The Scribe in Me.

The Scribe in Me.

Doonfeeny Standing Stone, Co Mayo

There is a dim light, which shines from the remote distance of the Neolithic past, a message of wisdom, a source of being, a revelation of cosmic unity. It inspires us, teaches us, and makes us more aware. When I visit an ancient site, I approach these mysteries of the megalithic by paying homage to the great people who brought the heavens down to earth in an amazing fashion with their monuments of stone.

Stalwart stones, set in pattern by ancient hands to pay homage to the sun. They stare and stand faithful and loyal to their purpose, while fools like me try to decipher their mission. Mayo is a county that has heretofore eluded my research. On a recent research trip, I came upon the second tallest standing stone in Ireland, and it was delectable. Not only does it have ogham writing etched onto it, this megalith has not one, but two christian crosses inscribed into it. There is also a wheel and sun-burst symbol near to the base.

Doonfeeny Standing Stone can be found outside the boundary wall of Doonfeeny Church and Graveyard, near Ballycastle, Co Mayo, literally a stone’s throw from the wild Atlantic. It is a whopping 22 foot tall and is a 10 inch thick, square-sectioned, leaning pillar, that inclines to the east and the rising sun. A more sacred place to commune with nature you will not find and a very fitting place to honour the ancestors it being so close to Samhain and all. I found evidence of Begleys; Barretts and Scanlons on the ancient headstones, the oldest dating back to 1671.

The Doonfeeny megalith is one of a number of ogham stones in Co. Mayo. Ogham is said to have been invented by Ogma, the Celtic God of writing and relative of the Dagda. It dates back to 300AD but the ogham on this stone is indecipherable now. Ogham has 20 or more characters that resemble lines through or to the left or right of a vertical axis and are named after the sacred trees of Ireland. As the trees grow from the ground to the sky so too is ogham read, from bottom to top. This standing stone is thought to be older even than the ogham inscribed on it and may date to the Bronze Age.

Ogham is often associated with Druidry, it predates Christianity, and the 15th century Book of Ballymote from neighbouring Sligo, considered the discourse on Ogham, confirms that it was a secret and ritualistic language. Virtually all of the ogham inscriptions that we know of are burial inscriptions and boundary markers, so no evidence exists to indicate that Druids used ogham in divination. We know it was used by the Olam Poets, a high rank of the Druids, and that trees were sacred to them also. In latter centuries as Druidry waned, Christian monks introduced Latin.

It is thought that the crosses and wheel and sun motif were carved in the 6th Century as christianity became the new order. The top cross takes the form of a single-line “Crux Immissa”, or Latin Cross with forked ends on a level base, while the bottom cross takes the form of a double-line “Croix Pattée” type cross with a curved bird’s head design are on the northwest face of this monument. The top cross is about 2 foot tall while the latter cross is about 10 inches in circumference. The Ordnance Survey Letters (1838) record the following:

“ A stone 18” or 20” high and 9” thick, fixed in the ground and inkling to the East, on the N.W. side of which is cut the form of a cross about 2” long, with a small cross 10” long and some ornamental incisions under it.”

The latin type of cross in which the vertical beam sticks above the crossbeam, with the three upper arms equally long, with a much longer bottom arm.[1] It is said to symbolise Jesus’ sacrificial crucifixion atoning for the sins of the world.[2] Most modern-day churches take the latin form. The pattée is a type of Christian cross with arms that are narrow at the centre, and often flared in a curve shape, to be broader at the perimeter and appear very early in medieval art. Translated literally as "footed cross", from the noun patte, meaning foot. It is often represented in heraldry and the crusades and may have been carved later.

What does folklore tell us? Known locally as the “Cloch Fada” or long stone it is considered to be of pagan origin and has many associations with the fertility of women, who were said to visit this stone for two reasons, firstly in order to be able to conceive or alternatively so that they might be delivered from the perils of childbirth. Stones with a duality of purpose are not uncommon in Ireland.

