The Turoe Stone

The Turoe Stone sculpture is a masterpiece of Irish Iron Age art and normally stands in the village of Bullaun near Loughrea, Co Galway. It had been moved in the 1850s from its original location near the Rath of Feerwore, an Iron Age ring-fort structure, at nearby Kiltullagh. The stone is currently off site and in the hands of the Office of Public Works for essential remedial work and unavailable for public viewing. It is scheduled to be returned to its home in Turoe in an enclosed structure for protection in 2017.

“Turoe” derives from “Cloch an Tuair Rua” meaning “The Stone of the Red Pasture”. This white phallus-shaped monument, standing 1.68 metres high, is sculpted and decorated in the La Tène Celtic art style (strongly influenced by Etruscan and Greek art) and is considered to be an important example of Irish sculpture influenced by Celtic culture of the late Iron Age. Its complex decorative patterns seem to be part of a Celtic artistic tradition that was earlier responsible for the carvings at Newgrange, and later responsible for the High Cross sculptures of the Irish Medieval Christian era, under the influence of missionaries and monasteries after the collapse of Rome.

The Turoe Stone is carved from granite and covered with intricate La Tène designs produced in low relief to a depth of about 1 inch. In fact, it has been hailed as one of the finest examples of La Tène art in Europe, and in its Irish context, the art is assignable to the Iron Age, and specifically the last three centuries Before Christ. The abstract artwork consists of a continuous series of curved lines, including circles, concentric spirals and other curvilinear motifs such as trumpet-ends and triskeles. A number of key-designs are also visible.

During the mid-nineteenth century, the stone sculpture was moved from its original position at a local Iron Age ring-fort known as the Rath of Feerwore, (“Rath” meaning fortified farmstead, “Fír Mhór” meaning great men). The precise function of the Turoe Stone at this Iron Age fort remains unknown, but the amount of craftmanship and artistic skill lavished upon the sculpture suggests that it possessed enormous religious, ceremonial or ritualistic significance. Some Iron Age historians believe that the word “Red” in the place name “Turoe” indicates its use as a place of human or animal sacrifice, while other archeologists believe the particular La Tène artistry indicates that the stone was originally carved in France by Celtic sculptors and later moved to Ireland. Even so, the stone marks an important step in the history of Irish art, exemplifying the creativity of the Ancient Celts.

Several other Iron Age La Tène sculptures have survived: they include the egg-shaped Castlestrange Stone, in Co Roscommon, the Killycluggin Stone in Co Cavan, the Mullaghmast Stone in Co Kildare, the Derrykeighan Stone in Co Antrim, and the famous Navel Stone at Delphi, in Greece.

The stone is now positioned on the lawn in front of Turoe House in the town of Loughrea, Co Galway. The stone is set in a concrete base and metal grille to prevent grazing cattle using it as a scratch post.

Image | The Turoe Stone, Loughrea, Co Galway | Credit: Dirk Huth|| Source | Legend of the Celtic Stone

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