The Legacy of Ancient Giants: Carrickglass’ Leaba-Dhiarmade-agus-Ghrainne

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Wood-Martin, dressed in an aide-de-camp’s regalia, in Strandhill, County Sligo (1917), The Rude Stony Monuments of Ireland, Da920. W82 1888, Irish, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The legacy of Sligo-reared archaeologist William Gregory Wood-Martin is defined by its complexity – a complexity reflected in his own homeland’s nature. In several ways, the Anglo-Irishman was an exemplary Briton. Born into the Ascendancy in 1847, Wood-Martin would serve as an officer in the Crown’s military, a High Sheriff of Sligo and a grand master of the Orange Institution. However, despite his “definitively British” affiliations, he would also become one of Connacht’s foremost antiquarians – dedicatedly writing on his rural surroundings and their relation to Ireland’s anthropology and folklore, giving the island’s “nationalistic revivalists” material to discuss. As a result, one might say that Wood-Martin was a man torn between two sides, his duties “British” and his interests “Irish.”

Leaba structures, megalithic crypts built for Ireland’s Neolithic chieftains, served as the major focus of William Gregory Wood-Martin’s The Rude Stone Monuments of Ireland: County Sligo and the Island of Achill (1888). Spread across the rural landscape, these constructions were often called “giants’ graves,” a term coined by the early Gaels – who believed that no mortal could have earned such a tomb.

Wood-Martin would claim that the leaba-Dhiarmada-agus-Ghrainnè in Carrickglass was the “finest … of the series.” Named for the mythical Diarmuid O’Dyna and Grainnè, who slept on leaba structures whilst fleeing an irate Fionn Mac Cumhail, the construction was said to have a 15-foot-4-inch-long covering stone, an 8-foot depth and six supports. Its massiveness is evidenced by the illustration below, which appeared in Wood-Martin’s book.

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The Rude Stone Monuments of Ireland (Co. Sligo and the Island of Achill.) by W. G. Wood-Martin,  DA920.W82 1888 Irish, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Though presented as a “formal study,” this image seems to be affected by an exaggerated quality. The embellishment is understandable, given the subject’s relation to the island’s archaic past and age-old mythos. As Wood-Martin wrote, “Time, which antiquates antiquities, observes a quaint old writer, ‘and hath an art to make dust of all things,’ hath yet spared many of the Rude Stone Monuments of Ireland, which now ‘stand the solemn, silent witnesses of ancient days.’” In sum, much as these “giant” monuments rendered the Gael small, so too must they have loomed over the 19th-century Irishman – physically and abstractly.

Works Consulted:

W. G. Wood-Martin. The Rude Stone Monuments of Ireland (Co. Sligo and the Island of Achill.). Dublin: Hodges, Figgis, & etc., 1888.

  • Jim Hill BC 2016, Fall 2015 Making History Public Student

The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit Historical Monuments, Monumental Histories, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South.    This exhibit was curated and organized by Professor Dana Sajdi’s Fall 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.

 

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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