Two of the most enigmatic pieces of Irish sculpture can be found in a small cemetery on Boa Island in Co Fermanagh. The larger sculpture is a two-sided ‘Janus’ figure, with depictions of a bearded figure on both sides. Both of the depictions show an oval-faced man with large almond-shaped bulging eyes, and a straight nose. In Celtic culture, heads were very important because they were thought to contain a person’s spirit after their death. Severed heads were taken in triumph after battles.
One side has the tongue partially sticking out, the other seems just to be an open mouth. The head just merges into the body without a clear neck, and the arms are crossed over what appears to be a belt. The base of the larger sculpture was found at a later time, and is now propped up against the figure. At the top of the heads there is a groove where people today leave coins as an offering. The smaller figure is called the ‘Lustymore Man’, and was found on the neighbouring Lustymore Island. It appears to be more weathered and more plainly carved. This figure is only one-sided, but has a lot of similarities with the larger figure. It seems to also depict a man with a straight nose and open mouth and its arms are crossed.
The reasons for creating these stone sculptures and the dates of their creation are not certain. They may have been part of pre-Christian religious sites, or they may have been made by early Christians who included older pagan beliefs in their grave sites. Boa Island’s bilateral figure has been compared to another two-faced figure from Holzgerlingen, Germany and the Tandragee Idol, which is in a collection in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.
Photo: Captive Landscapes by Stephen Emerson