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For the village in Ireland see, Bullaun, County Galway
Bullaun at St John's Point Church, County Down, Ulster, October 2009
A bullaun in Chapeltoun, Ayrshire, Scotland.

A bullaun (Irish: bullán; from a word cognate with "bowl" and French bol) is the term used for the depression in a stone which is often water filled. Natural rounded boulders or pebbles may sit in the bullaun.[1] The size of the bullaun is highly variable and these hemispherical cups hollowed out of a rock may come as singles or multiples with the same rock.[2][3]

Local folklore often attaches religious or magical significance to bullaun stones, such as the belief that the rainwater collecting in a stone's hollow has healing properties.[4] Ritual use of some bullaun stones continued well into the Christian period and many are found in association with early churches, such as the 'Deer' Stone at Glendalough, County Wicklow.[5] The example at St Brigit's Stone, County Cavan, still has its 'cure' or 'curse' stones. These would be used by turning them whilst praying for or cursing somebody.[1] In May 2012 the second cursing stone to be found in Scotland was discovered on Canna and drawn soon after by archaeological illustrator Thomas Small.[6] It has been dated to c. 800.[7] The first was found on the Shiant Isles.[8] It has been dated to c. 800.[7] The stones were latterly known as 'Butterlumps'.[9]

The Cursing Stone at Millennium Bridge Subway in Carlisle, England, February 2011

Some bullaun, as on Rosewall Hill near St Ives in Cornwall, are womb shaped and have a channel in the position of the birth canal. This suggests a possible role in fertility rituals. The position of these bullauns on high rocky outcrops makes their use for domestic tasks, such as food preparation, look unlikely.

One of several womb shaped bullaun on western end of Rosewall Hill, St Ives, Cornwall
Bullaun on eastern end of Rosewall Hill near St Ives, Cornwall

St. Aid or Áed mac Bricc was Bishop of Killare in 6th-century. At Saint Aid's birth his head had hit a stone, leaving a hole in which collected rainwater that cured all ailments, thus identifying it with the Irish tradition of Bullaun stones.[10]

Bullauns are not unique to Ireland and Scotland, being also found on the Swedish island of Gotland, and in Lithuania and France. Possibly enlarged from already-existing solution-pits caused by rain, bullauns are reminiscent of the cup-marked stones which occur all over Atlantic Europe, and their significance (if not their precise use) must date from Neolithic times.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Irish Bullauns
  2. ^ a b The purpose of Bullauns
  3. ^ Pennick, Nigel (1996). Celtic Sacred Landscapes. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-01666-6. P. 40.
  4. ^ Anthony Weir, Early Ireland, A Field Guide, Blackstaff Press, 1980, ISBN 0-85640-212-5
  5. ^ Price, Liam (1959-01-01). "Rock-Basins, or 'Bullauns', at Glendalough and Elsewhere". The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. 89 (2): 161–188. JSTOR 25509363.
  6. ^ "Keil Stone, Isle of Canna, Small Isles". Archived from the original on 2013-09-27. Small Finds & Design. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  7. ^ a b "'Cursing stone' found on Isle of Canna". BBC News. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  8. ^ Scotland in Trust, Prayer Stone. Archaeology. Autumn/Winter
  9. ^ Megalithic UK Retrieved : 2013-07-31
  10. ^ Isler H, Hasenfratz H, O'Neill T. A sixth-century Irish headache cure and its use in a south German monastery. Cephalalgia. 1996 Dec;16(8): P. 536 - 40.

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