Dolmens or Cromlechs

From Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, 1894

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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 or cap-stone, resting on two or more upright stones, which sometimes formed a sort of passage. The House of flagstones was known as the Fos-leac. As Leaba-na-b-fian, it was the grave of heroes; as Leaba-na-Fearmore, the grave of giants. An enormous one exists at Calry, Sligo Co. One bed, at Mayo, is 15 ft. long; another is called Edward and 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, &c.

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 Phoenician origin, and as the Phoenicians 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 the 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 out."

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 of theold 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 the constellations, as 19 would suit a lunar period. Dr. Kenealy, a proficient in mystic studies, wrote—"The Druidical temples called Ana-mor were composed of 48 stones, denoting the numbers of the old constellations, with a Kebla of 9 stones near the circumference, on the inside, to represent the sun in its progress through the Signs."

We may accept the dictum of Dr. Clark, that the stone circles were the temples of the British Isles; that down to the Reformation the general name in Gaelic for a 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 the temple." The columns took the place of tree-stems; and, later on, became circular or solar forms.

St. Martin of Tours mentions "a turreted fabric of highly-polished stones, out of which rose a lofty Cone." This had relation to Phallic superstition. The worship of 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 Gower.

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-Lobhrais, 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 as to the Resurrection, he is said to have struck the grave 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 further torment.

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 frequented 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—was 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 of Moel-blatha.

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