This stone which leans inward from the sea and facing the rising sun is thought to be aligned to different features and other ancient sites on the landscape. The  church on the site is said to date from the 7th century and a tradition remails of leaving the clay pipes of the deceased untouched upon their graves. Local legend says that anyone born to the vicinity of Doonfeeny shall not be struck by lightning. Given that this long stone might act as a lightening conductor, there might be a grain of truth in that hypostasis.

Legend also tells us of a showdown between Crum Cruach with St Patrick, on nearby Downpatrick Head where Crom Cruach kept pagan fires burning. Patrick is said to have picked up this stone, carved a cross upon it and hurled it at the fires. The resulting meleé caused a piece of land to break away where Crom Cruach was stranded and eaten by midges. That sea stack is still in evidence today. There is something mythical and mystical about these legends and probably more than a grain of truth in all of them. The old adage rings true though, never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Meanwhile I am reduced to gleaning solace in the glints of quartz that glisten in the sunshine on the stones.


References: [ 1] Herbert Norris, Church Vestments: Their Origin and Development (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002), p. 128   [2] Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane (14 May 2020). A Guide to Christian Art. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 231. ISBN 978-0-567-68514-8.

Further Reading:

Menhirs & Megaliths


My fascination and radar for megalithic monuments is legendary. I am drawn to the ancient places.

I'm a stone mad woman.

Here are some of my places. 

Labbacalle, Co. Cork.

I visited this site at Samhain 2021. Labbacalle is a wedge tomb situated close to Glanworth in Co. Cork. It is by far the largest of all of the known Irish wedge tombs.

Known locally as the Hag's Bed it associated with the Celtic Hag -Goddess 'Caillech Bhearra.' (Leaba Caillighe, referring to the Hag aspect of the Triple Goddess). Similar to the gallery tombs of Brittany, with the gallery being covered with three immense capstones, the largest of which weighs about ten tonnes and 25ft in length. The gallery takes the form of a large rectangular chamber, with a small one behind it which is separated by a dividing slab, a corner of which is trimmed away to create what some term to be a soul-hole. It is in fact a 'half-porthole' which may or not serve that function. The tomb has three large buttress stones set parallel to the gallery and this is a most unusual feature.

First described in a manuscript by the antiquarian writer John Aubrey in 1693, it was excavated in 1934 by H.G. Leask. The entire tomb, with its two burial chambers, is 43 ft long 20 ft wide. There are two fascinating features to this wedge tomb. The first is that it is aligned with the vernal and autumn equinox sunsets and receives the rays of the setting sun on those dates in March and September. The second is that archaeologists discovered that one of its three capstones, although weighing 3 tons, can be slid back to rest on conveniently projecting orthostats. The tomb is also triple walled.

Wedge tombs date from the late Neolithic to early Bronze Age. They differ from dolmens in that they have long chambers (or galleries) roofed with large stone slabs, that get lower and narrower towards the back, forming a wedge shape.

Megalithiques Tuchenn Pol - the divil of a monument.

My fascination with megaliths monuments is old news. My radar for them is legendary. I will forever be drawn to and will always seek out an ancient place, that is just how I am made, that is the wanderer in me. I am not an archaeologist though; in fact I think I'm agnostic about archaeologists! So dear reader, any ancient places that I share with you will be peppered with my musings and seasoned with some science.

In defence of archaeologists, they work darn hard in their excavations, and apply a heck of a lot of science to their discoveries, and of course I believe deep in the core of every archaeologist is a treasure hunter, and part of me can so relate to that.

There be times when I wish they wouldn't excavate, but rather develop scientific techniques that inform their study and leave these sites intact. Some have, it has to be said, with things like LIDAR scanning and Geo Phys for example. Ultimately though, the Druid in me abhors their destruction, their desecration, the excavations, I need to honour these places and leave them alone.

