A composition of human facial features is skilfully picked out in the centre of a large hemispherical sandstone boulder. The representation is distinguished by an economical and elegant simplicity. The features comprise slightly bulbous lentoid eyes, an oblong, flattish nose, and a simple slit mouth. Faint outlines of the cheeks are also visible to either side of the nose. The facial side of the stone is worn and pitted from exposure; the rear is smooth. There is a rough, uneven break along the base of the boulder. No attempt was made to fashion a chin, or to provide the head with ears or a hair line.
The carved stone head is classified by experts as ‘iconic sculpture’. The Iron Age authority Barry Raftery, author of Pagan Celtic Ireland (1994) considered that stone heads were representations of deities, and in his view stone heads of this period were ‘religious carvings’. Raftery concurred with the opinion of the scholar Anne Ross, author of Pagan Celtic Britain (1967), that ‘the cult of the head was the most widespread, typical and enduring of Celtic cults’.
The Irish carved stone head assemblage was critically assessed in an important paper published by Etienne Rynne in 1972. The majority are from the northern part of the country. Rynne acknowledged that the dating of Irish stone heads was ‘extremely difficult’, as features of pagan heads are paralleled in heads from the medieval period.
In stylistic terms, as Raftery explained it, ‘the realistic portrayal of the human form was of no great concern to Celtic craftsmen’. One of the best known examples is the three-faced specimen from Corleck, Co. Cavan, found at a quarry around 1855. This is a work that scholars are agreed dates from the Iron Age, and is described by John Waddell, author of The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland (1998), as ‘the most remarkable example of early iconic stone carving’. The execution of the three faces of the Corleck stone, on a local sandstone block, is characterised by, in Rynne’s words, ‘elegance and economy of line’, with roundish eyes, broad flattish noses and slit mouths. The simplicity evident in the rendering of the Ballyarton stone makes comparison with the Corleck stone credible, suggesting that the former can be dated along with the latter to the Iron Age.
Another example, known as the Cavan town stone head, consists of an earless, hairless face with round browless eyes carved into a rectangular boulder. This head is also considered to be one that can reliably be dated to the Iron Age. On the basis that it bears a tentative resemblance to the Cavan town head, the identification of the Ballyarton stone head as a work of Iron Age date is further strengthened.
In Pagan Celtic Ireland Barry Raftery considered the best examples of iconic sculpture to ‘display an economy of detail and a deceptive simplicity’. On those terms, and in light of certain stylistic affinities with the Corleck and Cavan town stone heads, the Ballyarton, Claudy head must be regarded as a rare and important addition to the pre-Christian iconic stone assemblage of Ireland.
Ken Wiggins MIAI
These coins, ordered by Lord Inchiquin, under the authority of the Duke of Ormonde, during the Confederation. Each piece is punched twice, once on each side, with the weight and denomination. The Supreme Council of Ireland met at Kilkenny Castle fro 1642-48. Cromwell’s forces took Kilkenny after the siege of 1650. This body effectively ruled Ireland independently of England until Cormwell’s army arrived in the country.
“Gun money” was an issue of coins made by the forces of James II during the Williamite War in Ireland between 1689 and 1691. Minted in base metal, these were designed to be redeemed for silver coins following a victory by James II and consequently bore the date in months to allow a gradual replacement. As James lost the war, that replacement never took place, although the coins were allowed to circulate at much reduced values before the copper coinage was resumed. They were mostly withdrawn from circulation in the early 18th century. The name "Gun money" stems from the idea that they were minted from melted down guns. However, many other brass objects, especially church bells were also used as well as old cannon.
One of the significant politico-economic works of the time advocating free trade for Ireland, written in the form of a sequence of letters to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Buckinghamshire. However, "its doctrines being regarded as seditious it was ordered to be burnt by the common hangman."