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The Kinnitty Stone

Mission accomplished! I have photographed the Kinnitty Stone. It’s an ancient Irish artefact uncovered during the extension of St Finnian’s Church, Kinnitty, in the early 1800s, more than 1,000 years old. It’s also almost impossible to find pictures online and it’s been a challenge to see the real thing.

On Saturday evening, with the help of the Rev James Wallace, I made a date with the stone and finally snapped some pictures of a key artefact in my current Nightmare Vacations project.

Uncovering the Kinnitty Stone

I don’t know why it’s so hard to see the Kinnitty Stone. Maybe Ireland is so awash with ancient rocks that no-one thinks it’s special. It can’t help that the dwindling congregation for the Church of Ireland1 means that small churches like St Finnian’s are rarely open outside of a weekly service on Saturday nights. As a Brit, I’m used to churches being open all day for anyone to wander into.

After several months, I finally managed to make a trip to Kinnitty coincide with the Saturday evening service and I took a few pictures before it began. St Finnian’s is a pretty little church with lovely stained glass windows, roofed with dark beams. It’s a shame that it’s locked up for so much of the week.

The stone is roughly rectangular, about 150cm tall, 45 cm wide and 18 cm deep (4’10” x 17.5” x 7” in old money). It’s inscribed with a central cross, squiggles that may be serpents or flames, and swirls that might be the ancient Irish Ogham script. Unfortunately, it was buried for centuries, so the marking have lost their definition and there’s a green stain or growth across much of the face that makes the design even harder to see. It sits in the porch of St Finnian’s Church.

The Kinnitty Stone: is it Christian?

The Royal Irish Academy lists it as a Christian artefact, but Christianity has a habit of appropriating Irish history and mythology into its own narrative. A lot of Irish saints are characters from pre-Christian legends, adopted by early missionaries to win over the locals.

It’s no accident that All Saints Day follows the ancient pagan festival of Samhain, now known as All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe’en. Anything with a cross on it is automatically assumed to be Christian, even if it’s a square cross. So the current estimates of age and origin are based on the dates when Christians were active in Kinnitty. The stone could be much older.

It was a clear, dry night as I drove back over the Slieve Blooms, with the Milky Way clearly visible overhead (Irish readers will appreciate the rarity of this circumstance). Unfortunately, I also discovered that I don’t know how to use the night mode on my phone’s camera, so I’ve only got my memories of those stars, Jupiter’s bright gleam and the lights of Portlaoise below. Until the next time.

  1. The CoI is an Anglican Protestant denomination of Christianity, set up by the English during our occupation of Ireland and forced upon the Irish in a ham-fisted act of cultural warfare against Catholicism. Its current unpopularity is hardly surprising. ↩︎

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