The original Iron Age La Tene-style Killycluggin Stone, now in the County Cavan Museum in Ballyjamesduff, is believed to be the idol known as Cenn Crúaich or Crom Crúaich, which could mean “bloody head” but I think means “head of a [stylized] stack of corn / rick of hay”. Hay is saved in County Cavan in exactly this form and size. Crom Crúaich was the harvest-god stone idol destroyed by Saint Patrick in Mag Slécht (the Plain of Slaughter).
“Here used to stand a lofty idol, that saw many a fight, whose name was the Cromm Cruaich; it caused every tribe to live without peace. … Round Cromm Cruaich there the hosts did obeisance: though it brought them under mortal shame, the name cleaves to the mighty plain [Mag Slécht = Plain of Prostrations, according to this interpretation]. … Ranged in ranks stood idols of stone four times three; to beguile the hosts grievously the figure of the Cromm was formed of gold.” From the c. 14th-century Metrical Dindshenchas (Lore of Placenames) at The Corpus of Electronic Texts (CELT) under Mag Slecht.
Some well-informed locals say the Killycluggin Stone is Crom Crúaich; others say Crom Crúaich is the stone circle — c. 20m internal diameter, consisting of 15 mostly collapsed stones — about 300m from the replica. The Stone was deliberately buried in two pieces next to the stone circle in the distant past. “Crom” in its sense of “bending” presumably refers to the circle, but it could also apply to the Stone itself with the meaning of “hunched/crouched”. One part of the Stone was discovered in 1921 (Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries 52, 1922) when it was struck by a plough. The other was found in 1952 (JRSAI 82, 1954). The Stone bears the signs of having been dealt repeated heavy blows. Saint Patrick “plied upon the Cromm a sledge from top to toe; with no paltry prowess he ousted the strengthless goblin that stood here.” (Met. Dind.) Barry Raftery, who excavated the site in 1974, discussed the finds in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 41, 1978.
The Stone was probably originally situated in the centre of the circle or at a distance from the entrance stones as an outlier. Its burial place was not where one would expect to find such a stone. The conflicting dates of the Bronze Age circle and the Iron Age La Tene-style Killycluggin Stone confuse the issue, but the two informed locals I talked to thought the Iron Age people simply installed their idol in the existing circle.
The Stone is in the townland of Killycluggin, about 3 miles southwest of Ballyconnell. “Kill” in an Irish place name often means “church” (cill), but here probably comes from coill, “woods”. Cloigheann means “head”.
Some have argued that the Killycluggin Stone is phallic (using what yardstick, so to speak, I can’t imagine) and have compared it to the Lia Fáil on the Hill of Tara. As you can see, there is no similarity.
Photos and text © Richard Marsh 2011.