The Story of Cloch a Phoill

It is strange how a question, asked in relation to a different matter completely, can set the mind thinking along a line of thought far removed from an answer to the original question.

It was a question I was asked recently by a good friend concerning warts on the hand of another person that set me thinking about the Cloch a Phoill, or as it’s more commonly known, The Holed Stone. This particular stone is situated about two miles south of Tullow, in the parish of Aghade. It is a huge piece of granite so singular in appearance. When I was asked the question about the cure for warts I first recommended a stone in a field near Huntington castle in Clonegal which has been known as the “Wart Stone” for ages. It is actually a Bullawn stone, a relic of pre Christian Ireland. It is rounded granite stone with a cup shaped hollow in the top. It is in the water in this hollow that the person wishing to be cured of warts put their hands and after a couple of visits the warts are supposed to disappear. It was shortly after this that another person reminded me that there was also great curing powers in Cloch a Phoill, the ‘Holed Stone’ in Aghade.

Cloch a Phoill has a lot more to it than just being a stone with a hole in it. In fact it has a great historical story all its own. Whereas most of the old parishes of Ireland have an ecclesiastical origin, the old parish of Ahade had none. The name in Irish was Ath Fada or Ath Fadath, “ The Long Ford’. This referred to a shallow stretch of the river Slaney which was just that, a place where the river could be crossed. It is from the Book of Ballymote that we take our next piece of information concerning the Cloch a Phoill.

Eochaidh, the son of Enna Kilsellach, has been a hostage from his father in the hand of Niale of the Nine Hostages. Having served his allotted time with Niale he was preparing to go back south to his own country and he went to the house of the poet of Niale to ask for victuals for his journey, which was the order of the day at the time. This was to the house of Laidginn, son of Baircead, who was Niale’s poet. To his great surprise he was refused entertainment in the poet’s house. Furious at this insult he returned after a short spell in the south and burned the poet’s house and killed his only son. The poet, for a full year after that, continued to satirise the Lagenians and bring fatalities on them, so that neither corn, grass nor foliage grew onto them to the end of the year. Niale made an expedition to the Lagenians and vowed to them that he would not depart from them until Eochaid should be given up to him as a hostage. This they were compelled to do. Eochaidh was carried to Athfadat (Ahade) in Fothartaibh Fea ( a district in Carlow) on the bank of the river Slaney where he was led after them with a chain round his neck and the end of the chain was a perforated rock (Cloch a Phoill) with an iron bar on the end of the chain so that it could not be pulled through the hole in the stone. After a short time there came to him champions of the champions of Niale for the purpose of killing him. Eochaidh summed up the situation and said to himself, “Bad indeed things look for me now”.

At this stage the nine men of Niale were only a few feet away for him and he knew that unless he did something quick his life was about to end. So gathering all the strength he had he gave a mighty heave and broke the chain about his neck. He then took up the iron bar and faced them.
Mad with rage and the hurt from breaking the chain he had the strength of ten men and so well did he use the bar that he killed the nine of Niale’s champions. He now commenced to attack the other members of Niale’s men who had come to see him being killed.They began to retreat towards Tulach (Tullow) and the Lagenians pressed after them slaughtering hundreds of them on the way.

It is of interest to read some later domentation on this piece of ancient Irish history. It is stated the hundreds of years later workmen were diggings for the purpose of raising rubble limestone directly between the perforated rock and the Ath Fada or Longford on the Slaney. When they came across a number of curiously formed graves containing urns with burned and unburned bones. At least two of the urns were preserved and sent to Dublin. The graves were well made of round limestone, they were about four feet long, one foot wide and about fourteen inches deep. Other graves were covered with flag stones. Human bones and skeletons have been dug up at various times and depths all the way from Aghade to Tullow. The number of bones and other articles such as pieces of swords and other military insignia that have been found on this line have made it sure that some bloody conflict took place here at a very remote period, almost certainly before Christianity came to our shores or at least before the end of Paganism.

The stone is now thrown from the perpendicular and it was a practice in the old days to bring sick children to the stone. Strange it is that one of the first men to preach the Christian word from the northwestern slopes of the Blackstairs was Palladius who came before St. Patrick. He was ordered to leave the district by Enna Cennsealach when he was told that he was preaching about the coming of another King. (Remember that another King had the Holy Innocents slaughtered for the same reason). It is also interesting to note that the first Bishop of Ahade was Iserninus, who we are told was St. Patrick’s nephew. It is truly amazing what a simple question can set the mind looking for.

By Willie White
Courtesy of the Carlow Nationalist
6th May 2005