A tale of the ‘Deer Stone’ – Glendalough

Monastic City - Glendalough (2)

I probably should have included this image with the Monastic City post, but I reckon it deserved its own little space. Entering the City from the Visitor center side, just before you come to the wooden bridge which crosses the river you will notice a granite stone with a circular hollow in the middle of it. This is what is commonly known as a Bullaun Stone. The true purpose of these stones is still not clear. They can be identified as a stone with one or more circular depressions in it, which would normally fill with water. These tend to date back to the Neolithic period, with many being discovered around early monastic settlements. Sometimes known as ‘Cursing Stones’, or ‘Curing Stones’. Sometimes you would find a number of rounded boulders or pebbles within the Bullaun. It is said that these would be used by turning them whilst praying for or cursing somebody. The fact that they are so commonly found at early Christian sites would lead me to believe that these were very important to the pre-Christian people of Ireland, as with many of our traditions, the Christian church would assimilate many old practises into the new religion. One interesting tale linking Christianity to these stones, relates to St. Aed, whom was Bishop of Kildare in the 6th century. The story goes that when born Aed hit his head on a stone, which caused a hole in the stone. The rainwater which collected in the depression was said to have been a cure for many ailments. That said, considering that these stones may date back to the Bronze age, I would think it far more plausible that they were used for grinding grains, like an early mortar and pedestal. But who knows really?


The Deer Stone

Moving on to our story, There are many of these Bullaun stones to be found around Glendalough, possibly up to 30 in total. That said, this particular one has a cool story associated with it. Known as the Deer stone, it takes its name from a tale associated with St. Kevin. The story goes that a sorceress named Caineach had taken revenge on her husband Colman, a tribal chief whom had divorced her and taken another wife. (Yes divorce did exist back in ancient Ireland and can be found in our ancient Brehon Laws, which were very progressive in their day.) So it would seem that Caineach was responsible for the deaths of all Colman’s children with his second wife. All but one, that is, a child known as Foelan. Foelan was put into Kevin’s care in the monastery to protect him from Caineach’s vengeance. Now Kevin had no milk to feed the infant and is said to have prayed as a monk would for guidance. Each morning a Doe came to the monastery and provided milk for the child, which was left in the Bullaun stone at the entrance to the monastery. Hence the name ‘Deer Stone’. Now out story does not end here. Eventually Caineach got wind of the surviving child and came to Glendalough to destroy little Foelan. Again Kevin turned to prayer for protection against Caineach’s magic. And so the story ends with Caineach being struck blind by the power of God and falling to her death. A rather nice piece of early Christian propaganda don’t you think?  It is said that water from the stone has healing properties but to be effective it should be visited, while fasting, before sunrise on a Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, on each occasion crawling round the stone seven times on bare knees while praying. Needless to say I did not test out this claim for myself, but you are welcome to try. 🙂

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About edmooneyphotography

Photographer, Blogger, Ruinhunter, with an unhealthy obsession for history, mythology and the arcane.
This entry was posted in Diary of a Ruinhunter, Neolithic, Photography, Religious Sites and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to A tale of the ‘Deer Stone’ – Glendalough

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    Brilliant post…
    just makes me even more determined to get over to Ireland….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ali Isaac says:

    So there are a lot of Bullaun stones there? 30 is a lot to be found in such a small area right? I dont know about you but I find it a bit annoying when explanations are given for objects not understood which claim them to be of religious or ritual purposes. There was more to their lives than just that! I like your thoughts on it being used for grinding grain but its rather a large stone for that… querns were more ‘portable’. Ive always wondered whether it was some kind of ancient board game as the depressions are usually quite shallow and there are usually more than one arent there? But the Deerstone squashes that theory… a single depression and quite deep too by the looks of it. I cant help but feel that just because its found at a religious site doesnt neccessarily mean its a religious object.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely, some are even used in some of the building structures.The early church were notorious for hijacking the old beliefs and customs. Holy wells are a prime example of this. They would even build their churches right on top of sacred sites. Just like the Borg in Star Trek, it was a case of assimilate or die.
      Damn im gonna start ranting now…….. Even the curse/cure stone has a tinge of Christianity to it.

      The Bullaun’s come in all shapes and sizes and are not exclusive to Ireland. Some have been found in Scandinavia and France. One theory I failed to mention was that in ancient times they were used to leave offerings for the Gods/Spirits.

      Sadly I dont think we will ever know the true purpose of these stones, all we can do is speculate.


  3. slpsharon says:

    Wonderful story, and great photos.


  4. CrazyGuyinThailand says:



  5. A thought on the religious use:
    Does the stone have the healing/cursing properties or did that come from the prayer/curse recited?
    If it came from the stone then I imagine it to be quite interesting to see someone trying to heal a person with a curse-stone or alternatively curse someone with a healing-stone. 😀

    The deer-story is quite interesting too, though my mind already wanders to the thought “Can a human child even digest deer-milk?”. Then again Romulus and Remus were fed by a she-wolf and “survived”…


    • Some good points, here is how I see it. As with many of these stories, I take them as entertainment as they are sourced from a biased point of view, i.e. the early christian church. The curse/cure stone would have been either one or the other. not both.
      From my personal studies and experience of such things, the stone is only a tool, it holds no magikal properties, in fact the real magik comes from the intention/belief/faith of the practitioner.
      As for the Deer story, im sure a child could survive on the milk, but if this actually happened? I have my doubts, although as with most myths, they can contain some truth 🙂


  6. writeejit says:

    Enjoyed this post. Grew up not far from here, but never heard the deer story before. Thanks for sharing.


  7. Lovely information and photos, I do so enjoy your posts, Ed, lovely stuff, keep it up.


  8. lauramacky says:

    He must’ve had a very hard head to create that hole! lol Wonderful history once again Eddie!


  9. Debunker says:

    Terrific pictures! I really must get back to Glendalough again, or as the ancient Irish used to call it, Róimh Iarthair Bheatha, the Rome of the Western World!


  10. Great story about the deer stone and St. Kevin. I really like the photo of the stone, round inside the square, with an offering of water.


  11. Your history makes the photos so much more meaningful even as wonderful as they are!!


  12. belshade says:

    Eddie – I enjoyed very much reading your interview. I noticed on that Nikon Magazine article that you can convert your digital camera to infra-red, but it would certainly be wiser as you mentioned, to wait until you get a new one. What you are doing at the moment looks great.


    • Thanks Des,

      Yes its a bit of a process and you still need a special filter for the lense. Will defenity wait until I get a new one.

      Not up to much at the moment, just working on a magazine article and planning my next road trip,

      How are you keeping?



  13. Informative and above all entertaining and of course beautifully photographed! ‘They’ do excel in the fiction alright! The thing is, millions believe it too! Sometimes it can be annoying how ancient sites have been ‘hijacked’ I read recently that a wealthy person in the US wanted to fund a Rio de Janeiro type statue of St Patrick ( presumably in his 18th/19th C green vestments) on top of Croagh Patrick


  14. LB says:

    Oh no come on … I want you to try it 🙂
    Love that story!


  15. I love the story of the deer. I would expect we can drink deer milk – after all, we eat venison.


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