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‘Hugely important’ prehistoric rock art found near Croagh Patrick


Archaeologists believe they have discovered new art work thousands of years old beside the prehistoric Boheh Stone (above) along the Tóchar Phádraig.
? Archaeologists believe they have discovered new art work thousands of years old beside the prehistoric Boheh Stone (above) along the Tóchar Phádraig.

‘Hugely important’ rock art found near Croagh Patrick

Cow may have dislodged stones to reveal new discovery 

Anton McNulty

A cow may have unwittingly revealed ancient artwork not seen for millennia after dislodging stones beside the prehistoric Boheh Stone, known locally as the St Patrick’s Chair, along the Tóchar Phádraig pilgrimage route.
The prehistoric engravings are believed to be one of only two of their kind west of the Shannon. They were discovered by two Connemara archaeologists, Michael Gibbons and Michael Moylan, during field work while recording an educational and cultural radio programme on the Wild Atlantic Way.
The panel, which bears spiral engravings believed to be 6,000 years old, is located in the townland of Boheh, outside Westport on the Leenane road. The artwork is stylistically related to the art from the passage tombs in the Boyne Valley, and the only other similar art work west of the Shannon is located in the mountains above Tourmakeady.
Mr Gibbons told The Mayo News that he believes the stones covering the panel were dislodged in the last two weeks, possibly by cows. He described the find as ‘hugely important’ and said that steps must be taken to preserve the site and ensure it is not damaged.
The site on which both the Boheh Stone and the newly discovered panel are located is currently owned by Mayo County Council. According to Mr Gibbons the council plans to carry our construction work at the site. Before any such work takes place, Mr Gibbons wants there to be further debate on how to best preserve the historical artifacts.
“Mayo County Council are great when it comes to archaeology,” said Mr Gibbons, “but the plans proposed are not sufficient in my opinion. The plans could endanger the site if they are not thought through, and I would be calling for a bigger debate. There are sites like this in Norway, Denmark and Britain. This is the only site in Connacht with easy access, and it has everything going for it. This is something really exciting and a huge opportunity not to be missed,” he said.
The panel has circular engravings similar to those on the Boheh Stone, but they are not as weathered due the panel’s concealment from the elements. The Boheh Stone was discovered in the 19th century and is still relatively unknown and as a result it has not been damaged.
As a monumental stone, it cannot be moved. Gibbons and Moylan fear that it could be damaged by people walking over it, and they feel it should be covered by a glass structure. The site is particularly popular twice a year, on April 18 and August 24, when it becomes a vantage point for the rolling sun phenomenon, where by the sun appears to ‘roll’ down the side of Croagh Patrick.   

Other discoveries
The two archaeologists have been travelling along the Wild Atlantic Way for their radio programme and have made a number of other discoveries in the county, including a sea stone fortress in the sound between Achill Island and Achill Beg island, which they say is between 2,000 and 3,000 years old.
The fortress, which is only accessible at low tide, has been damaged by the recent storms, and Gibbons and Moylan are concerned that it could be completely destroyed if it is not repaired. Mr Gibbons said the Government’s funds for storm damage repairs are insufficient.
Another discovery, Mr Gibbons and Mr Moylan made was a ancient village cluster believed to have been a booley located on the south of Croagh Patrick. They discovered the foundations of approximately a dozen circular buildings which were not known to have existed and they believe it may have been used for booleying up until the 19th century.
The practice of booleying, once widespread in rural Ireland, involved herders migrating with their cattle during the summer season. Booley huts varied in size, usually had curved corners and were made of varying combinations of sod, wattle and stone.