Three Friars Stone Row, Kilkenny, Ireland

Like many Irish heritage sites what we can ascertain about the Three Friar’s Stone Row is a mix of what can be observed about the site and what local folklore tells us. Although on approach the three stones look quartz they are in fact white washed granite, whitewashed by some locals as has been the custom for at least 200 years. The row is aligned North to South and set about 1.5 metres apart, the stones decrease in size from South to North. A stone at the crossroads gives the local account on how these stones came to be erected. The sheer amount of folktales in Ireland related to Cromwell can sometimes be almost laughable, however what must be understood is that these stories came from a place of fear, a resonance of how uncertain life on this island was, and sure with Cromwell no better a man to pin some gory tales to!

I have come across and transcribed a few tales related to these stones in the Dúchas Schools Collection of the 1930s. The story is told in many ways but the general thread remains. In 1651 Three Friars were making their way to or from Jerpoint Abbey when they were accosted by some of Cromwell’s men, they were flogged and hanged at the crossroads and then their bodies were buried where the three stones now stand. According to most sources the bodies of the Friars were later disinterred by locals and brought for burial at Jerpoint. Like in a lot of folklore tales in Ireland there needed to be a sense of justice or divine retribution, and this tale is no different. In most versions either one or three of the soldiers died that night, choked and killed by invisible forces described as ‘black men’. One entry into the schools collection also mentions curative powers of the stones, “In one stone there is a place to put in your leg, in another a place for your hand, and in another your whole body. By so doing it is said a sore leg, arm, hand or head would be cured.”

As I have acknowledged many times it is not my desire to deride or laugh at the tales of our ancestors and over the years I think many similarities are echoed in so many tales. I could write for a long time about the historical context for these tales and why our rich folklore probably is due in some part to this oppression but I won’t digress to far, suffice to say that so many of our folktales are of suffering and death, but also of almost an immediate divine retribution; and in my mind that tells us only too well how helpless people felt many times during our history and how important the sense that ‘no bad deed goes unpunished‘ was for people.

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