Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Ancient Ireland: The Bohea Stone

The West of Ireland is a humble place. Amongst the crags and clefts of rocks marking the hills, its barren land shows no wealth. The beauty of Ireland is in its understated treasures. The Bohea Stone is a most modest reminder of Ireland's mixed heritage between Celtic and Christian traditions.

Discovered in 1987 by the late Gerry Bracken, the monument bears concentric circles and has a small crucifix engraved on its side. The most remarkable feature of the stone is its alignnment with Croagh Patrick twice a year, on April 17th and on August 24th when to those standing at the monument that the sun appears to roll down the northern edge of Croagh Patrick. The significance lies in the ability of those who lived in Ireland before the coming of St. Patrick and Christianity to align their lives with the positioning of the stars. April 18th marking the start of the growing season and August 24th the start of the harvesting season. The complexity of the alignment is startling, considering it was done before 400 AD. The marks are still clearly visible on the surface of the rock and serve as a reminder of the wealth of Ireland's ancient, unwritten past.

The Christian influence on Irish society can is also engraved on to the surface of the rock. A small, neat crucifix can be seen on the right hand side of the stone, indicating that the stone could have been used as a Mass Rock during penal times. The rock also lies on the route of the Tóchar Phadraig, the pilgrimage from Balintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick. This is said to have been the route taken by Patrick and his followers in his time spent converting the Irish people. The strong connection between Celtic and Christian times can be seen as the Bohea Stone is also called 'Patrick's Chair', indicating that the conversion the Pagans to Christianity was done by the appropriation of local traditions to suit the aims of Christian priests.

The rock has an air of 'Magic Rock of Kiltibbert' about it. Situated between a derelict design studio and the outhouses of an unused farm, the Bohea Stone leaves a lot to the imagination. Small, rounded white stones on the surface of the rock mark the locations of concentric circles and cup marks. On bright, clear days the circles are clearly visible to the naked eye and leave wonderful marks on tracing paper. On cloudy days when the light is poor, the rock appears to be very much just like a big rock in between a house and an abandoned Volvo with no wheels on.

The Bohea Stone can be found just off the N59 from Westport to Leenaune. Leaving Westport, travel 6km from Westport through Knappagh, passing by the water filtration plant and the filling station on your left. Take the first left turn after the filling station. Travel uphill and turn right at the fork in the road. The Bohea Stone can be found behind the derelict design studio on the right, 200 metres from the fork in the road. It is marked by a sign in the garden.

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