The Kilnaruane stone is probably the remains of a cross fragment or pillar stone, and is situated on top of a hill, amidst pasture, in what could have once been a burial ground or monastic site - there are the faint remains of a circular earthwork bank. It is two metres high and elaborately and wonderfully carved. It probably dates from the 8C or 9C. The carvings have been interpreted as:
NW face , consisting of four panels, from the top:
- Two pieces or ribbon interfacing
- a praying figure
- a Greek cross
- St Paul and St Anthony meeting in the desert - St Paul was the first hermit and St Anthony was the first monk. A bird is flying down from heaven with a loaf of bread, the symbol of the Eucharist
SE face consists of three panels:
- a spiral interface
- 2 pairs of horned four legged creatures with interlocked horns - sheep or goats, and now the symbol of the Sheep's Head Peninsula
- a boat with 4 oarsmen and one figure steering the rowers through a sea of crosses - believed to be the first carved depiction of a boat known in Ireland; probably St Brendan, but Cesair is another possibility. She was the granddaughter of Noah and said to be one of the first inhabitants of Ireland. Oddly, due to the elongated shape of the pillar, the boat is depicted sideways on.
Scattered around are grooved boulders and other stone fragments, presumably the rest of the cross. Some may be bullauns - stones with carved indents, possibly used for holding water. Crosses were used to preach stories from the gospel to a population that could not read or write. It would originally have been painted.
What a fantastic view is to be had from this elevated spot - you can see right across Bantry Bay towards the Beara. This is a very special site and doesn't receive the visitors it deserves. The pillar or 'stone' is unique, the carvings are beautiful and rich in symbolism, and must have a significant part to play in Irish history. It is being left to its own devices and stands as a rather lonely but magnificent memorial to a rich past. It is now suffering from erosion and deserves a bit more protection from the elements.
There is a nice story of some Dutch tourists who visited the stone, back in the days when it only had slender railings around it. They were so immersed in its details they didn't notice the cattle gathering around them. Irish cattle can be frisky - the tourists panicked and called the Garda who duly came and rescued them.