Located in the current Dominican Priory of Tallaght, on the grounds of the former Archbishop’s Palace, there is a hidden walled garden. Within this garden there is a beautiful tree lined walkway which runs from North to South, known as the ‘Friar’s Walk’, It was first mentioned during an ordnance survey in 1837. At the north end there was said to be a faint trace of a potential Motte known as the bishops Chair, but like so many antiquities of the area it has sadly been lost in the sands of time. This may very well have been a Motte style fortification built by the Normans in the 12th century where their self-appointed Bishop may have resided. Which is not a far stretch of the imagination considering Tallaght’s strategic significance on the Pale, and its early Christian roots to the nearby monastery of St. Maelruain.
The Friar’s Walk is a slightly raised stretch which runs for approx. 150 meters and is bisected in the middle by another pathway which runs east to west. Despite the vast number of beautiful trees, fauna and various statues which occupy this hidden treasure of a garden, I was after something else. I first heard that there was a Bullán Stone on the grounds of the priory back in 2013 when I spent a number of weeks exploring Tallaght and the surrounding area. Despite numerous visits I was unable to locate this elusive stone and resided to the fact that it either no longer existed, or it was tucked away in the walled garden. And so begun the arduous task of attempting to arrange access to have a look around, despite numerous emails and phone calls I was unable accomplish my goal, and just when I had almost forgotten about it, I received news from the folks at this year’s recent Tallafest. As part of the events for this year there would be a guided walk around the garden by the Nature expert and author Christopher Moriarty. Just goes to show that good things come to those who wait.
At the end of the Nature walk not far from the intersecting path, I struck gold. Not only did I find the elusive Bullán Stone that I had been searching for, but I in fact found two side by side resting under some ancient Yew tree’s. The smaller of the two is most certainly a Bullán Stone and may very well have been used by the early Christian monks from Maelruain’s monastery to grind crops and herbs. The second and larger Stone was said to have been dug out of the Archbishops Bathhouse back in the 19th century. It has been believed at times to have been the base of the ancient Tallaght Cross which once stood during the middle ages in Tallaght Village. Now whilst this may be true, it may not have been its original purpose? The stone itself does have a rather smooth surface which may indicate its prior use as a millstone from a horizontal mill. Looking at the shape of the hole, I reckon this was caused by the shaft of a waterwheel which would have been connected to the grinding stone of a mill in the area, but then again that’s just my humble opinion.
Bullán Stones are quite an interesting subject and can quite easily be ignored as just another ugly stone lying on the ground. I have come across quite a few over the years, most notably at St. Mullins in Carlow, Killgobbin in Dublin and the famous The Deer Stone in Glendalough. With many varied opinions and debates as to the true purpose of these stones ranging from Rock Art to ritual devices. These stones can be traced back through time to the Bronze Age. Whilst the Bullán simply refers to the hemispherical cup hollowed out of a stone, it would seem that they served numerous purposes. Many can be found in and around early Christian sites and could have been used for simply grinding of crops and herbs much like a mortar and pedestal. But many were also known as cursing or healing stones. If you wished to cause harm to someone, it is said that you would roll smaller stones within the Bullán whilst praying or chanting. Rainwater taken from within the Bullán was said to have been a cure for many ailments much alike the many holy wells which were also connected to various saints.