The south coast of Brittany is like mana from heaven for a stone mad druid scribe. Everybody knows of Carnac (and I will blog about that) but this coast is literally littered with megalithic monuments. I have often said that I do not understand the logic of the ancient Bretons, why they constructed the monuments they did, why they placed them where they placed them, and I have no comprehension of their rock art nor their types of monuments, nor how they are oriented, but, I am slowly developing an understanding. I do have a great insight into Irish monuments and I have to be careful not to be applying those preconceived ideas here because I have come to know that we must be very careful of the lens we use in which to view history.

Here is what I have discerned thus far. The south of Brittany contains some of the most enigmatic stone alignments and stone complexes anywhere in the world. In fact, all of Brittany does, not just the south. Brittany is the westernmost region of France and most of these sites have an eastern alignment. They span a time line of 7.000 years, from Neolithic sites to sites that became Christianised in medieval times. These megaliths range from a single standing stone, to vast alignments of stone rows that stretch for miles, to dolmens and mounds, stone circles, cromlechs and passage tombs. In short, every classification of megalithic monument can be found here and then some. In fact they enjoy a pre-eminent status among the megalithic sites of Europe.

The early sites of Brittany usually contained a simple floor plan. Narrow, long corridors lead to a large round polygonal or angular chambers, which were covered with stone slabe or a tholos. As monument building progressed some monuments were given additional side chambers and many were accessed by covered alleys known as' Allée couverte.' and many of these sites had carvings which indicate they were dedicated to a mother Goddess, for example cup marks or circle type carvings. Each site from the most simple to the most complex is utterly fascinating.

Along the coast from Doëlan, as you head inland to the east, is a vast sweep of beach near to a place called Guidel Plage. It is a surfer's paradise. It has been developed in such a way that provides paths for cyclists and walkers too and sometimes I walk for ages along here. I enjoy the levelness, and the ions from the sea (to be fair I enjoy watching the surfers in their wetsuits too) and it is open and not secluded which can be important for a woman walking alone. It is called Boulevard de l'Atlantique.

The other day I ventured further than I ever had, I was just wandering aimlessly just enjoying it, heading for nowhere in particular. To my left were sand dunes and hidden enclaves of camper van Aires a mecca for surfer dude types, even in winter and a golf course. You can imagine my delight when I spot a tiny fingerpost sign which read "Megalithiques Tuchenn Pol." Well, if you were me, you'd have to follow that sign!

The first thing I spotted was a standing stone at the left of a narrow lane and upon further study I could see that there was some sort of a carving on it, which might have been an axe, but I am no expert and that was my impression. Further in there was a sign with a legend in French and it read "on remarque des dessins sculptés dont une hâche" - which I took to mean one of two thing; that it was a carving of an axe or that the carving was made with an axe, so for me the jury is out and my French is nowhere near good enough yet to be an absolute authority, though it is improving. I am mindful too that Hafted axes are found for example in: Mané Kerioned, Kerran, Mané Lud, La Table des Marchands, Manio and others in Brittany and I have to be careful not to be influenced by that. Here they call standing stones "menhirs."

This monument turned out to be a whole complex of monuments, three of which I found evidence of. And again, when you read "complexe" on a sign in French you have to be careful to interpret it both ways; firstly as a complicated structure and secondly as a vast array of things. The other thing to be mindful in deciphering the name of a site, is that often here in Brittany, they are in Breton and not in French, to further complicate my enquiry.

You can imagine my intrigue when the sign named these respectively as Tuchenn Pol ("butte du diable"), (the devil's mound), circular in shape (diameter of 27 m), the Tuchenn er Gouc'h ("mound of the man") rectangular (34 m long and 12 m wide) and the Tuchenn er Hroëk ("mound of the good woman") also rectangular (45 m long for 25 m wide). I couldn't help wondering why the woman was defined as 'good' while the man had no such honouring. These were described as "tumuli" which is plural for "tumulus" which depicts an ancient burial mound; a barrow. There was also evidence of a cist type burial where were found a child's remains.

