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.”


  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 

St Columbkille’s Footprints, Drumcavany, Co. Donegal

Bullaun Stone:  Grid Reference – C 093 154

Also Known as:

  1. St. Columb’s Stone
Photo thanks to Catherine of We Love Donegal

Archaeology & History

St Columbkille’s place in Irish history was considerable and, said Maghtochair (1867), he was said to have “founded more than one hundred churches and religious houses.”  His feet, also, have been carved or burned into a number of rocks scattering the Irish landscape.  Not to be confused with his ‘feet’ that are carved near Londonderry, the ones here have been classed in the archaeological inventories as a bullaun and, wrote Brian Lacy (1983) in the Donegal Archaeological Survey, can be found on,

“A 2m long ledge of rock outcrop containing two depressions, c.0.33m in diameter x ).1m deep.  They are known locally as St. Columbkille’s footprints.”

As can be seen in the above photo, the ‘footprints’ seem to have been artificially outlined at some time long ago, to make them more notable.


  1. Lacy, Brian, Archaeological Survey of County Donegal, Donegal County Council 1983. p.307
  2. Maghtochair, Inishowen – Its History, Traditions and Antiquity, Journal Office: Londonderry 1867.
  3. Sconce, James, “Cup-Marked Stones,” in Transactions of the Edinburgh Field Naturalists, volume 5, 1907.
  4. Swan, Harry Percival, The Book of Inishowen, William Doherty: Buncrana 1938.

AcknowledgementsBig thanks to Catherine, of the We Love Donegal website.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Clach Brath, Baile Mor, Iona

Bullaun Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NM 286 244

Also known as:

  1. Clacha Brath
  2. Clachan-nan-Druidhean
  3. Day of Judgement Stone
  4. Druid’s Stone
  5. World’s End Stone


On this curious, broken, basin-shaped rock — thought by some to have at one time played a part in an old cross whose remains are in the Abbey Museum — are two deep cup-shaped hollows, in which were once “three noble globes of white marble” that were used for oracular purposes and were said to have originated in druidical rites.  In Miss McNeill’s (1954) survey of the island, she tells that:

“near the edge of the path leading to St. Oran’s Chapel, there lies a broad, flat stone, with a slit and a cavity on its surface. Here there used to lie some small round stones which pilgrims were wont to turn sunwise within the cavity; for it was commonly believed that the ‘brath’, or end of the world, would not arrive until this stone should be worn through.”

The small stones that were once in the Brath were ordered by the Church to be thrown into the sea; but local folk replaced them with three other small stones, maintaining the traditional rites of this stone until they eventually stopped sometime in the 19th century.  But in Major-General James Forlong’s (1906) study, he tells of a somewhat earlier mythic origin to this old stone, saying:

“In Iona the Druids are said to have made the flat altar stone called Clachan-nan-Druidhean, or Druid’s Stone, the stone of fate or of the last day, with round stones fitted into cup hollows on the surface, which the pious pilgrim turns round.  The world will end when the stone is worn through.  The Culdee monks preserved this monument.”

And what little is left is still preserved to this day.  The curious “end of the world” motif was something that was grafted onto an earlier mythos: what Mircea Eliade called the “myth of the eternal return”, wherein Nature’s annual cycle —from birth, life to death and subsequent renewal, endlessly, through the seasons—was the original status, later transmuted by the incoming judaeo-christian cult of linear time and milleniumism relating to a literal “end of the world” when their profane myth of Jesus returning to Earth occurs.  We might also add that the stones which once rested into the hollows of the Clach Brath would likely have possessed divinatory and healing qualities, as comparatiove studies suggest.


  1. Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return,
  2. Forlong, J.G.S., Faiths of Man – volume 1, Bernard Quarithc: London 1906.
  3. Holder, Geoff, The Guide to Mysterious Iona and Staffa, Tempus: Stroud 2001.
  4. McNeill, F. Marion, Iona: A History of the Island, Blackie & Son: Glasgow 1954 (4th edition).

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian