At first glance, there would seem to be nothing out of the ordinary about Gortletteragh Wood near Corcam in Ireland’s County Donegal. But venture in among the trees and you’ll find a series of mysterious stones, some of them place markers, others with more obscure and ominous origins.
Like Celtic clootie wells, there appears to be some crossover between paganism and Christianity. The Priest’s Rock (below, right) may have marked the location of secret Roman Catholic masses and even today, holy medals and rosaries are found at the site.
Opposite the Priest’s Rock, meanwhile, is the Ballaun Stone with a deep, hand-carved hollow at its centre. Over the years, farmers used the stone to crush wind-bush to feed to their working horses, while women ground oats there to make bread or broth. But its proximity to the Priest’s Rock suggests it may also have served as a baptismal font in Catholic masses. In addition, the mysterious ballaun stones have long been associated with the deity Brigid.
The small, five acre wood has reportedly been a place of prayer since the Penal Times, underscoring the need to worship in secret away from the prying eyes of the establishment, and perhaps adopting a site already steeped in pre-Christian mythology.
A nearby well bears the inscription: “Here at this old wishing well where many coins were tossed, they say there’s magic working here and no wishes ever lost. I close my eyes, make a wish, toss my coin into the well. You ask me what my wish was, oh no, I’ll never tell.”
Downstream, meanwhile, lies a more chilling reminder of days gone by – the Murder Hole. Local people have long considered this deep gully to be the spot where a priest was murdered during the days of the Penal Laws. Like other Celtic sites, Gortletteragh Wood is a place of magic and mythology, but one that is overshadowed by darker days that followed.
Keep reading – explore an obscure group of Mysterious Standing Stones believed by Some to Mark the Burial Place of King Arthur.