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The Amazing story of St Ciarán’s Gallán ( Pillar Stone)

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The Amazing story of St Ciarán’s Gallán ( Pillar Stone)

The Amazing story of St Ciarán’s Gallán ( Pillar Stone)

A problem and how to solve it

With acknowledgement’s to Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil.

Description – Cur síos

St Ciarán Gallán
St Ciarán Gallán, Cape Clear Island

Gallán Chiaráin/St. Ciarán’s Stone is an Early Christian pillar stone found in North Harbour, Cape Clear Island. Its  decorated with three crosses, on the west and est sides with the third on the top of the stone. The cross on top of the stone is in relief, the other two are incised. The stone was dressed to give it its tapering cylindrical shape. According to tradition its  the work of Cape Clear’s patron saint, Ciarán, said to have lived in the 4th/5th centuries. But this is tradition rather than verifiable historical fact.

Of added significance is that fact that there appears to be a panel of decoration on the upper part of its south face. This decoration is more apparent in certain light, but is much weathered and unclear . Having been examined and photographed in various light conditions it has not been possible to get a clear picture or drawing of the decoration. However the weathered nature of this decoration suggests that it is much older than the crosses.

Iron Age Date ? Ó Aois an Iarainn ?

Archaeologists who have examined the stone suggest that it may be a decorated pillar stone dating to the Iron Age (c.500BC

Turoe Stone
Turoe Stone Galway

– c.400AD) that was later ‘Christianised’. Because during  the Early Christian Period (c.400AD – 1000AD) crosses were added. Ireland has a small number of decorated pillar stones from the Iron Age period, whose decoration is curvilinear, abstract and not representational. The Turoe Stone from Co. Galway is probably the best-known example. It is suggested that this may be the style of decoration on the south side of Gallán Chiaráin. Very interestingly, this means that the stone is  an outlier since all other similar monuments are found much further North.

Original Position An áit inar raibh sé ar dtús

OS Map 1840's Cape Clear
OS Map 1840’s Cape Clear

Gallán Chiaráin was originally positioned a short distance to the southwest of its current location. The Ordnance Survey 6 inch map from the early 1840s shows this position, as does the 25 inch map from around 1900 .  At the time those maps were drawn North Harbour strand ran up to a line roughly the same as the boundary wall that runs north – south on the western side of the current road. A photograph from the Lawrence Collection of the National Library of Ireland also shows the stone in this original

Photo 1900's
Photo 1900’s Cape Clear Stone

position . This photograph across was taken 1900 – 1910.

The original position of the stone is also suggested by a curve in the current ditch at the back or western side of the small garden/seating area to the south of St. Ciarán’s well.

Current Position An áit ina bhfuil sé anois

Cape Clear Stone
Cape Clear Stone
Current position

In 1920 the stone was moved from its original position to its current location, where it was set in a concrete foundation. About thirty-five to forty years later the grotto was built and St. Ciarán’s Well was walled in and given the appearance it has today. Succeeding years saw the road properly surfaced and Gallán Chiaráin now stands in that road.

This is not ideal. More recent years has seen  the stone damaged by  vehicles. Leaving a decorated pillar stone from the Early Christian Period, or the even earlier Iron Age, unprotected on a roadway is not sensible. The appropriate solution is to return the stone to its original position.