PRESS RELEASE - Celtic 'Crowning Stone' under threat?

From fsn campaign
03 July 2004

Historians, anthropologists and many involved in heritage tourism,
at the weekend expressed their concerns that a Pre-Christian
artefact, may disappear as a result of planned development in the
Pennyburn district of Derry. The centre of their concern is a massive stone,
used to install the kings and chieftains of Ulster, which was blessed by St. Patrick during the first baptisms of local Gaelic royalty, and fellow-pagan
warriors at the ancient hill fort, An Grianan, just five miles from Derry.

One local scholar being alerted was Derry author and historian,
Mr. Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh. He relayed their concerns to
the Inishowen Heritage Centre in Buncrana, and other
agencies, as well as media outlets, at home and abroad.

Yesterday he explained: "The stone is often referred to as the
inauguration or crowning stone. It was carved out of a giant block
of gneiss, about six foot square at the top, marked with sculptured
prints of two feet, each about ten inches long. Upon it once stood
the chieftains of the Cineal-Owen (Tribe of Owen - Tir (Land)) of Owen,
when later translated became "Tyrone". Owen's tribe included those
of the O'Neill, O'Donnell, McLaughlin and O'Doherty dynasties.

"The ceremonial stone was removed from its original location at that royal
fort, when attacked and destroyed by the O'Briens in 1101. It can now be
viewed at the rear of Belmont House School, but for how long? Rather than allow it to be damaged or totally destroyed, it should be returned to its original location, which could become a major tourist attraction. This should be no major task in modern times, even though it weighs some seven tons. It is part of all our history, so the warning bells are being sounded, for those who wish to hear".

In a 1998 paper back, O'Doherty-People and Places, O'Dochartaigh wrote:
"At his installation, the king or chieftain was placed upon the stone,
his bare feet in the footmarks; a peeled willow wand was put into
his hand as an emblem of the pure and gentle sway he should exercise
over his tribe. The chief ecclesiastic then administered an oath,
requiring him to preserve inviolable the ancient customs of his
country and deliver the succession peacefully to the next elected
successor. Then, descending from the stone he turned himself thrice
backwards and thrice forwards, to signify that he was ready to meet
all foes, from whatever quarter they might come, and was hailed
chief by the assembled clans with wild acclamation."

The O'Doherty clan with the aid of the Inishowen Heritage Centre,
revived the ancient ceremony in 1990, to install Spanish-born,
Dr. Ramon Salvador O'Dogherty, the undisputed 37th Hereditary Chief of
Inishowen. The last elected chieftain of the clan, Sir. Cahir Rua O'Dogherty
was killed during the last recorded Gaelic clan rebellion against the
English garrison, in 1608, one year after the Flight of the Earls - mostly
O'Neills and O'Donnells.

Note: Both O'Dochartaigh and the Director of the Inishowen Heritage Centre,
Prof. Pat. Dougherty, can be contacted via the E-mail address above, or via
george.odoherty@ntlworld.com Landline details available on request.

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