Boa Island Figures, Fermanagh, Ireland

Then I found a two faced stone
On burial ground,
God-eyed, sex-mouthed, it’s brain
A watery wound’.
Seamus Heaney – January God

Seamus Heaney’s evocative description of the two anthropomorphic carved stone statues on Boa Island does honour these unusual and mysterious figures. It is believed that they date from the very early Christian period (400-800AD) but may be influenced by pre-Christian beliefs. The larger ‘Janus’ figure has two faces, its name taken from the two headed roman deity of the same name. It is believed that it could represent a Celtic deity or goddess and in this regards there may be some truth as Boa Island is named after Badhbh, also spelt Badb, an early Irish goddess of war. The Janus figure is 73cm in height and 45cm wide, the faces are large and oval in shape, with big eyes, half open mouths with protruding tongues over pointed chins. The head rests on the torso of the figure, a torso with crossed arms and a belt. At the base of this figure there is another carving of two hands with long fingers that broke away from the statue sometime in antiquity. This part of the statue was only discovered in recent times. At the top of the two heads is an indentation, its purpose unknown but nowadays it appears to be used as a place for visitors to place mementos or offerings.

The second figure wasn’t actually found on Boa but on nearby Lustymore Island, hence it is known as ‘the Lustyman’. it was brought to Caldragh graveyard on Boa Island in 1939. This figure, 70cm in height, is far more weather worn than the Janus and some believed that due to this it may pre-date it also. Though the figure is hard to make out some people have opined that it could be a precursor to the Sheela na Gigs dotted around the country, as its crossed arms may appear to point towards an inverted V that represents the top of the vulva. It should also be mentioned that the name of this graveyard ‘Caldragh’ comes from the Irish Cealdrach, meaning old burial ground, which has led some to believe that it predates Christianity.

I have heard in the past that the statues are sometimes covered in a canopy which I did not see on the day of my visit, considering the damage to the stones even compared to photos from the 1970s it would perhaps be best if this was reinstated.

GPS: 54.50615, -7.86932

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