Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Return visit to Ulster Museum (3)

Beside the Ulster Museum there is the historic Friar's Bush graveyard, which is one of the oldest graveyards in Belfast.  One of the rooms in the Ulster Museum overlooks the graveyard and in it there is a panel which  depicts 'the mysterious Friar's Stone inscribed 485AD'.

The circular stone features three crudely cut crosses, the date 485AD and the inscription 'this stone marks ye friar's grave'.  Now any inscription written in 485 AD would have been in Gaelic or in Latin and certainly not in English.  But in any case there are no ancient or medieval references to such a stone.  The earliest references are in the early 20th century.

In fact Belfast historian Eamon Phoenix describes the date as 'implausible' and most other historians simply describe the stone as a Victorian fraud.  Why is the museum so reluctant to admit that it is a fraud?  The description 'mysterious' could mean anything or nothing and is totally inadequate.  It certainly leaves open the question of the stone's authenticity!

Even the South Belfast News managed to get it right when it quoted the gatekeeper Gerry Ward as saying, 'There is a crude stone in the graveyard with three rough crosses and AD 485 inscribed on it, but we know it is a fake.  It was put there by a local hoaxer for reasons known only to him. Apart from the markings being wrong for that era, a painting of the spot from 1782 doesn’t show the stone.'

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