‘The cave of Dunlow may be regarded as an ancient Irish library lately disinterred and restored to the light. The books are the large impost stones which form the roof; their angles contain the writing. A library of such literature was never heard of in England before and scarcely in Ireland, and yet it is of the highest antiquity. The discovery opens a new page concerning the hitherto disputed question touching the acquaintance of the ancient Irish with letters’
– Hall’s Ireland Volume 1 (1841) Mr & Mrs C.Hall
The eight Dunloe Stones stand like hidden sentinels, spying out from behind the line of hedges on the road from Dunloe to Beaufort. As the opening quotation suggests they were not always situated here, seven of the eight came from a souterrain nearby where they had been laid horizontally, forming the roof of the tunnel. The souterrain had been discovered in 1838 by workmen constructing a sunken fence. This subterranean structure was 6 metres long, 3 metres in height and 1.5 metres in width, human skulls and bones were also found within its walls. For almost 100 years the cave could be visited but bizarrely in 1940 the stones were removed and the souterrain was filled in. According to the national monuments service no trace remains, however I have found decent co-ordinates so will certainly have a look for it during my next visit to the Kingdom. For Anna Maria and Samuel Carter Hall, who toured every part of Ireland in the late 1830s it must’ve been a fantastic sight, memorial stones that could have been forgotten forever. The eight stone at Dunloe comes from the ruinous church nearby at Kilbonane.
The stones all date from the early 5th century and the inscriptions bare the names of the deceased usually written in the style ‘the deceased…..son of …. descendent of Toicacas’. Four of the eight stones mention the ‘Tóecraige’ although the spellings deviate, the Tóecraige are believed to have been a local tribe. An example of one of these stone’s horizontal lines translate as ‘MAQI-RITEAS MAQI MAQI-DDUMILEAS/ MUCCI TOICACI meaning ‘of Mac-Rithe son of Mac-Duimle descendant of Toicacas‘. Another intriguing stone is in the memory of CUNACENA ‘of Conchenn’, meaning ‘dog-head’. The tribes and people that these stones eulogise are lost to antiquity however their discovery keeps us wondering who they were and what other treasures lie buried beneath the fields and woods of Ireland never to be seen.
GPS: 52.06039, -9.6348