The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Boa Island Statue Stones, Lower Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

Janus statue on Boa Island, Lower Lough Erne.

Irish Grid Reference: H 0851 6197. On Boa Island near Kesh in Lower Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, there are two curious statue stones with strange, unique carvings probably harking back to pre-history, or more likely the Roman period, and not as some historians once thought, the 5th or 6th century AD. One of the stones is a double-headed carving which suggests it is a depiction of the Roman god Janus, whereas the other smaller stone known as the ‘Lusty Man’ is perhaps a depiction of some other pagan diety from the Iron Age or Celtic period; this particular stone idol originated on the nearby island of Lusty More. The stones are located in the Caldragh Cemetery where there also used to be some ruins of a church. To reach the site from Kesh head (north) on Pettigo Road, then (west) onto Boa Island Road (A47) and over the road bridge linking Boa Island. After a few miles (at the far end of the island) a lane heads (south) to the cemetery (signposted) which is close to some farm buildings. The site itself is on the first of the three small islands all of which are called ‘Boa Island’. 

The two Boa Island statue stones by Jon Sullivan (Wikimedia Commons).

The two ancient statue stones stand together amongst more modern gravestones in Caldragh Cemetery on the island. They are blank-faced in their appearance and have strange, pear or heart-shaped faces, oval eyes, and folded arms along with other decorative carving including pattern-work and interlacing. The smaller statue ‘the Lusty Man’ has only one good eye – the other is not properly carved. This could, in fact, be a female diety. It is 2½ feet high, while the other is just under 4 feet high and both are of local sandstone. However, the damaged and broken bases they stand on seem to be unrelated to the actual statues even though they have similar carvings. The double-headed Janus-type statue is bilateral (male and female). So could this female figure perhaps be a representation of the Celtic goddess Babhbha (Badh or Badb), who has given her name to Boa Island (Inis Badhbha). The Janus stone has a shallow depression at the top and a phallic symbol. Many scholars are now of the opinion that they date from the Iron Age.

Ireland — The Rough Guide (1999) offers some excellent information on Boa Island, saying that: “One of the most evocative of the carvings of Lough Erne is the double-faced Janus figure of Boa Island, at the northern end of the Lower Lough — barely an island at all these days, as it’s connected to the mainland by bridges. The place to look out for is Caldragh cemetery, signposted off the A47, about a mile west of Lusty Beg Island. Follow the signs down a lane and the graveyard is through a gate to your left.”

The Rough Guide (1999) tells us more about: “This ancient Christian burial ground of broken moss-covered tombstones, shaded by low, encircling hazel trees, has an almost druidic settting. Here you’ll find the Janus figure, an idol of yellow stone with very bold symmetrical features. It has the phallus on one side, and a belt and crossed limbs on the other. The figure was probably an invocation of fertility and a depiction of a god-hero — the belt being a reference to the bearing of weapons. Alongside it stands the smaller “Lusty Man”, so called since it was moved here from nearby Lustymore Island. This idol has only one eye fully carved, which may be to indicate blindness — Cuchulainn had a number of encounters with war goddesses, divine hags described as blind in the left eye.”

Nicholson Guide To Ireland (1983) says about the island that: “On Boa the visitor will find two stone idols. They have triangular shaped heads, are two-faced like Janus, and gaze out of the ferns. Thought to be 7C, they represent some enigmatic pagan cult. There are seven equally mysterious statues on White Island.” The Nicholson Guide also tells us: “Caldragh cemetery….. one of the oldest in Ireland…… is the home of two strange stone figures, probably 1st C.”

Janet & Colin Bord (1984) say of the site that: “This strange figure (they show a photo page 47) sits back-to-back with another. The stone is 2½ feet high, and has a socket on top, and in this and other respects has certain similarities to the figures found on nearby White Island. This ‘pagan Celtic god’, as the figure has been described, resides in the ancient graveyard of Caldragh on a small island in Lower Lough Erne. Some Gaulish figures bear the same sort of carving, and our mysterious ‘god’ is thought to date from pre-Christian times.”

John Sharkey (1981) says that: “The perception of the Celtic mysteries too k shape on the flux of a facing-both-ways state: in twilight, in the dew, with the sacred mistletoe. The duality of I and Thou, or One and Another, resolves itself within the visible world of nature and the invisible realm of the dream. Here the Celtic Janus lives on, in a stone figure which sits back-to-back with its double in a remote Irish Christian graveyard.”

John & Caitlin Matthews (1988) tell of Badb – the triple Goddess as: “The Crow — an aspect of the Marrighan. She confronted Cuchulainn on his way to the last battle as a Washer at the Ford. She likewise appeared as a harbinger of death to King Cormac.” 

Sources and related websites:-

Bord, Janet & Colin, Mysterious Britain, Paladin Books, London, 1984. 

Matthews, John & Caitlin, The Aquarian Guide To — British And Irish Mythology, The Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, Northants, 1988.

Nicholson Guide, Guide To Ireland, Robert Nicholson Publications Limited, London, 1983. 

