In a letter to Sir
Joseph Banks, by our Neapolitan Minister, the antiquary Sir William Hamilton,
there is an allusion to a standing stone at Isurnia, that was duly dedicated to
Saints Cosmo and Domiano. Astle, F.R.S., in 1798, remarked--"The ancient
practice of consecrating pagan antiquities to religious purposes has been
continued to modern times."