• Another cup marked stone at Ballintemple, Co. Wicklow

    I am not sure what is going on – on Wednesday this week I came across the fourth example of rock art from a Wicklow graveyard in recent years – indeed the second this year and the second from this site at Ballintemple near Woodenbridge. The stone is situated in the eastern end of Ballintemple graveyard. It is set upright and appears to have been reused as a headstone.

    It consists of a shale pillar-like stone 75cm long, 29cm across and 9cm thick. One end of the stone is decorated with a series of cupmarks on both faces of the stone. On one face are nine cup marks ranging from 2cm to 5cm across and 0.5cm to 2.5cm deep; the largest of these appears to cut the edge of a small cup. One edge of the stone has been broken away so that two of the cups are now on the edge of the stone and only survive partially. Notably, these two cups appear to have met a pair of cupmarks on the opposite face, where there are seven cups. It is also notable that two of the other cups appear to be directly opposite cupmarks on the other face. In one corner a hole extends through the thickness of the stone. It appears that this was formed where cupmarks on either side have met and broken through the thickness of the stone.

    Stones decorated with rock art on two faces are quite unusual, but what is perhaps very unusual is the way in which some of the cup marks are actually directly opposite one another, and in at least one case appear to have met to form a hole through the stone.

    This stone is unusual enough, but to make it even more interesting is the fact that it was clearly reused afterwards as a window sill; Along one edge is a simple, splayed chamfer for the exterior of the window, while on the opposite edge is a sunken, splayed recess for the interior of the window. This window was some 31.5cm wide. The external splay measures 43cm across.

    This is quite significant, because today there are no other traces of the church that once stood here. Therefore, this stone tells us not something about the church (at least we can say how wide one of the windows was) and that this window most likely predates the 14th century and post dates the 11th century. It equally tells us that the builders of the church were quite happy to recycle something that must have been recognised as being very ancient and also pagan. However, by incorporating this stone into the church as a window sill, the ancient, pre-Christian marking would have become invisible. Given that this is the example of rock art from this site, clearly highlights the fact that this was an important area in early prehistoric times, and also indicates the strong likelihood that more examples of rock art will turn up in the wider area.

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