St. Columba’s Stone, Shantallow, Derry, Co. Derry

Petroglyph:  OS Grid Reference – C 4386 1934

Also Known as:

  1. Chieftain’s Installation Stone
  2. Inauguration Stone
  3. St Columb’s Footprints
  4. St Columb’s Stone

Archaeology & History

St Columb’s feet carving

To be found in the grounds of Belmont House School, just 1¾ miles (2.8km) north of Derry’s other Columba’s Stone, this is one of the many petroglyphic “footprints” that folklore ascribes to Ireland’s saint Columb/Columba/Columbkille (and other variants).  Said to have originally been carved at the great fortress of Grianan of Aileach, 4½ miles (7.2km) to the west, this great block of stone—roughly 6 feet square on top—has the distinct sculpturings of two feet, each about 10 inches long, etched into its sloping surface.  Archaeologically speaking, there’s little more to say about the stone; but its traditions are another thing altogether and are of considerably greater importance…

Folklore

Like the carved footprint on top of Dunadd in Argyll with its association of tribal initiations, the traditions relating to this footprint follows the same path, so to speak.  It was H.P. Swan (1938) who gave us a good summary of the olde lore here, telling that,

“It is almost absolutely certain that it was brought from the Grianan of Aileach after its destruction, probably by an O’Doherty for his own installation.  If so, the task of removal was no joke, for the stone weighs some seven tons.  It was the “crowning stone” of the Kinel-Owen, or, in other words, the stone upon which the chieftains of the great O’Neill clan were inaugurated.  They reigned in Aileach for many centuries.

“At his installation, as supreme head of the clan, the newly-chosen chief was placed upon this stone, his bare feet in the footmarks; a peeled willow wand was put into his hand, as an emblem of the pure and gentle sway he should exercise over his tribe; an oath was administered to him by the chief ecclesiastic in the neighbourhood, that he should preserve inviolable the ancient custom of his country, and deliver the succession peaceably to his tanist (successor); after which, descending from the stone, he turned himself thrice backwards and thrice forwards, to signify that he was ready to meet all foes, from whatever quarter they might come; and was then, with wild acclamations, hailed as their chief by his assembled clan.

“At the time of Ireland’s conversion to christianity by St Patrick, that holy man visited the Grianan (about AD 443), where this stone had been so used for centuries before; Owen was then King; he was converted from Paganism to the new faith and baptised by Patrick; at the same time, the saint consecrated this stone, and blessed it as the crowning-stone of the Kinel-Owen for ever.  Time, however, has proved his blessing futile, as may be read in the account of the Grianan, which was deserted by the Kinel-Owen after its destruction by the O’Briens in 1101.”

The ritual described here cannot be taken lightly, nor seen as a presentation of fiction, for its ingredients are found echoed in kingship rites in many cultures.

References:

  1. Swan, Harry Percival, The Book of Inishowen, William Doherty: Buncrana 1938.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Falls of Monzie (7), Crieff, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 88737 26366

Getting Here

The site in the landscape

A couple of miles east of Crieff, take the A822 road from the Gilmerton junction towards the Sma’ Glen.  After literally 1¾ miles (2.8km)—just 100 yards before the track up to Connachan Farm—you’ll reach a dirt-track on your left that leads into the hills.  Go on here and after an easy walk of 400 yards or so, you’ll reach the conspicuous boulder known as the Falls of Monzie (6) stone.  Two or three yards to its side is a large flat stone.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

This large flat smooth earthfast rock, is possessed of a number of very faint cup-marks.  Altogether there are at least nine cup-marks, most of which are closing in to the middle of the stone, with other single cups near the western and southern edges.

The faint cupmarks
Close-up of cups

Near the middle of the rock, one cup has an equally faint semi-circular arc, just visible on the photos here.  Close-up photos of this semi-circle seem to suggest it was more complete in ages gone by, but the erosion is such that it’s difficult to say with any certainty. (possibly the computer-tech kids could give us a bit more certainty).  The nearest other carving with more definite cup-and-rings can be found on the Falls of Monzie (8) stone, about 200 yards to the west.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

Wester Glentarken (2), St Fillans, Comrie, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 66431 24782

Getting Here

Singe cup-mark, near the middle of the stone

Follow the same directions as if you’re visiting the Wester Glentarken (1) carving, but some 10-15 yards before reaching it, you’ll notice this smaller rock with a series of curious naturally-eroded features on it.

