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.