The Rolls of Butter

The rolls of butter, a bullaun stone in Bonane
The ‘Rolls of Butter’ or ‘Petrified Dairy’ – a unique bullaun stone of astronomical significance.

The Rolls of Butter are not far from St Feaghna’s Graveyard but because they are located on private property, individual visits are discouraged due to the vulnerability and uniqueness of this monument. A guided tour can be arranged through Bonane Heritage Park. A glimpse of the Rolls of Butter can be gained from a wooden viewing platform adjacent the southern Outer Wall of the graveyard.

Also known as ‘The Petrified Dairy’, ‘The Stone of the Warts)’, or ‘The Cursing Stones’, the Rolls of Butter is a bullaun stone with eight spherical pebbles. Francis Joseph Bigger, as quoted in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland in 1898 states: “By far this most interesting feature of the place is the bullan [sic] rock, if I may so describe it. This rock appears to be in its natural site on a sloping bank, the north side is level with the earth. Upon its surface are eight holes or depressions varying in size, two or three of them being very slight, and three or four of them good sized basins. In each cavity is a worn oval pebble, resembling and locally known as ‘butter lumps’. […] This rock is seven feet two inches by six feet ten inches on its surface.” In the middle of the rock is a quern stone (a stone used for grinding corn) with another oval-shaped stone standing in its centre.

The bullaun stone is almost certainly pre-Christian in origin and was thought to have been a place of druidical worship, or that the pebbles are in fact ancient cursing stones. Part of the cursing ritual involves turning the stone in an anti-clockwise direction, thereby further deepening the holes.

A mingling of ancient and Christian traditions may well account for the other ‘use’ of the Rolls of Butter: Rounds are made at this bullaun stone for the cure of warts, hence its third common name. The rock is circled seven times in an anti-clockwise direction whilst reciting an Our Father and a Hail Mary at each of the butter rolls, making the sign of the cross on the warts with the water from the basins of the rock.

The traditional story of the Rolls of Butter or The Petrified Dairy is told in lovely fashion in the book ‘Bonane – A Centenary Celebration’ which I highly recommend as an interesting and entertaining read.

Following research into the rediscovery of archaeological monuments of the Sheen River Valley, it is now believed that this bullaun stone was an early astronomical observatory as it provides a mirror image of the lower half of the constellation of Orion and two associated stars.

(Sources: Bonane – A Centenary Celebration, Edited by Fr John Shine; A Guide to the Sheen Valley Heritage Area, by Bonane Community Council; Antiquities of the Sheen River Valley: An Illustrated Map by Daniel O’Connor)