An exciting day out in the King’s River Valley

On Saturday I gave a lecture on St Kevin’s road  at  the Hollywood  Co Wicklow . The  audience  was great  and made me feel so welcome.   While having a cup of tea and a chat afterwards   I was told about a number crosses and old roads at the northwest end of the King’s River Valley.  The following  morning I set off to see some of these sites  in the company of  four local people  C.J, Ite, Francis and John,  who kindly gave up their Sunday to  show me around.

So armed with out maps we headed up the Johnstown road  to Valleymount to the townland of Ballintubber.


View of Poulaphouca Reservoir from the Johnstown road

In Ballintubber is one of the most amazing archaeological site I have ever visited. The site is an enormous broken  granite cross.


Broken high cross with Francis who is 5 ft 7″ acting as a scale

This large cross was in the process of being moved onto its side  when it broke and was abandoned. As I looked at this  broken cross  I couldn’t help but wonder what the mason said when it broke, I imaging given the effort involved in get the cross  to its semi completed state there was a lot of cursing. The cross was carved from a single piece of rock  probably a large boulder like those scattered around the field.


Top of the cross

The shaft of the cross is approx. 3m in length and the head is 1.95m. This makes the entire cross approx 5 m tall.  Tool  marks left by the mason  are on the upper face of the cross. The cross really puts into perspective the efforts involved in creating the many high crosses that are found on monastic sites around the county.

For a detailed discussion of this cross see Chris Corlett’s  excellent  article   ‘The abandoned cross at Ballintubber,  Hollywood, Co Wicklow’ (complete reference below).

The next site we visited was a set of stepping-stones on the Kings River in the townland of Walterstown.  These stones could very well be part of an ancient route used by travellers and  pilgrims. They are marked on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey Map of 1840.


Stepping-stones across the King’s River

Directly opposite the stepping-stones  within a modern forest is  a large flat top mound which may possibly  be a small  Anglo-Norman motte . The site is marked as an enclosure on the RMP maps but  it clearly isn’t one and is a flat topped mound.  If this is  an Anglo-Norman motte its  presence could confirm an ancient route in the area.


Possible Anglo-Norman Motte close to the stepping-stones on the King’s River

From  the stepping-stones  we headed on to see a standing stone also in the townland of Walterstown.  This stone  is directly in line with a mountain pass and may also have acted as a route marker for a prehistoric route.


Standing stone in Walterstown

After a fantastic day  I   said goodbye to my companions   and I headed home via Blessington where I  stopped to see  two high crosses.  Geographically these crosses are the closest  to the Ballintubber cross that I  visited earlier.

The  two crosses were formerly located at Burgage More church and graveyard  but moved to there present locations at the graveyard in Blessington when the  Liffey Valley was flooded. The larger cross is known as   St Mark’s cross,  it is very tall and has unusually long arms and a central boss design. It stands 3.95m high.


St Mark’s cross in Blessington

The Ordnance survey letters  (1840) refer to the name of the cross as St Mark’s or  St Baoithin’s cross.

The second cross is broken with one of the arms missing and  is  more squat.


Smaller cross at Blessington

So all in all I had a great weekend and can highly recommend a trip to west Wicklow.


Corlett, C. 2011.  he abandoned cross at Ballintubber,  Hollywood, Co Wicklow’. Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 25,  No. 2, 26-28.

Update on St Aidan’s Well at Preban Co. Wicklow

Following my post on St Aidan’s well at Preban, I have been doing some investigation to see if I can find out anymore about the history of well.

St Aidan’s Well at Preban Co. Wicklow

I have not  found any historical references to the well but I did come across a very interesting article called  ‘The Holy Wells of County Wicklow: Traditions and Legends’ written by Geraldine Lynch which helps put the well in a  county wide context.

Lynch’s article is based on material collected from oral traditions in the 1930’s such as the Irish Folklore commissions school’s manuscripts achieved in the Department of Folklore at UCD along with nineteenth century information from Ordnance Survey six-inch maps, letters and namebooks which were all compiled in the 1830’s. Lynch (1994) records 106 holy wells in Wicklow, sixty-two of which are dedicated to Saints and Deity. As I suspected St Aidan’s well is not listed in this article nor  is it listed in the County Inventory of 1997. Lynch notes St Brigid is the most popular dedication of holy wells in Wicklow followed closely by SS Kevin and Patrick and  she records no other dedication to St Aidan in the entire county (1994, 626).

The article states  forty per cent of Wicklow wells are located near church property, with a number located in graveyards  or  located near the ruins of a church or monastery.  Interestingly  44 per cent of the Wicklow wells are associated with a holy tree (Lynch 1994, 626- 630). Like these wells,  St Aidan’s well is located close to an early medieval ecclesiastical site and it is also associated with a former rag tree .


Grogan, E & Kilfeather, A. 1997. Archaeological Inventory of County Wicklow. Dublin: The Stationery Office.

Lynch, G. 1994. ‘The Holy Wells of County Wicklow: Traditions and Legends’, In  Hannigan, K. & Nolan, W. (eds.) Wicklow: history  and society: interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish county. Dublin: Geography Publications, 625-648.

