Lia Fáil

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Conn Cétchathach legendary high-king of Ireland


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[Ir., stone of destiny].

Irish name for the ancient coronation stone reputed to sing, or to utter a shriek, when a king willed by destiny sits upon it. Conn Cétchathach [of the Hundred Battles] was the first to sit upon Lia Fáil and foretell the future; he saw how many of his line would occupy the kingship as well as the coming of St Patrick. Just which stone is the true Lia Fáil has been a matter of much contention; as the Irish antiquarian George Petrie (1790–1866) observed, ‘It would be difficult to find a monument of antiquity with which so many national associations can be connected.’ The Lia Fáil may be (1) identical with the phallus-like Fál described by the Dindshenchas as being found at Tara from pre-Christian up to medieval times. The pseudo-history Lebor Gabála [Book of Invasions] speculates that the semi-divine Tuatha Dé Danann brought Fál with them from northern Germany or that the Milesians brought it with them from Spain. (2) An Irish stone at Tara that was taken to Cruachain in Connacht centuries ago. (3) An Irish stone standing at Tara until the rebellion of 1798, when it was moved from the ‘Mound of Hostages’ to ‘Cormac's House’. Made of granular limestone not found in the area, this stone is 12 feet long, 6 feet of which stands above ground. It is the most obviously phallic monument from early Ireland. (4) The stone raised at ‘Cormac's House’ in 1798, now marked with the letters ‘R.I.P.’, may originally have served another function at Tara. (5) The Scottish Stone of Scone. Scottish historians from Hector Boece (1465–1536) have argued that while the Lia Fáil is of Irish origin, the Fál of the Dindshenchas, it was taken from either Cashel or Tara to Dunadd in Dál Riada for the coronation of Fergus mac Eirc. In 846 the Scottish king Cináed mac Ailpín [Kenneth MacAlpin] moved it to his capitals, first Forteviot and later Scone, where it was used in Scottish coronations until 1296 when it was seized by the English. And despite being recovered by Scottish nationalists in the mid-twentieth century, it lay under the English coronation chair until 1996, when it was returned to Scotland.

See Tomás Ó Broin, Celtica, 29 (1990), 393–401.

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