'The Knee' : Bullaun Stone

Grid RefM 969 064
GPSM 96930 06397 (4m)
Longitude8° 2' 45.05" W
Latitude53° 6' 29.4" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownBirr (9.3 Km)
OS Sheet53
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192

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Lisballyard - Holy Well
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Visit Notes

Sunday, 17th February 2008

I had some trouble finding this, despite it being at the roadside. Locals know it as The Knee or St. Keiran's Knee, so asking for the bullaun stone got me nowhere. Even asking for 'a stone with a bowl in it' didn't prove useful, even though I was just 100m from it at the time. This doesn't mean that the local people have forgotten about it. Once we had established what I was after I was proudly escorted by two local men and told stories of how St. Keiran came along this road and knelt here before visiting the nearby holy well. The depression in the stone is said to be his knee print.

This isn't a bullaun stone proper. It looks like a natural solution pit in a small piece of limestone. It has been used in the same way as a manmade bullaun would be, though: it is said to provide cures etc. More than that it is still revered today, which is a rarity!

The original purpose of bullan stones is not really known, but they have an undisputable association with water and Brigid worship. A 'bullaun' is a deep hemispherical cup hollowed out of a rock. Bullaun Stone refers to the rock itself, which can have many bullauns in it, although many are single.

It is generally thought that they date from the Bronze Age, but I personally believe there is a much old provenance to them and that there is a relationship to prehistoric rock art, for a good example of this see Glassamucky Mountain (County Dublin).

Ritual use of some bullaun stones has continued well into the Christian period and many are found in association with early churches (The Deer Stone (Glendalough D) (County Wicklow) is just one of many at Glendalough (County Wicklow)) and holy wells. Their presence at so many early Christian sites, to me, places them as being of massive importance to the pre-Christian inhabitants of Ireland and something the church was very eager to assimilate.

The beautiful example at St Brigit's Stone (County Cavan) still has its 'cure' or 'curse' stones. These would be used to by a visitor turning them whilst praying for (or cursing) someboby.

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About Coordinates Displayed

This is an explanation of (and a bit of a disclaimer for) the coordinates I provide.

Where a GPS figure is given this is the master for all other coordinates. According to my Garmin these are quite accurate.

Where there is no GPS figure the 6 figure grid reference is master for the others. This may not be very accurate as it could have come from the OS maps and could have been read by eye. Consequently, all other cordinates are going to have inaccuracies.

The calculation of Longitude and Latitude uses an algorithm that is not 100% accurate. The long/lat figures are used as a basis for calculating the UTM & ITM coordinates. Consequently, UTM & ITM coordinates are slightly out.

UTM is a global coordinate system - Universal Transverse Mercator - that is at the core of the GPS system.

ITM is the new coordinate system - Irish Transverse Mercator - that is more accurate and more GPS friendly than the Irish Grid Reference system. This will be used on the next generation of Irish OS maps.

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