A beautiful annual spectacle watched over by the boheh rock, dating from between 4,000 and 2500 BC but how was it discovered and what is its meaning?

On August 24 a most amazing phenomenon known as the “rolling sun” can be witnessed in the west of Ireland on Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain of Saint Patrick in County Mayo. If the summit of the mountain is clear the sun can be observed to set on the peak and then appear to roll down the north-western flank of the mountain.

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This is best observed from a deliberately calibrated setting called the Boheh stone. It can also be witnessed on April 18. The stone is also known as Saint Patrick’s Chair and is positioned on a natural rocky outcrop located on the Eastern slope of Croagh Patrick close to the village of Brackloon, in County Mayo.

The stone, which dates from between 4000 and 2500 B.C, is profusely carved with over 250 Neolithic “cup and ring” motifs covering virtually its entire area. The intricate designs are a remarkable example of prehistoric art which flourished in Neolithic Ireland with similar examples evident at the passage tombs of Knowth, Dowth, and Newgrange.

The Boheh stone, at Croagh Patrick.

The Boheh stone, at Croagh Patrick.

Mountains, especially of the conical variety, were extremely important to the ancient Irish and moreover Croagh Patrick was believed to the domain of Lugh the Celtic sun God.

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The 1991 discovery of the “Rolling Sun”

Gerry Bracken a local historian re-discovered the phenomenon, he was convinced that there must be a significant time when the declining sun hit the peak of the mountain. His methodical research initially entailed visiting the area at sunset at the summer and winter solstices, then more frequent visits followed until finally, his dogged determination paid off.

Whilst cycling away from a position near the Boheh stone, on April 16, 1991, he happened to glance back at the mountain. To his astonishment and delight, he witnessed the sun’s orb resting on the right-hand slope then gradually “roll like a fiery chariot wheel” down the side precisely on the silhouette of the mountain.

Bracken returned two days later and from the Boheh stone watched as the sun set precisely at the summit and then roll down its north-western flank.

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What’s the explanation behind it?

This kind of serendipitous knowledge combined with the perceived ability to control or command such an awesome spectacle would have been particularly valuable to the Neolithic and pre-Christian tribal chiefs and Priests of the area and was probably used as a tool to strengthen their positions in their rigid stratified hierarchies.

The early Christian Church also realizing the powerful totemic significance of the mountain would co-opt Pagan beliefs and sites weaving them into the mythology of the St Patrick story that still endures to this day. There is an ancient pilgrimage route which passes by the Boheh stone which runs from Ballintober abbey to the summit of Croagh Patrick and may also extend as far as Rathcroghan in County Roscommon, the site of the palace of Queen Maeve the legendary Iron age ruler of Connaught.

You can watch the whole process here over 27 minutes. Truly spellbinding!

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