Monday, 13 April 2020

An Irish Bog

There are two types of bog in Ireland, a raised bog and a blanket bog. 

Irish Bog

Blanket bog is generally found in mountainous upland areas whereas raised bogs are mostly found in lowland areas with the biggest concentration of raised bog areas found in the Irish midlands. 

Bog railway

Raised bogs develop over a long time from fens, an intermediate stage of raised bog formation. Bogs are 95% water and the chief vegatation in them is Sphagnum moss.

Turf

Without going into a post on the details of either I've just posted a few photographs from the bog nearby.
Turf harvested by hand has to be "footed" to dry out before it is suitable for use and burning.

Milled turf (Peat) would be hauled on narrow guage railways direct from the bogs to the energy generating power plants for burning.

Bog Locomotive

Because of restrictions on movement and limitations of going no further than 2 Kms from home during the Corona virus pandemic any cycling recently has been limited to me heading into the nearby bog.

Bog

These bogs have historically been harvested by locals for fuel to be used as home heating as well as harvested on a larger scale by the state (Bord na Móna) as a fuel source for turf burning power stations.

Peat Bog

Bogs are "anaerobic" which means that they have very little oxygen in them. Because oxygen accelerates decomposition this means that bogs often preserve things well and stifle decomposition. 

Bog Butter

Cashel man is an example of a Bronze Age "Bog Body" which is on display at the National museum and is a well preserved body which was found in a local Laois bog.

"Bog Butter" is another item sometimes discovered in a well preserved state and I've included a picture of a 30 Kg lump of 1000 year old "Bog Butter" which is on display in Roscrea.

Bog Butter

The rehabilitation of Ireland's raised bogs will take many decades but should eventually return a valuable ecological asset to nature.

Turf Bog

With environmental and ecological concerns coming to the forefront the days of the rural turf cutter are fast coming to an end.

The image conjures up a very happy and comforting picture of times past but there's no going back and no matter how much we might object the reality is that there is no place for an unsustainable and environmentally destructive process any more.

Bogs are an important ecological niche and a huge variety of specialised plants exist and depend on them as does a large variety of "Scrub." The "Scrub" encourages a wide number of small bird species.

The most unusual bird I've been fortunate to see in an Irish bog is an African Hoopoe, which I presume was somewhat "off course."

Hoopoe

I've fond memories of meeting turf cutters decades ago as I rambled here and there but time moves on and so too must process's......



Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Irelands Bullaun Stones

Found throughout Ireland and quite numerous there are many fascinating "Bullaun Stones."

 

Bullaun Stone
Roscam, Galway - Associated with Saint Patrick.
Bullaun Stone

Bullaun Stones are stones which have hollows or depressions carved into them, either a single hollow or multiple hollows or depressions. Many are shaped like a "bowl."

Bullaun Stone
Clonmore, Carlow - Large multiple Bullaun.
Bullaun Stone

They range very often in size from as little as 20 Centimetres across to as large as several metres measured along their upper surface. The difference in size, shape, and number of depressions make Bullaun Stones quite unique and difficult to categorize. They vary in shape and style considerable.

Bullaun Stone
Saint Molua's Stone - Kyle, Laois.
Bullaun Stone

The origins of Ireland's Bullaun Stones are lost in the mist of time however Bullaun Stones are also found in Britain as well as in continental Europe. The grinding stones of the indigenous peoples of North America also show a striking similarity to some Irish Bullaun Stones as do many early grinding stones worldwide.

Bullaun Stone
Possible Bullaun - Church of Ireland, Aghade, Carlow.
Bullaun Stone

Today the majority of Irish Bullaun Stones are found close to ancient sites of ecclesiastical importance such as early Christian monasteries and churches and alongside Holy Wells and sites of pilgrimage.

Bullaun Stone
Bullauns - Saint Peacauns, Toureen, Tipperary.
Bullaun Stone

Bullaun Stone

It is however, unlikely that the present religious associations and settings are the original source of Ireland's Bullaun Stones.

Bullaun Stone
Bullaun and Holy well - Cumber/Forelacka, Offaly.
Bullaun Stone

At a guess it would seem likely that some Bullaun Stones must have originated as prehistoric grinding stones much like a Mortar and Pestle or a Saddle quern. 

