The Long Stone of the Neale

The ancient boundary stones still speak

The Neale is a small town in south Mayo with a pub or two, a church, a post office, a Greek temple, a pyramid, and the six thousand year old pillars marking the centre of a great magical site. It’s a strange place in a strange land, a place that doesn’t invite you to stop and look around. The Neale itself and the surrounding area is on a slight rise in the plain, with views to the west over Lough Mask to the Partry and Connemara mountains.

At the south end of town stands the Long Stone of the Neale, reputed to be 6,000 years old. But there’s hardly a cairn or a stone circle in the neighbourhood of more recent vintage. It was the Irish bishop James Ussher who wrote in 1654 that the world was six thousand years old, a view that still has its believers. Ussher’s method was to add together the ages of the biblical patriarchs in the Old Testament, and after doing his sums, he declared that the world began on 23 October 4004 BC. Irish antiquarians and scholars in following centuries stuck to those guidelines. Anything very ancient was six thousand years old.

I first read of the long stone called Lia Lugha, or the Long Stone of Lugh, in William Wilde’s Lough Corrib, its Shores and Islands. William Wilde, like his son Oscar, was a freemason and doubtless knew a lot more than he shared in his travelogues. The west of Ireland has long been a place of interest to the antiquarians of England and Wales, and most of them were freemasons. There has long been lore of great treasures buried through the west, material and magical. Lugh, one of the ancient European gods, is deeply associated with the legends of the first battle of Maigh Turra, on the lands around the Neale.

The Long Stone is easy to find, standing out against the whitewashed gable wall of a house beside the turn for Cong. In the last few hundred years, someone built a house between the stones, but left them untouched, as the old warnings against moving ancient boundary stones are taken seriously. Looking for a place to park off the main road, I pulled in one afternoon at the end of the shed beside the old house. In the corner was a low boulder set two metres from the wall of the shed. It’s on a low plinth like the long stone, and like the long stone, this amateur dowser feels some magnetic lines flowing east to west.

So is the Long Stone but one of a pair, marking a great gateway to the west? Nowhere in the annals or histories do I find reference to the low stone, which looks like a big scone. And it’s that image of a stone that stays with me, and recalls another famous stone, now in the possession of the English monarchy and known as the Stone of Scone. In Ireland, it’s known as the Lia Fáil, the stone of destiny. English legend says that the Lia Fáil or Stone of Destiny was taken from Ireland and brought first to Scotland, where it was used for the coronation of Scottish monarchs. It was then taken to England, where it was last used in 1953 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. 

So what is this mysterious stone sitting the other side of the building from the Long Stone? It’s almost impossible to see both at the same time, unless standing on the wall the other side of the road. (The short stone is behind the lamppost on the left of the photograph above.) But at one time, these stones would have stood proud, like a gateway. And like many other monuments, they are clearly a pair: in this case, one tall and one short. It seems the ancient builders understood yin and yang forces in a way that we are only just beginning to remember. 

Looking at a map of the area later that day, and suspecting that the two stones mark a gateway or pivot, I noticed that a few of the great sites close by mark a near perfect circle around the two stones.

And not for the first time, I recall the legends of the speaking stones, of the resonance that remains when all else is silent.