The Tuchenn Pol mound covered a structure consisting of a long, north-westerly corridor leading into a large rectangular north-east / south-west chamber. Two alcoves, at the north and east corners of this sepulchral chamber, completed the whole. Several slabs delimiting the main chamber and the entrance hall had engravings, nothing of which I could decipher.

It had been excavated 1891 and two jadeite axes, and calla beads were found which dated the site as Neolithic. Suffice to say, pretty old. It is known that this complex did suffer some degradation from a nearby quarry, during the second world war and from the construction of a nearby golf course. I still found it utterly beguiling.

I walked back wondering about these ancient dieties interred here, a child, a man a devil and a good woman and I was left with no answers, save one, that it was a "divil" of a monument to understand, but that too was okay.

Where it all began...

People often ask me about my fascination with stones. It is difficult to give a succinct answer, because it is a deeply spiritual thing and well, that is just so subjective. How do I tell people that stones speak to me and not have them calling for the men in white coats? I have stone radar, of this there is no doubt and my trips and travels are almost entirely centred about them, directly or indirectly.

My wonder lies almost entirely with anything megalithic, but primarily with the construct of stone on the landscape and its relationship with both the surrounding countryside and the cosmos. No megalith that I've ever seen yet, stands entirely alone, it always had a relationship with another monument and/or an astrological alignment.

So is it Archaeology? I only have a passing interest in that. Perhaps it is history which I love and I'm not bad at. I think it may well be the language of them, what they say in their ciphers, in their scripts. For me though it is a much deeper thing, a resonance, an echo from the wisdom of the ancient ones. And I love words. It is the thing that speaks to the primal Druid in me. Maybe it is that mystery, we all love mystery.

I grew up in a Bronze Age landscape, one that was a lot untouched by time and amongst a people who seeped nature's innate knowledge. The field systems around me were all D shaped, and stone lined. There were dips and barrows and stone rows and circles and mounds and hollows and cairns and replenishing wells and oak woodland. Each had a higher power, a deity or a druid associated with the place. All such places had to be respected.

One such place is a standing stone in the middle of the Gap between the Nire Valley and Rathgormack and an ancient routeway or "Bealach", one will find it in the townsland of Carrigeen which means 'little stone or rock'. It stands 2.5 meters tall and commands great views. It stands solidly upright and is oriented in a WNW-ESE direction. It looks like ochre sandstone that glints with quartz. It tapers to a point at it's peak which has a little notch indent in it and this is aligned to a point on the mountains beyond. It is completely without adornment and simply speaks for itself. The Nire River tumbles past beneath.

Some people say it was a marker post, a half way point, others say it is a boundary marker. I see the shadow it casts, its alignment to other Bronze Age sites and mostly I just see it's stalwartness. It has stood there for thousands of years, holding the secrets of the ages within it. There is this energy that I see around it, a translucent glow, as a life force almost. For me, it brings peace.

Such stones in Ireland have a sacred dimension and were especially significant to the Druids and their divinations. They are shrouded in intrigue and many carry mystical powers. Stones like the Lia Fail on Tara for example spoke like an oracle. Thomas Hardy in Tess of D'Urbervilles captured some of the essence of such places, it remains one of my favourite books.

November is my month and today is my birthday. I should be with friends shouldn't I? I should be getting ready to be taken out someplace in celebration and instead I chose to tether myself to a keyboard to give birth to a book. Is this a woman on the verge of HRT stuff? Who knows, all I know is that I have never felt happier in my life. It is good to reflect in a birthday day on how lucky I am to be able to pursue my life's purpose. There are those that call me a stone mad woman.

It is true, imagine! I am though, mad in the sense that I love ancient stones, megalithic structures, standing stones, dolmens, stone circles etc. The places where my being is most content is amongst stones. I don't think that I'm stone mad in the sense of mental mad, though there are those that could and would argue that perhaps I am. There is a great freedom in that.. When people think you a 'bit odd' you can push the edges out of things. That's such a well spring for a Druid Scribe. I call it 'Imbas' or inspiration. Here on the south Breton coast I am surrounded by ancient megaliths and in tandem with that, I bring along with me the 'gaul' of the foreigner. I have never mined so many rich seams of writing in my life.

