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?
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. 🙂