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Caldragh Cemetery


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The two Janus figures in Caldragh Graveyard are by far the most famous features of Boa Island. Indeed they are so famous as to be considered features of Ireland rather than Boa Island since their pictures are included in every reasonably comprehensive guide book to the country. They have a great fascination for tourists and are a great source of mystery to historians and scholars. At a different level some people claim to experience an eerie tingling sensation from touching the figures.

To begin with the statues have nothing to do with the Roman God Janus. He was a God with two faces and since these Gods have two faces they are described as Janus figures. Janus was a God of the household and while his outward looking face was a protection against enemies from outside his inward looking face kept harmony inside the house.

Caldragh Cemetery Statue Photo John Cunningham
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The month of January is named after him since he looked back at the old year and forward to the new year. The most complete figure is about a metre tall and is made up of two figures back to back. The purpose of this may have been to double the power of the god as the Celts had a strong belief in the power of twins. The figures have very large heads in proportion to the rest of the body with huge eyes and mouth and a narrow nose. They have crossed arms or legs in front and between the two heads is a hole for holding rainwater or liquid of some kind. This depression might also have been crowned with antlers or some other form of an addition to the figure

The second figure came originally from an old graveyard in Lusty More Island and has one badly defaced side. The other side has a squatting figure with a large head and joined hands which seem to hold something. These figures seem to date from Celtic times and were part of their worship and perhaps a representation of their Gods. The heads are symbolically large because the Celts believed that the head was the seat of the soul and the centre of a man's life-force and power. In battle it was usual to take the head from the body of a defeated enemy. This was carried away to indicate that the power of this enemy was now added to the power of the victor. In other words the Celts were headhunters and Irish Legend is full of stories of this custom.

When Christianity came to Ireland it only very slowly grew away from Celtic beliefs and indeed some of the Celtic beliefs are still here although now to some degree Christianised. The Celts for example worshipped water in the form of rivers and wells and Ireland still has hundreds of Holy Wells and much of the ritual apart from the prayers differs little from what the Celts might have done. When the early Christian Celts came to carve Biblical figures they carved them in their usual style with big heads to denote their power. This is to be seen in the White Island figures just a few miles away from here on Lough Erne.

Celtic Gods belonged to a territory and so in a sense these figures are the Gods of Boa Island and were carved to ensure fertility of their crops, animals and people and their success in battle. They may be the representations of the Goddess Badhbha who was one of the three war-Goddesses of the Celts but this is unlikely since the figures are almost certainly male. The name Boa Island derives from Badhbha who was often depicted as a raven and an omen of death. She also had a special connection with childbirth and was both a destroyer and creator. Perhaps in this way a uniter of contending forces; those for war and those for peace, a deity, perhaps, for an island of treaty and peacemaking?


Caldragh Cemetery Inscriptions    

Seamus Heaney, Poet, "January God"

  Contributed by John B. Cunningham

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