St. Columba’s Stone, Derry, Co. Derry

Bullaun:  OS Grid Reference – C 4312 1662

Also Known as:

  1. St. Columb’s Stone

Archaeology & History

Site on Colby’s 1837 map

Not to be confused with the other St. Columba’s Stone at Shantallow, 1¾ miles to the north of here, this legendary rock was found in very close association—barely ten yards away—with one of St. Columba’s holy wells (in fact there were three holy wells hereby, but the others were dedicated to saints Adamnan and Martin).  The two sites were inextricably related to each other, both in terms of their proximity and, more importantly, in terms of the symbiotic traditions the two of them had.  And despite the relationship they had under the guise of one “St. Columba”, it’s pretty obvious that this was a thoroughly unchristian place to begin with.

St Columba’s Stone in 1837

As with many bullauns, it’s a relatively small stone with two deep hollows on either side.  We don’t know for certain when the stone was placed here, but tradition tells us it was sanctified at this spot in the 6th century; and so it remained until June 9, 1897 when, deemed as being an “obstruction” on the roadway, it was uprooted and moved some 300 yards south where, a year later, it was incorporated into the base of a cross outside the Long Tower Church of St Columba, where it remains to this day (at grid-reference C 4303 1635).

The stone was still in situ when Thomas Colby (1837) and his mates were doing their work for the Irish Ordnance Survey, at a period when many an Irish antiquity was still frequented by local folks for ceremonies, both personal and social.  Colby wrote:

The stone set beneath the cross

“In the centre of St. Columb’s Lane, adjacent to the Wells, there is a remarkable stone, called St. Columb’s Stone, which is popularly regarded with a still higher veneration by the aboriginal Irish of the district.  It is of an irregular form, about three feet long, and ten inches wide: the height above ground is one foot and a half, and it has two oval hollows on each side, artificially formed.  Many foolish legends are current among the peasantry respecting the origin of these hollows, which, it is supposed, are the impressions made by the saint’s knees when he leaped from the nail of the city.  It may, however, be worth observing, that stones of this description are found in the vicinity of most of the Irish churches, and usually bear the name of the founder, or patron saint: they are always held sacred, and the rain-water, deposited in their hollows, is believed to possess a miraculous power in curing various diseases.”

William Doherty (1899) told how parts of the bullaun holes had been made “by pious pilgrims trying to remove chips as relics”, who then wore them as amulets for curative properties and good fortune; then later, “it was utilized as a Holy Water Font, to prevent further mutilation.”

References:

  1. Colby, Thomas, Ordnance Survey of the County of Londonderry, HMG: Dublin 1837.
  2. Doherty, William, Derry Columbkille, Brown & Nolan: Dublin 1899.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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