Irish grid reference: H8903 3855. Close to the junction of the Ballymacnab road leading off the B31 Newtownhamilton road there is a small standing stone, or perhaps what could be a carved stone or part of a cross-head, locally called The Bull’s Stone. This odd-shaped stone was once much bigger, but sadly it has been damaged and pieces of it robbed away over the centuries. Today a monument has been erected with a bull (guardian of the stone) sleeping contently! Legend associates the stone with St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, and his pet bull that had frequently annoyed him whilst he was trying to build his church. The place where the stone now stands, in a little garden area, is referred to from “legend” as ‘The Bull’s Track’, a local landmark. The small round-shaped stone still has the imprint of a bull’s hoof on it, if that’s what it really is? Ballymacnab is in the parish of Collene (Cill Chluna), and Armagh city is 7 miles to the north on the B31 road. The Seagahan Dam which harnesses the power of the river Callan is 900 metres to the south.
Unfortunately, nothing much is known about the age of the stone or its history, apart that is, from what we know of the myth and legend associated with it and St Patrick’s involvement back in the mid 5th century AD – in particular from the renowned Irish poet and author Thomas George Farquhar Paterson (1888- 1971) in his book ‘Notes’, Vol 1, 1940 and again in his more recent work ‘Harvest Home’, ‘The Last Sheaf’, 1975. Obviously these folktales are from an earlier time. The Bull Stone may and I “stress” may have been a prehistoric standing stone, or perhaps a stone deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago? Unfortunately we don’t know.
The “legend” is related that St Patrick on his way north to Armagh decided to build a church at a place today called Armagh-Breague. However, every time he began work to build it he was thwarted by his bull, and had to leave quite quickly! On the third occasion it once again stopped him from doing any building work, but the saint was also now very angry and had made his mind up to deal with the creature. We are told that he hurled or tossed the bull from Armagh-breague Mountain which is near to Newtownhamilton; the unfortunate creature landed several miles to the north where it struck or collided with a large stone, the marks left by its hooves clearly plain to see, even today. After that the bull did not trouble St Patrick and he was able to build his church, though not in the place where he had intended. There is a more modern Roman Catholic church dedicated to him just a few hundred yards up the road from the stone at Ballymacnab, which now stands upon the site chosen by the saint’s bull!
What we do know with certainty is St Patrick came to Armagh in 445 AD and here built his most famous church, today Armagh Cathedral stands on the site of that foundation, afterwhich the saint was made Archbishop of Armagh. For the next 20 years until his death in 465 St Patrick continued to build churches and monasteries and evangelise throughout much of Ireland, spreading the ‘word of God’ wherever he went.
Paterson, T.G.F., ‘Notes’, Vol 1, PSAMI, 1940, 71.
Paterson, T.G.F., ‘Harvest Home’, ‘The Last Sheaf’., (ed. E.E.Evans), 1975.
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