This ancient, richly decorated and beautiful carved stone is located on the Castlestrange Estate near Athleague in County Roscommon. Free to visit, the stone dates from the late Iron Age period -- somewhere between 500BCE and 100AD. Roughly egg shaped, the Castlestrange Stone is about 60cm high and about 1 metre wide, and has a swirling design engraved into its granite surface. It sits on a bed of river rocks.
A protected National Monument, the purpose of the Castlestrange Stone remains known. Historians presume it served some religious or ceremonial function.
In a paper presented by the archaeologist / museum curator George Coffey in 1904, he noted there were no other remains near the stone, nor any traditions associated with it. "I could learn nothing about it," wrote Cofffey "save that it had been in its present position as long as the oldest people remembered."
The Castlestrange Stone is notable because its curvilinear design style, known as La Tène, was not widely practised in Ireland at that time. There are only three other examples of this type of stone in Ireland, the most well-known being the Turoe stone at Bullaun in Co. Galway.
La Tène refers to a late Iron Age Celtic culture and its associated art, roughly centred in Switzerland, which was spread widely across Europe. In Western Europe, La Tène reached its peak during the fourth century BCE. As the Romans began to take over the Celtic strongholds in Gaul, La Tène fused with Roman art and, by the end of the Iron Age, gradually declined altogether.
In Ireland, it is believed that La Tène arrived mainly through trade with other continental Celts, hence its distinctive curvilinear style is not found so prominently during the same period.
However, its influence lasted longer in Ireland, where there was no Roman invasion, and early medieval Christian manuscripts such as the Book of Kells retain the distinctive curvilinear patterns associated with La Tène.
Castlestrange House and Grounds
Just a ruined shell remains of Castlestrange house, a 18th century county manor once owned by a Scottish settler family, the Mitchells. Castlestrange was engulfed in flames in 1916. A private home now stands on what was once an outbuilding on the estate.
There is a picnic table beside the stone -- and the grounds themselves are quiet and scenic. Visitors are charmed by the beautiful horses that greet them, and the inquisitive cattle that seem to guard the stone!
From Galway, take the R362, a small road that runs from Galway to Roscommon town. About 70km / 43miles from Galway, you will pass through the village of Athleague.
From Athleague, turn continue on the R362 by turning right as you leave town. Follow the signs for the you "River Suck Way" and you will cross a stone bridge over the River Suck itself. Drive slowly from here. About 100m after this bridge, the R363 veers to the right and there is a small brick cottage -- Castlestrange's Gate Lodge. Behind the lodge, a narrow driveway leads into the Castlestrange estate. You can drive along the driveway, or park your car here and walk to the stone, which is about 100 metres away.
Entrance is FREE.
Castlestrange Stone. Image by BotMultichill via Wikipedia