• Stone heads at Kilballyowen, near Aughrim, Co. Wicklow

    Last night I gave a talk on the 18th century headstones of Wicklow at the community centre in Annacurragh, near Aughrim, Co. Wicklow. A wonderful crowd turned up and I hope they enjoyed the night. In conversation afterwards with Yvonne Whitty and Louise Nugent, the talk turned to another example of folk art – two carved heads at an old farmhouse nearby.

    These two stone heads are built into the outbuildings of an abandoned farmhouse at Kilballyowen, near Annacurragh, Co. Wicklow. Their date is not clear, though they are almost certainly not medieval or prehistoric. In all likelihood they are 19th century in date, or perhaps a little earlier. Yet, despite the fact that they are most likely relatively recent, the name of whoever carved them seems to be a mystery. They are carved from granite and are somewhat naive in style. One has a rather long face and long chin, while the other is more rounded. Both have long noses and short mouths. Hair is not depicted, but it does appear that both are male faces.

    A similar head is found at a farmhouse at Togher near Redcross, and back in 1954 Liam Price mentioned seeing similar heads at Ballyrogan and Oghil, also near Redcross, but these examples cannot now be located. The Redcross examples are some 18km (as the crow flies) from those illustrated here from Kilballyowen, and to date I haven’t come across any others in the Aughrim or Annacurragh area. Even so, and despite the fact that they are actually few in number, these carved heads appear to have been a feature of the south-east of Co. Wicklow.

    But this brings us back to the fundamental question, what was their function? Given that they are placed in the outbuildings of modest farmhouses they must have had a specific purpose, but what could that have been? Were they intended to be purely decorative, or were they intended to ward off intruders like a modern day CCTV? Any thoughts are welcome.

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