Archaeology & History

This rounded stone has a series of natural deep cracks and undulating geological features on its surface, some of which look like elongated man-made cup-marks—but they’re not!  The only man-made ingredient on this stone is the deep single cup-mark close to the centre of the stone, as you can see in the photo.  That’s it—nowt else!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Wester Glentarken (1), St Fillans, Comrie, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 66412 24783

Getting Here

Cupmarked stone in situ

1½ miles out of St Fillans on the A85 road to Lochearnhead you’ll reach the boating marina by the lochside.  A hundred yards or so past this, park up.  Cross the road and walk 50 yards to your right then follow the dirt-track up into the trees.  After ⅓-Mile (0.5km) turn left to the old house on your left and follow the green path around it, then around the right-side of the rocky knoll in front of you.  Once you’re on the level ground around the knoll, walk forward for less than 100 yards.  Y’ can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

4 of the 5 main cups

A simple design, but a clear one, of four deep cup-marks which can be seen on the eastern side of the stone, with a solitary one—much more faint—just over the rise on the more western section of the rock.

There are a number of other large sections of rock around the knoll with what appear to be cup-markings of various forms, but apart from perhaps one or two exceptions, the vast majority of them—as Currie (2005) also noted—seem to be natural.

References:

  1. Currie, George, “Wester Glentarken, Perth and Kinross (Comrie parish), cup-marked rocks,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, vol. 6, 2005.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Balnasuim (3), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 66075 39622

Getting Here

Take the directions to the Balnasuim (1) carving, then up and across to Balnasuim (2).  From here, walk diagonally uphill to your right (NE) for about 150 yards and head to the the very top-corner of this field.  You’ll see the large embedded rock emerging out of the ground, just ten yards away from a small stream.  You’re there!

Archaeology & History

As Officer Barbrady likes to put it, “move along people, there’s nothing to see here!“—and that’s really the case with this, another of Balnasuim’s petroglyphs.  This lichen-encrusted rock has just two simple cup-marks, barely visible when the daylight’s poor – and it’s almost as disappointing when the day is good!  In all honesty, in wilfully visiting this site and its geographical compatriots, I can sincerely understand how people can tell us petroglyph-nuts that we “really have nothing better to do” with our time!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Balnasuim (1), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65813 39268 

Getting Here

Balnasuim (1), beneath Ben Lawers

From Killin, take the A827 road to Kenmore. 6 miles along, on your right, is the track down to the Big Shed at Tombreck.  Keep on the A827 for exactly ⅓-mile (0.53km), and opposite the driveway to Craggantoul is a small parking spot.  A few yards on the road, over the burn, go thru the gate on your left.  From here, follow the straight line of walling uphill and 20 yards before reaching Cragganester (9) carving, follow the line of fencing right (ENE) until you hit the wall more than 350 yards away.  From here, follow the walling uphlil 350 yards where it turns a right-angle west.  About 50 yards east of the right-angled wall, look around…

Archaeology & History

3 faint cups in an arc

As with the other carvings up here at Balnasuim, there is little to look at unless you’re one of the ardent petroglyphic crazies!  On this small rounded stone, cushioned beneath the skylines of Ben Lawers and Meall Odhar, are at least three cupmarks in a rough arc running from the northern part of the stone, with the most pronounced of them being close to the northern edge of the rock.  The others are very shallow and can be difficult to make out in poor sunlight.  A possible fourth cupmark with a short protruding line may exist close to the SE part of the stone.  The Balnasuim (2) carving is 305 yards (279m) to the NE.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Balnasuim (2), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65965 39521

Getting Here

Balnasuim (2), looking N

From Killin, take the A827 road to Kenmore. 6 miles along, on your right, is the track down to the Big Shed at Tombreck.  Keep on the A827 for exactly ⅓-mile (0.53km), and opposite the driveway to Craggantoul is a small parking spot.  A few yards on the road, over the burn, go thru the gate on your left.  From here, follow the straight line of walling up past Cragganester (9) carving, following the burn uphill parallel to the copse of trees until, after about 800 yards, you reach the wall.  From here, walk towards the rounded hill of Meall Odhar and, after about 450 yards, you’ll notice it meets a line of walling that runs downhill.  Keep walking along, past this, but after 150 yards, go into the field on your right and walk downhill for about 100 yards.  Look around!

Archaeology & History

Despite the climb, plus its description as a ‘cup-and-ring’ stone, this petroglyph is somewhat of a disappointment.  An elongated stone, half-covered in earth faces south towards Loch Tay and the mountains across, with a series of very eroded cup-marks.

Cup-marks on SW side
Cup-and-ring on NE side

They are separated into two small groups.  At the southwest side of the rock we can see three or four faded cup-marks.  The middle of the rock seems devoid of anything, but on its more northeastern side we find four more cups in close attendance to a standard cup-and-ring motif.  That’s about it!  The Balnasuim (1) carving can be found 305 yards (279m) to the southwest.

