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The Speckled Stone, County Sligo.
Fiach at the Tobernaveen Speckled Stone or Cloch Breac in 1998.

Tobernaveen - An Cloch Breac

A little to the south of this boundary stone is a remark- able well, or spring, called Tobernaveen, Tobar-na-b-fian, the well of the warriors, perhaps in allusion to the combatants having there slacked their thirst after the battle of Carrowmore.

W. G. Wood-Martin, History of Sligo.

The Speckled Stone stands at the boundry of three townlands (one of which, Tobernaveen is one of the names the stone goes by), a little over rwo kilometers north of Carrowmore. The Tobernaveen stone is a huge, flat slab of limestone about three meters square, standing on one edge, with an unusual rectangular hole about a third of the way up from the ground.

Local traditions say that in the past sick children were passed through this hole as a cure. This is a common belief with holed stones, which were also used for hand-fasting ceremonies. It has been suggested that it may be the last remaining slab from a megalithic monument, but it is more likely to be an ancient boundary marker, pin-pointing the place where three townlands meet. The fact that the stone–which is virtually inaccessible today–was illustrated by Wakeman, Welsh and Green shows that it was certainly easy to access in Victorian times.

Green's photograph of the Speckled Stone.
William A. Green's photograph of the Speckled Stone.
Image © National Museums of Northern Ireland.

A most remarkable stone, which was undoubtedly, in olden time, used for the carrying out of some Pagan rite, marks the point of junction of the three parishes of the district formerly, and still by the country people designated Cuilirra, near the town of Sligo. It is a thin limestone flag set on edge; it measures 10 feet in breadth by 9 feet in height above ground; the little stream which issues from Tobernavean, i.e. the 'Well of the Warriors,' laves its base. Towards the east side, the flagstone is pierced by an oblong perforation, 3 feet in length by 2 feet in breadth. From its mottled appearance this slab is called the speckled,' also the 'grey stone.'

William Gregory Wood-Martin, Pagan Ireland.

A sketch of the Speckled Stone from Pagan Ireland by W. G. Wood-Martin.
A sketch of the Speckled Stone from Pagan Ireland by W. G. Wood-Martin, shows a person crawling through the holed stone.

The name, 'An Cloch Breac' is very interesting, as 'speckled' is an ancient word which has associations with magic and portals to and from the Otherworld. Other sites in the area have Speckled or Breac in their names: The Bricklieve Mountains (Breac Sliabh), Barnabrack (Speckled Gap), and Shee Reevagh—which means 'Dappled Fairy Mound', and, the most famous of all, the Cursing Stones on Inishmurray.

Wakeman's  painting of the Speckled Stone.
Wakeman's painting of the Speckled Stone dated 1879. Image © Sligo County Library.

The monuments at Carrowmore, two kilometers up hill to the south, are clustered in a huge oval around the central site, Listoghil. A tail or trail of monuments lead off to the north, through a collection of bronze gae barrows and spaced stone circles, towards Tobernaveen. The holed stone is not far from the causewayed enclosure at Magheraboy. This line of monuments has led some researchers to suggest that the stone was part of a ceremonial entry way or path leading into Carrowmore ran through here.

An old image of Tobernaveen.
John Michell published this image of the monument in his book Megalithomania; the photo was taken by Robert Welsh perhaps fifteen years earlier than Green's version, above.

Though the stone is quite close to the road, access is extremely difficult, as the site is surrounded by several electric fences and drains, and stands at a junction where two drains meet.

The Barnasrahy stone row, close to Tobernaveen.
The Barnasrahy stone row, close to Tobernaveen.