The Labyrinth Stone

Some thoughts on the Hollywood or  Labyrinth stone

The Hollywood or Labyrinth stone is one of the most interesting relics of medieval pilgrimage that survives today  in  Ireland. The stone as it name suggest is a large boulder  with an incised labyrinth motif on its face.

The Hollywood stone

The stone was  originally located in the townland of Lockstown in the west Wicklow mountains some 4.8 Km from the ecclesiastical site of Templeteenaun and 3.2km from the village of Hollywood.  Shortly after 1908   the stone  was moved to the National museum. The stone is on display at the Glendalough visitor centre and is well worth a visit.

Another boulder with a small incised latin cross was found close by but this stone has since disappear.

The cross incribed on a boulder beside the Hollywood stone (after Bremer, 1926, 52, Fig.2).

Labyrinth motifs can be traced back to prehistoric times in ancient Egypt and Greece (Harbison 1998, 107). Prehistoric labyrinths are generally composed of seven outer circuits and the highest density of stones incised with this motif are found in northern Europe, in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

In  medieval times  the labyrinth  underwent a revival and became primarily a symbol of pilgrimage, and in particular pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Jerusalem ( Coleman & Elsner 1995, 112). Shortly after the loss of Jerusalem to the Muslims in the twelfth century, large labyrinths of mosaic or paving stones were incorporated into the western nave bays of a number of European cathedrals in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (Connolly 2005, 286). Examples include Chartres near Paris, St Quentins, Amiens, St Omer and Rheims in France, San Vitale in Ravenna, San Savino Piacenza in Turin and Lucca Cathedral in Italy (Westbury 2001, 47-49, 104-105). Lucca was an important pilgrimage shrine as well as a stopping point for pilgrims travelling along the pilgrim route Via Francigena to Rome. One of the best preserved, largest and most famous and largest of medieval labyrinths (c.13m in diameter) is found at the cathedral of Chartres, France. It is believed that the Chartres labyrinth, like many others, was designed in response to the loss of Jerusalem and presented the medieval audience (Connolly 2005, 287).

By walking, or in some cases crawling on their knees, along the labyrinth, pilgrims could perform an imagined pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Westbury 2001, 51-52). Apart from its associations with Jerusalem, the motif also became symbolic of the individual’s journey through life and salvation in the next (Coleman & Elsner 1995, 112).

How old is the  Hollywood Stone?

At present it is not possible to definitively date the Hollywood stone. Price (1940, 260-261), and Harbison (1991, 142) all favour an early medieval date but given that the majority of medieval labyrinths date to the twelfth-thirteenth century or later, it may be worth considering a high medieval date for the stone. It was also during this period that the pilgrim movement across Europe reached a peak and the labyrinth as a symbol of pilgrimage came to be in vogue.

Function and Meaning of the Hollywood/Labyrinth stone
The  proximity of the Labyrinth stone to St. Kevin’s road and the ecclesiastical sites of Hollywood and Templeteenaun, along with the symbolism of the labyrinth motif, suggests that this stone was, connected to pilgrimage in the Kings River valley (Harbison 1991, 122, 142; Orpen 1923 Nugent 2009 Vol. I, 223-225 ).  It is possible that the stone functioned as a wayside station for pilgrims entering the western end of the Kings River valley en-route to Glendalough, and provided a place to pray and reflect before continuing onwards.

St Kevin’s Road

Only two other medieval labyrinths, incised stones are known in Ireland one located at the late medieval parish church of Rathmore, Co. Meath the other a carving found on the base of the twelfth century high cross at Cashel but neither appear to be associated with pilgrimage (Harbison 1998; Leask 1933).

© Louise Nugent 2012

Bremer, W. 1926. ‘Notes on The Hollywood Stone’, JRSAI Vol. 56. Conc. Series,
Coleman, S. & Elsner, J. 1995. Pilgrimage: past and present: sacred travel and
sacred space in the world religions. London: British Museum Press.
Harbison, P. 1994. ‘Early Irish Pilgrim Archaeology in the Dingle Peninsula’, World
Archaeology, Vol. 26, No. 1, 90-103.
Harbison, P. 1998. ‘A labyrinth on the twelfth-century High Cross base on the Rock
of Cashel, Co. Tipperary’, JRSAI Vol. 128, 107-111.
Leask, H. G. 1933. ‘Rathmore Church, Co. Meath’, JRSAI Vol. 63, 153-166.
Nugent, L. 2009. Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland, AD 600-1600. Vol. I-III. Unpublished PhD  Thesis, University College Dublin
Orpen, G.H. 1911. ‘Carved stone near Hollywood, Co. Wicklow’, JRSAI Vol. 41,
Orpen, G. H. 1923. ‘The Hollywood Stone and he Labyrinth of Knossos’, JRSAI
Vol. 53. Cons Series, 180-189.
Orpen, G.H. 1929. ‘The Hollywood Stone’, JRSAI Vol. 59, 176-179.
Price, L. 1940. ‘Glendalough: St. Kevin’s Road’, In Ryan, J. (ed.) FéilSgríbhinn
Éoin Mhic Néil. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 244-71.
Westbury, V. 2001. Labyrinths. Ancient Paths of Wisdom and Peace. Singapore: De
Capo Press.