The novel is started. Chapter one is with my copy editor. I am beside a lake in the Comeragh mountains, stalking a white stag in chapter five curently, and whilst it began life in a particular framework, my baby is revealing herself to have a much more ancient heritage. This time of Samhain, is a time to dig deep and I am a woman alone and away from home doing exactly that. I tend to flout convention, not on purpose, just that I'm comfortable enough in my own skin to not to be cramming myself into boxes that society makes for me.

It's true too that I have an adventerous spirit, a bravery about me and I don't fit into many of the pigeon holes that women are 'supposed' to. I've the courage of my own convictions, so I'm stone mad in that sense too. I'm not someone who cries easily. Sometimes at the movies a tear will trickle down my cheeks or at a funeral I will well up, but, in the ordinary, everyday scheme of things, I just pick myself up, dust myself off and get on with life.

Yesterday I discovered a standing stone or as they say here a 'Menhir' just outside of a place called Kerseller. I didn't know it was there, I was just driving along and something in me knew. That ancient wisdom of the pagan in me knew, and low and behold there it was, all 6 meters of it! It was the best birthday present ever. And I cried.

There is this expression, 'good grief', it's an awful misnomer. Is there any such thing as a good grief? Tears seep their way into every life, because all lives have losses and mine has been no different. I have had the gamut; the grief of failed relationships, the loss of a parent, the loss of a sibling, the loss of a child, friends who have been snatched away by tragic events. I've had days when I got nothing but grief and people in my life who thrived on giving it to me. I'm a survivor though and come armed with the ability to dig deep and rise above it, like the Cailleach who drops her troubles from her basket and turns them into mountains and glens.

The Kerseller Menhir is located north of Moëlan-sur-Mer and located in a meadow just beyond the mill known as Moulin du Duc. It is known locally and affectionetly as 'le bonheur des dames' or as I translate 'the delight of the ladies'. It is not uncommon of course, for standing stones which are entirely phallic, to get such associations.

This one though, is particularily well named. Firstly it is well endowed, standing at a whopping 6 meters with ample girth and tilted at an interesting erect angle. You have to marvel at the sense of humour of the ancient people though, for around the rim of this ancient megalith is a ring of quartz giving this menhir a very phallic appearance! So much so that I found myself wondering if there were, carved beneath the earth, a giant Easter Island like figure. (Maybe I am on my own too much and I really have gone mad.)

So why the tears I hear you ask? Here is the thing. Grief is a weight I carry around with me. Most times I am fit to bear it and other days the burden is too much. Grief singes the edges of every feeling I ever had and brings in its wake the gift of perspective. It has taught me what matters and what doesn't. It has shown me my true friends. It had made me value who is important and who is surplus to requirements. It has given me the ability to be bluntly honest and enabled me to bear rejection. In life I roll with the punches, that is not to say that I don't brace myself against some of them, it is just that I no longer sweat the small stuff.

There is a legend associated with this standing stone though. It is said that twice a year, at Christmas and on the feast of St. John that this stone turns on itself. Isn't that fascinating? That is Midwinter and Midsummer, opposing solstice times, an apt place for a Druid Scribe to be drawn to and guess where I will want to be hanging out at midnight for the Winter Solstice? Grief has taught me to leave people be who they are, to allow them into my life if we chime together, and to go in peace if we don't, without rancour. Grief is not something I get over or accept, it is something I endure, it is a privlidge, and I endure it very simply, by putting one foot in front of the other.

Maybe that is why I like stones so much, they have stood erect, proud and, graceful for thousands of years. Maybe it is that act of holding myself up that emulates eternity. I guess it is all just an act of survival. So in practice when the tears come, or the anger, or whatever manifestation it finds, I open up to it and let it out. And on those days, the world can go feck. It's my party and I'll cry if I want to and be very grateful for crystal adorned tilting stones that manifest themselves in my honour.