Bullaun Stone
Bulluans - Killamery, Kilkenny. Is the lower stone a Bullaun or a Holed Stone ?
Bullaun Stone

To my knowledge the only way to date stone usage without written records is if it
(the stone) has been recently excavated and can be tested for how long it had previously been exposed to sunlight. It would seem that dating per-existing Bullauns is a non runner.

Bullaun Stone
Glendalough, Wicklow - One Bullaun has been repurposed into the Altar.
Bullaun Stone

Bullaun Stone

What can be said with certainty is that they are a multi period artifact in the Irish landscape and an intriguing and beguiling one at that.
It is entirely possible that some of them may have been Bronze age or even Neolithic grinding tools. 

Small Bullaun - Castletown Cemetery, Drumroe, Tipperary.
Bullaun Stone

I presume a lack of finds near neolithic sites may make this seem unlikely however given the portable nature of most Bullaun Stones perhaps they were moved and repurposed over the millennia, who knows?

Bullaun Stone
Saint Berriherts - Tipperary. Bullauns or Swearing Stones ?
Bullaun Stone

Bullaun Stone

Bullaun Stone

The Bullaun Stones found in Ireland today seem to have very ritualistic purposes and most are associated with local myths, legends, and traditions.
Many are still an integral part of local worship and veneration at sites of pilgrimage throughout the country.

Base of Post - Fuerty, Roscommon. Bullaun.......more probably recently man made post holes ?
Bullaun Stone

Along with the obvious depressions which are the defining feature of Bullaun Stones several have further interesting marks, grooves, or hollows which are often ascribed to the marks made from where venerated Saints knelt when praying, their hand prints when worshiping or the marks of Horses or Cows hooves etc. etc.

Lemanaghan Offaly - Associated with Saint Manchan. Bulluan at Well and on ancient Togher.
Bullaun Stone

Bullaun Stone

The Bullauns, some of which may have originated as a type of early milling stone are now often used for ritual purposes and are often believed to have magical or healing properties. They are sometimes associated as sources of cures for different ailments.

Bullaun on ground - Gallen Priory, Ferbane, Offaly
Bullaun Stone

Some were also repurposed as "Cursing Stones" or "Swearing Stones."
There are several traditions of using Bullauns to cast a spell or curse and also of using them to swear an oath or obligation.

Kilmurray Hill, Laois - Bullaun or not ? Hard to tell, there's one listed here on maps.
Bullaun Stone

It doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to visualise a distant relative decades ago after a "night on the lash" pleading or entreating at a Bullaun stone ..........
"I swear, I swear. I'll never touch a drop again if......."

Glendalough, Wicklow.
Bullaun Stone

A Large number of Bullaun Stones are located at devotional sites and places where votive offerings are left and prayers offered to Saints associated with the locality.

Glendalough in Wicklow contains an unusually large number of Bullaun stones with over 40 recorded in the area, attesting to their religious significance in the locality.

Bullaun Stone Map, Glendalough

Some of the many uses and purposes to which Bullaun Stones may originally have served have been mooted as ; grinding stones for grains or nuts, crushing herbs, metal ores and colour pigments, and making medicines.
Each of these suggested ancient uses seems quite plausible in its own right and we will probably never know for sure. In fact some may have origins or uses for which we could never even begin to hazard a guess.

Double holed Bullaun at Saint Peacauns in Tipperary.
Bullaun Stone.

Occasionally it is difficult to be certain a stone is in fact a Bullaun Stone as it may be a repackaged Font or Stoup or just a weathered conglomerate rock but most Bullauns are fairly easily identified.

Probable Bullaun at Saint Fintans Well, Cromogue, Laois.
Bullaun Stone.

Ireland's Bullaun Stones are a striking and evocative archaeological record of times past and present throughout the country. Myths, legends, local folklore, and ecclesiastical associations have served to keep most of them "in situ" and intact so that they remain in place for future generations to enjoy.

They also provide a valuable link to the past and serve as a visible reminder of our sometimes forgotten history and heritage.
As technology advances further the old "oral tradition" fades and the meaning and purpose of relics can be lost or forgotten, particularly concerning obscure local traditions and folklore.

Wherever you may live you will probably find that you are not too far from a Bullaun Stone. Perhaps you were unaware of its existence and passed it by without even knowing it was there. 
The stone probably has a tale to tell if you dig a little deeper......