By BRIAN MOORE
A MEDIEVAL mystery worthy of Indiana Jones has been uncovered on the Sheep’s Head peninsula.
The saga began earlier this year when the Muintir Bháire Community Council engaged archaeologist John Tierney to conduct a Heritage Council-funded conservation plan for the ancient ruins at the site of the O’Daly Bardic School in Dromnea, east of Kilcrohane.
With his examination now complete, John will outline the results of this Bardic School survey at a public meeting in the Community Hall in Kilcrohane next week. ‘A key element of the study has been to place the Bardic School in its local and national context, and how it relates to other sites on Sheep’s Head peninsula, how it fits with other sites in Ireland. It places the Sheep’s Head very much in a medieval landscape of the Gaelic Lordships before the Flight of the Earls,’ John told The Southern Star.
However, with many local people having shared folklore and memories with John during the course of his fieldwork at the Bardic School site, an unexpected mystery has come to light.
Local resident John Tobin explained: ‘My sister Jo Jo told me a story about the old monastery located at Dromnea. During the 1950s, an inscribed stone slab in a building on the site being used as a hen house was brought to the attention of Eamonn de Barra of the Irish Folklore Commission, by our father Dick Tobin, while he was on holidays with relatives in Kilcrohane,’ Mr Tobin said. ‘A proposal was put to the owners of the property at that time (Michael Kelly and family) to preserve the building and make a record of this artefact. This took some time to organise as resources were very scarce and communications slow,’ John cexplained. Unfortunately, this is where the story takes a tragic turn. ‘In the meantime, Mr Kelly drowned and the family dispersed. When Mr de Barra came back to view the artefacts, the stone slab was gone. All that remained was the distinctive window of the monastery,’ said John.
Dick Tobin, John’s father, a proficient Irish speaker, did not recognise the inscription on the stone slab as either Irish or English. He wondered if it may have perhaps been Latin, which would fit with the Bardic School tradition. But he wondered what was written on the stone and what it might mean.
There is now the added mystery of the missing Bardic School stone slab. Of course, it many just be lying in some forgotten corner or field, waiting to be rediscovered. While enquiries are being made with the National Folklore Collection at UCD to see if any trace of de Barra’s field notes can be found recording the finds at the Bardic School, it is hoped that this story may jog the memory of other Sheep’s Head residents, or even people further afield, and help reveal the current resting place of this fascinating relic.
The public talk takes place at the Kilcrohane Community Hall on Tuesday, October 25th at 8pm. Admission is €3 per adult, and children are free. Meanwhile, if you can shed light on the mystery of the inscribed stone, email [email protected]