 

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Falls of Monzie (3), Crieff, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 88793 26304

Getting Here

Falls of Monzie-3 design

Follow the same directions as if you’re visiting the Falls of Monzie (2) carving; but instead of walking off the track to see that particular carving, keep to the track for about another 60 yards then go up the slight slope on your right.  The stone is pretty much overgrown, but if you’re patient you’ll find it.

Archaeology & History

It is difficult to say with any certainty whether or not this petroglyphs has previously been reported.  A somewhat confusing series of descriptions by several writers would indicate that is has not been recorded; but I’m happy to be shown otherwise…  It’s nowt much to look at if truth be had.  Heavily eroded by the elements, this elongated flat stone possesses seven very shallow cups, with a possible eighth, as you can see highlighted in the photo.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Falls of Monzie (2), Crieff, Perthshire

Cup-and-Line Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 88831 26261

Getting Here

Falls of Monzie (2) stone

A couple of miles east of Crieff, take the A822 road from the Gilmerton junction towards the Sma’ Glen.  After literally 1¾ miles (2.8km)—just 100 yards before the track up to Connachan Farm—you’ll reach a dirt-track on your left that leads into the hills.  Go along here for 250 yards (230m) yards (the track has straightened out here) and then walk into the reeds on your right.  About 15 yards in, look around!

Archaeology & History

Another one of those fascinating carvings that had me here for an hour, maybe more, poring over more and more features as the light, shadow and rock gave more and more depending on how I looked at it.  Tis the same with many petroglyphs, of course… But I liked this one.

On initial impression it didn’t seem up to much: maybe a few faint cups—some certain, others no so much.  But the more attention we gave this stone, so more of those unlikely faint cups became much more real.  At first there were a dozen; then 15 or more; but as we gave it more and more attention, so more of the petroglyphic design showed its original form.  They do that, these stones!  When George Currie rediscovered this carving in 2008 he found 17 cup-marks on the stone, but at least thirty of them go to make up this petroglyph.  There may even be a very faint, albeit incomplete ring around one of them, but I’ll let the computer-tech kids work that one out!

Natural cracks with cups & carved extensions
Natural cracks with cups & carved extensions

This carving has that peculiar and not-too-infrequent element of having some cups carved into the natural cracks in the stone.  In this case, at least four of them can be seen etched into the large deep crack that runs along its more northern edge.  They’re quite distinct once you get your focus on them.  In this case—albeit it to a much lesser extent—this feature reminded me of the impressive West Strathan carving in Sutherland.  But where this natural crack finishes, it has been artificially extended until it reaches the eastern edge of the stone.  You’ll also notice in the photos highlighting this feature, that another artificial line has been carved at right-angles to it, heading south, until it meets another natural crack in the stone.  It’s quite distinct.  And along this second artificial line, you’ll notice another cup or three—one of which has been cut into the line.  These two man-made extended cracks in the stone, give the simple impression of an early cross symbol.  Features such as this, whilst seemingly trivial to the bog standard explorer, possess some very curious myths in some living traditions elsewhere in the world; but such things are beyond the remit of this site profile.

References:

  1. Currie, G., “Falls of Monzie, Perth and Kinross (Crieff parish), Cup-marked rock”, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland (New Series) volume 9, 2008.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Mackenzie’s Stone, Fountains Earth, North Yorkshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 145 739

Also Known as: 

  1. Fountains Earth (6)

Getting Here

The stone in situ (photo by James Elkington)

This one really takes some finding.  Take the high moorland road running between Lofthouse and Healey villages, and at the very top by the cattle-grid, park up.  Walk across the road and walk east. A mile or so on you’ll pass the Shooting Lodge house: keep walking for nearly another mile where another track goes left.  Walk down here about ½-mile and you’ll see a crag down the the slope on your right.  From here, walk uphill to your left; over the wall, and keep going about 500 yards until the moorland levels out.  Hereby is a small outcrop of rocks.  Look around!

Archaeology & History

Recently rediscovered by young antiquarian Mackenzie Erichs in May 2021, this flat rock—roughly 5 feet by 3 feet— is one of many amidst the heather which, when fully grown, is gonna be hard to see.  This is one of the many petroglyphs possessed with both natural and artificial elements roughly of the same number here.

Looking across the stone (photo – James Elkington)

Upon the mainly southern-side of the stone is a cluster of cup-marks with several on the edges of the rock, most of which are probably natural, or naturally affected.  The main cluster of cups—about eight in all—have differing levels of erosion, suggesting differing periods of execution.  The most obvious cup is the deep one near the middle of the stone; a group of 3-4 very eroded ones are closer to the edge; and 2-3 three others of varying shallow depths can be seen.  One of the cups at the edge of the rock also seems to have been partly worked.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

AcknowledgementsBig thanks as always to James Elkington for use of his photos.