Bullocks Butt in on View of Bronze Age Standing Stone

Bronze Age religious symbol or bullock hindquarters scratching post? The Ardmore Gallan Standing Stone may have served the former purpose at some time during its 2,500-year history, but it’s definitely serving the latter purpose at present from its location in the middle of a field full of cattle.

The Ardmore Gallan Standing Stone is located a couple of miles outside a village with the great name of Muff. In fact, the stone is often called the Muff Stone. It dates from 2,500 BC, standing about six feet tall and half that in width and depth. Its distinct feature is 40 cup marks, or round indentions, about half of which are encircled by one, two or three rings. The stone evokes similar feelings to Newgrange, an ancient stone monument aligned with the winter solstice.

Finding the stone took a morning’s effort, several wrong turns and directions from a helpful older man cutting weeds along a remote roadside. None of us suspected it would be found a quarter mile off the main road, the concrete driveway winding behind a house before opening up in front of several farm buildings.

Grand adventure ahead

Declan read about the stone in a book our B&B host provided us, and it looked cool. We had no definite plans for Monday, and we all enjoy an adventure. Our host believed there was a historic marker that would make locating the Ardmore Stone a snap. But we didn’t see it on our way to Muff, so we inquired about the stone at a petrol station in town. However, no one there knew how to find it.

Heading back toward Moville, Marilynn remembered it was near Inishkeen, signs for which we’d seen along the way. So we left the main road and headed in that direction, only to wind up back on the main road at another sign for Inishkeen. So we’d basically traveled in a semi-circle.

A little ways back, an older man was weed-whacking his yard, so we turned around and asked him for directions. He was quite specific: pass the closed pub with the thatch roof, then a closed building supply company and take the next road to the right, a concrete driveway. He gave great directions, but it was obvious the concrete road was somebody’s private drive and not a public thoroughfare.

Preternatural bovines

As we wound up the road, we could see the stone in the middle of a field, looking like it was being protected by a herd of cows. The road wound uphill, past a residence and opened out to three large outbuildings, a truck with its door open in front of one of them. We got out and were immediately met by a large dog that, fortunately, turned out to be friendly.

The farmer then appeared from the building, and we asked permission to see the stone. He graciously agreed, cautioning us to watch out for cow patties and assuring us the bullocks would be no bother.

We couldn’t escape the feeling that the cows felt some sort of connection to the stone. They watched us intently, moving away from us in ones and twos, then en masse, but never getting too far away. As we approached the stone, they continued to watch us from turned heads. We spent a few minutes examining the stone and snapping a few pictures before making our way back to the car.

The cows started walking back around the stone as we moved away, again with intent stares that seemed preternatural. They gathered around the stone as if protecting it, one rubbing his butt contentedly across its face.

Farmer Dermot explained that he gets visitation requests quite frequently and is happy to share the stone. Apparently more happy to share than the cows appeared to be.

Donegal Beauty Is Like No Other

There’s Irish beautiful, and then there’s Donegal beautiful. County Donegal is in the Republic, but it abuts the north, like Michigan sticks up into the Great Lakes. We spent a four-day weekend in Derry and Donegal, exploring the wonders of the coast.

But first, Derry and thereabouts

Marilynn attended a conference in Derry most of last week, while Declan and I entertained a guest from Tennessee. On Friday afternoon, we drove the couple of hours to join Marilynn in Derry, where we stayed with our friends the Pynes, who own two wonderful B&Bs in the central part of the city.

After visiting with them on Friday evening and early Saturday, we set out to briefly explore Derry, which we’ve all visited many times before. Declan especially wanted to sit on the Lord Mayor’s throne in the Guildhall, which he’d done on a previous trip. We also walked the walls of Derry, a unique feature of the city that dates back hundreds of years. Derry’s walls are among the finest in Europe and should be part of any visit to Northern Ireland.

 

We descended the walls to the Bogside, the nationalist part of the city that features many murals to fallen protesters (especially victims of Bloody Sunday and those who died on hunger strike during the Troubles).

On our way out of town, we visited the Grianán of Aileach, a restored stone fort from the 8th or 9th century. Marilynn and I had visited here years ago, but it was Declan’s first time. From its hilltop perch, the Grianán offers fine views of the surrounding countryside. But having driven there directly from Derry, we now want to know how Seamus Deane walked there as a child, as he describes in his book “Reading in the Dark.”

Onward to Donegal

But the main event of this trip was County Donegal, where many from Belfast go on summer holiday. Fortunately, high season wasn’t in full swing, so we had many sites to ourselves. With a car, we could explore at our leisure.

We stayed at the Inishowen Lodge near Moville, where our host Irwin was extremely helpful with directions, a book on the area, general advice and the use of a detailed map and pair of binoculars during our two-day stay. The lodge is high above Lough Foyle, and the view from our room was truly spectacular. It almost rivaled the fantastic and varied breakfasts we enjoyed during our visit.

The first day, we visited the Cooley Cross, a cool Celtic cross allegedly put up by Saint Patrick. The high cross sits right along the roadside just outside a small cemetery with a small stone structure that formerly contained human bones, the skull house. During Druid times, marriages were supposedly performed here, with celebrants lifting the bride on one side of the cross and the groom on the other, the bride and groom joining hands through the hole at the top of the cross.

We also viewed the remains of the Green Castle and saw what we believed was a pod of dolphins frolicking in the waters off Shroove beach.

After a sumptuous breakfast on Sunday, we made straight toward Malin Head, the northernmost point on the island. We wound our way along back roads and country paths, guided by signposts and our desire to see as much nature as possible. A highlight Sunday was a walk along Kinnagoe Bay, a remote beach and the site of a 16th century wreck of a Spanish Armada ship. The color of the hills changed by the minute, the result of the late afternoon sun peeking out from behind clouds and the ability of Irish grass to change color as if on whim. On the way back, we discovered several fields where peat had been cut into logs and left to dry—teepee style—in the field.

On Monday, after staggering away from another great breakfast, we did a little more local sightseeing before heading to the Seamus Heaney Homeplace, a new museum in Bellaghy that celebrates the life and work of the late Nobel Prize-winning poet.

Then we made our way toward home, full of new memories of the beauty of Donegal.