Blades and pottery unearthed during work on the new Toome Bypass reveal invaluable information about the lives of ancient peoples, according to archaeologists who have examined the artefacts... continues...
Mr. W. J. Knowles, M.R.I.A., secretary for county Antrim to the Council of the present Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, states that he knew instances where the posessor of a few flint implements refused to part with them, as he found it more profitable to hire them out to neighbours, for the purpose of curing cattle, than it would be to sell them. Theis writer also remarks that, in reference to the employment of flint arrow-heads and spear-heads in curing cattle, he received recently an account from an aged man, who lives not far from Ballymena, of how the ceremony of cattle-curing was carried on in his young days:-
"He had a neighbour, a very respectable farmer, who was a cow-doctor, and who had a considerable number of beautiful flint arrow-heads, by means of which he effected cures in the case of cattle which were ill. This cow-doctor invariably found that the animal was either 'elf-shot' or 'dinted,' or it might be suffering from both troubles. When 'elf-shot,' I suspect the arrow had pierced the hide; and when 'dinted,' I imagine there was only an indentation, which the doctor could feel as easily as the holes. When he was called in to see a cow which was ill, he would feel the hide all over, and find, or pretend to find, holes or indentations, and would call on anyone present to feel them. He would then assure the owner that he would very soon cure the cow. My informant told me that the man's usual expression when he found the holes was, in his own local language, 'Begor, we hae found the boy noo,' meaning that he had found the cause of the beast's ailment. Some gruel would now have to be prepared, into which he would put a few of his arrow-heads, a piece of silver, usually a sixpence, and he would also add some sooty matter which he had previously scraped from the bottom of the pot. When all had been boiled well together, and was ready for use, he would take a mouthful and blow it into the animal's ears, another mouthful and blow it over her back, and then he would give the remainder to the cow to drink, and would go away, assuring the owner that she would soon be better. I understand he was generally successful in effecting cures, and was held in high estimation as a cow-doctor. My informant said he was often sent for by Lord Mountcashel's agent, when he lived in Galgorm Castle, to prescribe for cattle which were ill. There must, however, have been sceptics in those days, as I am told that the poor cow-doctor was often jocularly asked to examine a cow that was in perfectly good health, and that there was considerable merriment when he pronounced her to be both 'elf-shot' and 'dinted'. "
A fatiguing scramble, and the top of Carnanmore - 1,254 feet - is reached. As indicated by the name, this mountain has on its summit a "great carn," considerable remains of which are still to be seen. It is to be feared, however, that much of it has been erected into very matter-of-fact stone ditches, to mark the boundaries of "my Lord's" estate. The remaining portions are well worthy of examination.
The northern side seems to have been partially removed, thus exposing a large chamber of unhewn stones; part of a covering of larger slabs still remains in position, while others lie scattered about. It is probable the carn was erected to commemorate some great victory, or mark the burial place of some powerful chief, whose name and deeds are alike long forgotten.
Though the carn is itself a monument of antiquity, one at least of the stones used in its construction belongs to a more distant period still. On its upper surface, but almost defaced by long exposure, are several cuplike depression, evidently of human workmanship. Were these the only marks upon the stone they might easily have been overlooked; but, on the under side of the slab, which can fortunately be seen by a person entering the chamber above referred to, many more perfect hollows, arranged in something like order, are quite perceptible. The present position of the stone is certainly not that which it occupied when the depressions were cut, as many of those on the under side are now entirely out of reach.
On a rocky eminence in the townland of Ballyvernish, about one mile from the village of Doagh, stands a whinstone slab, called the Holestone. This stone is upwards of five feet in height above the ground, and near the base six feet eight inches in circumference, and ten inches in thickness. At about three feet from the ground there is a round hole perforated through it, sufficient to admit a common-sized hand; it has evidently been made by art, but there is neither record nor tradition respecting the purpose for which it was erected, nor by whom.
About thirty years ago a man put his hand through the aperture of this stone, but was unable to extricate it; on which, those who were with him gave the alarm, and a crowd was soon collected, whose conflicting opinions only served to increase the fears of the person in limbo.
Amongst those assembled, was a Mr. O---, a resident in the neighbourhood, who seeing so much needless alarm, determined to be a little waggish upon this occasion. "Fly," said he, to a by-stander, "for my powder-horn, and I'll soon free him; I'll blow up the stone in an instant!" At these words, the confusion and alarm of the multitude beggars all description, while the cries of the prisoner, which had hitherto been sunk in the noise, became piercing in the extreme.
During the confusion, the gentleman had sent off privately for some vinegar, and on the return of the messenger, with it, he began to pacify the prisoner, and to bathe his hand, which had become swelled in the various attempts made to get it extricated; and he at length succeeded in effecting his liberation, without application to the dreaded powder horn. [..]
In December, 1927, Mr. Wm. McIlroy, owner of the farm on the edge of which stands this remarkable monument, had occasion to widen an entrance to one of his fields, and in doing so had to remove a protruding stone. He found it to be one of the top stones of souterrain, of which there were two chambers, with the passage of one or more others, blocked up. The souterrain presented no unusual features, being built in the ordinary manner with the side walls of the chambers corbelled inwards, narrowing towards the top, and kept in their position by the usual long stone slabs laid horizontally across, forming the roof [...]
The question arises, why did the builders not utilise the Hole Stone? Within a couple of hundred yards of it on either side are two souterrains with a hundred or more of these long stones used in the roofs. Here was a suitable stone immediately to hand, and yet they would not disturb it.
I can think of no prehistoric monument of whose written history we know nothing the use and purpose of which have been so well preserved by inviolable tradition as the Hole Stone. From times long prehistoric a ring was regarded as part of the ceremony of Arrhae or betrothal prior to the marriage ceremony itself. To this day, through all the changes of race and peoples that have occurred in County Antrim, particularly South Antrim, the tradition that the Holestone is a betrothal, if not a marriage token remains unbroken, and couples from all the district round still plight their troths by clasping fingers through the ring or hole in this stone. Here then appears the probability that the souterrain builders refrained from using the Hole Stone, because it was sacred in their pagan religion, if not actually a deity.
Well if you say so. From some 'Tentative Deductions' about the stone in The Irish Naturalists' Journal, Vol. 3, No. 5 (Sep., 1930) by HC Lawlor.
"The Witches' stone," near Antrim Round Tower, from its name evidently originally a cursing site, is a rock bullan. The tower, according to current tradition, was erected by a "hag" who, when it was finished, as the readiest way of descending, took a flying leap and alighted on this stone, situated about 120 yards from the base of the structure. She stumbled - little wonder - on landing, and struck the rock with one elbow and one knee, which accounts for the cup-like depressions seen in the illustration. These, as is usual, are stated never to be without water. The largest cavity is 15 inches long, 12 inches wide and 9 inches deep; the smaller depression is 6 inches wide by 3 inches in depth. The rock itself is 6 feet long by about 4 1/2 feet broad. It lay originally by the side of a brook, but many years ago the stream was diverted, a wall was built between it and the stream, and the enclosed area converted into a garden.
From 'Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland' by W G Wood-Martin (1902).