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A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan

Part 1: Commentary: Prehistoric and early Christian sites: Standing Stones

Fieldwork associated with this thesis identified 5 possible standing stones, plus 3 questionable examples, in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare:-

Ballycunneen, Site catalogue 1.131
Deerpark, Site catalogue 1.189
Ardmaclancy, Site catalogue 1.245
Ballyroe, Site catalogue 1.261
Ballysheen Beg A (?) Site catalogue 1.263
Ballysheen Beg B (?) Site catalogue 1.263
Ballysheen Beg C (?) Site catalogue 1.264
Kilkieran, Site catalogue 1.544

The definition of a standing stone states: - “the simplest type of monument with which we deal is the standing stone which, as its name implies, is merely a stone set upright in the ground… examples in Ireland range in height from less than a metre to about six metres…” O’Riordain, 1979, 143.

The main problem when dealing with these features is the question of their date of erection. Some may have been erected in comparatively recent times as, for example, cow scratching posts. Others then may date back to Bronze Age times, or perhaps even earlier. Fieldwork is not able to solve this problem, it can only list the sites and give any relevant folklore.

In the case of the Barony of Bunratty Lower only two of the eight possible standing stones are represented on the relevant 6” O.S. sheets. In fact these two, in the grounds of Walton Lodge, Ballysheen Beg townland (Kilfinaghta Civil Parish) are quite questionable examples of the feature under study. What of the remaining stones? Why were these not represented on editions of the 6” O.S. sheets? Is there the possibility that some, at least, were known to the early cartographers as having been erected in, then, comparatively recent times? We do not know.

None of the possible standing stones in the Barony have been excavated, therefore we have to use outside evidence to suggest possible periods of erection, assuming that they are not modern.

A number of standing stones have been excavated and these date from possibly Neolithic times to the early Christian period.

In the early 1960’s a 2.4 metre high standing stone was excavated, ½ mile south/south-east of Newgrange Passage Tomb, Co. Meath. Several flint pieces found in the socket showed signs of definite working, and as these pieces were similar to pieces from the nearby passage-tomb the excavators suggested a Neolithic date, perhaps c. 2,500 B.C. (Shee and Evans, 1965, 129).

Bronze Age dates are available from a number of sites. The well known standing stone at Punchestown, Co. Kildare, had a small Bronze Age cist grave at its foot (Leask, 1937, 250). The stone at Furness, also in Co. Kildare, was situated in the centre of a circular banked enclosure with external ditch. On excavation a small cist grave was found which also contained a wristguard (Macalister, 1913, page 351). Bronze Age dates are also available from three Co. Down sites, Drumnahare, Carrownacaw and Ballycroghan (O’Riordain, 1979, 143).

Some standing stones can be assigned to the Iron Age, notably Turoe, Co. Galway, Castlestrange, Co. Roscommon and Killycluggin, Co. Cavan. These stones, as O’Riordain has suggested, were possibly cult objects (1979, 144).

Two principal types of standing stones date from the early Christian period. Firstly there are the stones with ogham characters, and secondly those with crosses or dedications. Neither type of stone, however, occurs within the area of the Barony of Bunratty Lower.

This evidence shows that standing stones were erected from Neolithic times into the early Christian period, and possibly even later. Without excavation we cannot state where the Bunratty Lower examples come in this large span of time.