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Church Island (Oileán an Teampaill), Co. Kerry

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© 2017-01-11

National Monuments Service Record Number: KE079-032004-

Site Type




Early ecclesiastical site on a small island located at the N end of Valencia Harbour (KE079-032001-). Before the site was excavated, under the direction of M.J. O'Kelly in 1955-56, its only visible features were the oratory and cloghaun, an ogham-inscribed cross-slab and traces of an enclosing wall. The excavations revealed a further series of structures and features that demonstrated the occurrence of two phases of Early Medieval occupation on the island (O'Sullivan and Sheehan, 1996, 258, no. 927).


1.49m x 0.36m x 0.10m (O'Kelly 1957/9, 77-81).

The ogham inscription 'is accompanied by a beautifully formed Maltese type cross which it postdates, as is clear from the fact that some of the scores overlie its head' (McManus 1991, 69). O'Kelly (1957/9, 80) suggests that the cross may have originally been painted and is so accurately drawn that compasses must have been used.

O'Kelly (1957/9, 78-9) also states that the northern end of the stone had been fractured through a 'deliberate act' and that the stone was used, probably while upright, for sharpening 'some broad bladed implement', and that this has caused damage to the stone. These marks on the stone are similar to those found on the ogham stone at CIIC 206. Kilcoolaght East I, Co. Kerry; Ratass, Co. Kerry (described as being used as `a sharpening stone for knives and other blades'); CIIC 19. Colbinstown I, Co. Kildare (described as 'a blade mark'); CIIC 57. Greenhill I, Co. Cork (described as 'hone scores') and to another cut on CIIC 35. Tullaherin, which Macalister describes as 'an oblique mark of no importance' (see Newman 2009, 433-4).


Up-top-down, pocked. O'Kelly (1957/9, 81) notes that the 'first words are certain in every detail, and though most of the scores of the final word are equally legible, this word, nevertheless, presents a problem'. As McManus (1991, 69) outlines, following the RI (on top of stone and down right hand corner) the next two letters are VV but O'Kelly (1957/9, 81) also notes a faint tentative score-like mark opposite the first score of the first V, which might indicate hesitation regrading which side of the arris/stemline was to be carved (V/T). The second V is followed by two notches (O) then a lighly carved X with two further notches (positioned unusually on the face beside the arris rather than on the arris) on top of the X, presumably by way of correction. The four notches in total are so spaced that they could read E, which is one of the values of X. The last two letters are clearly SS.


Following McManus (1991, 69-70): BECCDINN MACI/ R/ITTECC


'Beccdinn mac Rethach/Ráthach'


  • There is much confusion regarding the final personal name on this inscription (which appears to read RIVVESS, but see O'Kelly (1957/9, 81) for various other interpretations). The most convincing and simplest explanation, put forward by McManus (1991, 69-70) is that the turn of the stone confused the lapidary so that he carved VVESS for TTECC. The faint score-like mark opposite the first score of the first V may reflect this hesitation. This would make RITTECC the name in the gen. that was actually intended, which could be taken as an Early Old Irish form of Primitive Irish *Ritavicas (cp. CIIC 211. RITTAVVECC (Kilcoolaght East) and CIIC 250. RITTAVVECAS (Corkaboy) found in two neighbouring baronies). Furthermore, a later form of this name survives in the name of the Barony, Iveragh (Íbh Ráthach), in which this stone was found. Similar confusion by the lapidary at the turn of the stone is to be found on the famous Arraglen stone. Indecision may have also led to the ambiguity between the second V and the first S. As McManus suggests, he may have begun carving E, with two of the four notches, then changed his mind and decided to use X instead but, since X can have the vocalic value E or consonantal value C, he reverted back to his original plan by placing two further notches on top of the X in an attempt to ensure that E would be read.

  • The initial name in this inscription is unattested elsewhere but the first element BECC could be bécc 'cry' or becc 'small'. There is no doubt that the form, like RITTECC (if this is the correct interpretation), is post syncope, suggesting a date in the late sixth or early seventh century. MACI, with an artifical -I reflecting 'the tenacity of the orthographical convention of writing final I in this formula word' would also suggest a late date (McManus 1991, 70, 90, 96-7, 100).



lying face-down covering human remains in the burial area to the south of the oratory on Church Island (McManus 1991, 69), in the townland of Church Island and barony of Iveragh. (GPS coordinates -10.283297, 51.937555)


Find location possibly original site

Last Recorded

on display in Cork Public Museum. The present location of this stone may be accessed via the National Monuments Service Historic Environment viewer on www.archaeology.ie.(GPS coordinates -8.494544, 51.896371)

History of Recording

O'Kelly (1957/9, 57) states that the stone was discovered in 1954 during a short visit to the island.


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