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Time to shine a light on Boheh Stone

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

WHY did Mayo County Council, as an organ of the State, purchase the site of one of the most significant pre-historic rock engravings in the west of Ireland to leave it in dereliction? This is the site where, when weather conditions are favourable, the spectacle of the sun can be seen rolling down the side of Croagh Patrick twice a year – the Celtic time of sowing and harvesting – around April 18 and August 24.
I am referring to the Boheh Stone – or  St Patrick’s Chair – which is a highly significant artifact, situated off the Leenane Road near Westport, on the ancient chariot route, the Tóchar Phádraig.
Come to think of it, why hasn’t the Office of Public Works (OPW) ensured that this site is preserved? If it was in the Boyne Valley – as part of the World Heritage site of Brú na Bóinne complex – it would be conserved.   
After all, it is now 27 years since the late historian, Gerry Bracken recorded the ‘rolling sun spectacle’ in a now iconic multi-exposure photograph. One can only imagine how excited Gerry Bracken was as he cycled away from the rock on April 16, 1991– having failed to witness the spectacle once again – and then in a happenstance glance back, about 200 metres from the rock: there it was, a spectacular solar phenomenon. The orb of the sun sat on the righthand slope of the conical mountain and as he watched, transfixed, it rolled down the edge of the mountain’s silhouette like a great blazing chariot wheel.

‘Rock scribing’  
INDEED, fast-forward to less than two weeks ago and the rolling sun was viewed on Thursday, August 23, by up to 50 local enthusiasts who say they watched the spectacle taking some 20 minutes to roll down the side of the cone. More people gathered again the next night.
In another development, in February 2015, archaeologists Michael Gibbons and Michael Moylan discovered a further rare sample of megalithic ‘rock-scribing’ at the site and just adjacent to the Boheh Rock, which itself has 250 petroglyphs or carvings – cup-and-ring motifs – on its surface. They surmised that this discovery had possibly been uncovered by a cow grazing. Surely, it is past time for funding to be directed to this heritage site?  
The Tóchar Phádraig – signposted from Ballintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick –  traverses a litany of important artifacts that unfold the cross-millennial story of our Neolithic, Celtic and Christian roots. The Boheh Stone is one of these. It was an important stopping point along the chariot route from the seat of the kings and queens of Connacht at Rathcroghan in Co Roscommon, to Cruachán Aigle (Croagh Patrick). Remember Queen Medb and the Táin Bó Cualigne!
A couple of years ago a friend brought some Swedish tourists to the site and was appalled and embarrassed by its condition. He said that if this was in Sweden it would be preserved and signposted properly.
The fact that pilgrimage is fast becoming the new way for many of expressing and observing the human yearning for ritual and spirituality, isn’t it remiss of our tourism bodies not to champion the upgrading and care of such sites?
Or are they so myopic and short-sighted that they think the success of the Great Western Greenway and the Wild Atlantic Way means there is no need to offer our visitors anything else? Is our wonderful rich heritage not much more than a slick brand? Is our inherent cultural charm not intrinsically tied to the magic and mystery that is often down a barely trodden byway or boreen?    
It is past time for Mayo County Council to take stock of the rich treasury of its heritage sites and protect and preserve them for future generations. There should be a moratorium on any more purchases by our local authority until the Boheh Stone is given the expert attention such a site deserves. It is time for the world of officialdom to stop letting the grass grow under their feet about such spectacular phenomena as our ancient ancestors’ recording of the spectacle of the rolling sun.