Sharkey, John, Celtic Mysteries — The Ancient Religion, Thames And Hudson, London, 1981.

The Rough Guide, Ireland, (Fifth Edition), Rough Guides Ltd., London, 1999.

Photo 2nd down (right) by Jon Sullivan.

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.

Scotlandwell (Holy Well), Perth And Kinross, Central Scotland

Scotlandwell (Holy Well) in Central Scotland.

OS Grid Reference: NO 1847 0161. At the western side of Scotlandwell village in the Portmoak District of Perth & Kinross, Central Scotland, there is an ancient holy well and also a 19th century wash-house. The village is 4 miles west of Glenrothes and 4 miles east of Kinross (across Loch Leven). In the late 1st century AD the Romans came by the well and named it ‘Fons Scotiae’ and in the late 13th century the local friars were using the water in their hospice and, in the early 14th century the well was visited by Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, who took the waters here in the hope of a cure. Later the well was visited by Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87). The well became a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages and continued as such for several centuries thereafter. To reach the site (signposted) head west from Kinross on the A911 (Leslie Road) and go through Scotlandwell village. Where the A911 ends cross over Main Street and walk along the short lane (Little Arnot); the well is on the left at the far end.

Scotlandwell by Euan Nelson  (Geograph).

The ancient curative spring known as Scotlandwell or ‘Fons Scotiae’ (Well of Scotland) at the foot of Bishop Hill (Portmoak Moss) bubbles up from deep underground through the sandy earth and into the stone-built well with its Victorian (Gothick) well-house structure, most of which is a clever reconstruction of 1858, although some of the lumps of stonework at the front of the well predate this and are probably from the earlier Medieval structure. Its healing waters were ‘said’ to be a cure for leprosy and other diseases. The green-painted wood and stone structure at the back with its canopy roof also dates from the mid 19th century. This whole site is now in a fairly well-preserved state thanks to a local community project. A plaque with the date 1858 is carved onto the stone well-head along with the architect’s name and also the benefactors’ names in capital letters. The nearby Wash House, built in 1860, which local people called ‘The Steamie’ and where laundry was washed, was presumably connected to the well’s underground water source, but sadly it has not been in use since the 1960’s. 

In 1250 the Trinitarian Friars (Red Friars) moved into the area and established a hospital or hospice. They used the curative waters from the holy well for patients in their new hospital of St Mary. Nothing much remains of that building on Friar Place today, however, as it was demolished after 1587. The Trinitarian order of friars was founded near Paris in the late 12th century by St John of Matha (d 1213).

Frank Bottomley (1981) tells us more about the Trinitarians: “An order, f. 1198, at Gerfroid in diocese of Meaux, also known as Maturins and Red Friars. They were not Mendicants but an austere order of priests based on the Augustinian rule. Their revenues were divided equally between their own support, charity to poor, especially travelers, and the redemption of prisoners in the hands of the infidel. The houses were usually small, consisting, of a superior (called minister or prior), three priest-brethren and three lay brothers. Sometimes the number was enlarged and the disappearing lay brothers seem to have been replaced by novices in 1267. They were relatively strong in Scotland with eight houses (visible remains at Dunbar and Peebles).” 

Bill Anderton (1991) tells us that: “It is said to be at this holy well that Robert Bruce was cured of leprosy, and records show that Charles II travelled from his Dunfermline Palace to take the waters, while Mary Queen of Scots too visited the well. An inscription above the water fount gives the date 1858, but this refers to the reconstruction. The well, like all Scottish holy places, is very ancient. The waters from the fount can be drunk from a special metal cup which hangs nearby.” Mr Anderton says this site has a ‘power point’. 

Janet & Colin Bord (1986) mention the well at Scotlandwell, saying that: “This elaborate well is in the centre of the village, and its water is said to have cured Robert the Bruce of leprosy.”

They also tell us that: “An example of present-day usage is quoted by Ruth and Frank Morris in their Scottish Healing Wells. In 1978 at the well in the centre of the village of Scotlandwell (Kinross) they met a women, her husband and brother who had travelled 40 miles from Edinburgh to fetch well water. One of the men had cancer and claimed that the water did him good: “If it was good enough for Robert the Bruce, it’s good enough for me,” he declared, referring to the belief that water from the well cured Robert the Bruce of his leprosy.”

The Bord’s add that: “Robert Bruce, King of Scotland (1306-29) suffered from leprosy, and at least three wells were reputedly used by him in his search for a cure. He is said to have been responsible for a well at Prestwick (Ayr) which flowed where he stuck his spear in the sand while resting from his struggles with the English. He stayed for several days, and his leprosy was reputedly cured. He is said to have built a leper hospital for those who could not afford treatment. He also visited the St Lazarus Well at Muswell Hill (London) being granted a free pass by the King of England to do so.”

Sources and related websites:

Anderton, Bill, Ancient Britain, W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd., Slough, Berkshire, 1991. 

Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Paladin Books, London, 1986.

Bottomley, Frank, The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward, London, 1981. 

The AA, Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, 1963.

Photo (2nd down) by Euan Nelson:

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.