The Lia Fail, or the Stone of Destiny

ELSEWHERE, mention has been made of the Irish Lia Fail, Stone of Fate, Fatal Stone, or Stone of Destiny, generally believed to have been the Irish Kings' Inauguration Stone, afterwards used for Pictish and Scottish kings at Scone, ultimately becoming the Coronation Stone in Westminster Abbey.

Like other subjects connected with Irish history, this point has been considerably discussed. As the present work is mainly intended to give ordinary readers a citation of opinions upon ancient Irish religious topics, it is unnecessary to do more here than present various authorities upon this mysterious stone.

There are two competitors for the honour of authenticity, and both to be now seen; one, a dozen feet long, standing erect, half out of the ground, on the Hill of Tara, in Ireland; the other, twenty-six inches long, in the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey.

A legend in the Scalacronica, dated 1355, declared it was Simon Brec (a name of solar association) "who brought with him a stone on which the Kings of Spain were wont to be crowned, and placed it in the most sovereign beautiful place in Ireland, called to this day the Royal Place; and Fergus, son of Ferchar, brought the Royal Stone before received, and placed it where it is now, the Abbey of Scone." The Royal Place was Fordun's Themor, and Blind Harry's Canmor or Teamor; i. e. Tara.

Baldred Bisset, early in the fourteenth century, had another version; saying, "The daughter of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, with an armed band, and a large fleet, goes to Ireland, and there being joined by a body of Irish, she sails to Scotland, taking With her the royal seat, which he, the King of England, with other insignia of the Kingdom of Scotland, carried with him, by violence, to England." This Bisset sought to gain the Pope's good offices for its restoration to Scone by our Edward I.

The Irish story in the Leabhar Gabhala, or Book of Conquests, mentions the bringing to Ireland, from Falias in Scotland, of the Lia Fail, by the Tuath de Danaans.

Upon this, W. F. Skene has stated—"The two legends at all events are quite antagonistic to each other, and there is one historic fact certain as to each. First, the Lia Fail, or Irish Stone, did not leave Tara, but was still there in the eleventh century; and secondly, the Scotch one was not in Argyle during the existence of the Irish colony of the Dalriada, nor was used in the inauguration of their kings."

Wintownis Chronikel, written in St. Serf's monastery, of Inch, Loch Leven, about 1420, has this account—

"A gret Stane this Kynge than had
That for this Kynge's Sete was made;
And haldyne was a great Jowale
Wytht in the kynryk of Spayne hale.
This King bad this Simon (Brec) ta
That Stane, and in-tyl Yrland ga,
And wyn that land and occupy
And halde that Stane perpetually,
And make it his Sege thare
As thai of Spayne did it of are,
Broucht this Stane wytht in Scotland
Fyrst gwhen he came and wane that land,
And fyrst we set in Ikkolmkil,
And Scune pare estyr it wes broucht tyl;
And there it was syne mony day,
Qwhyll Edward gert have it away,
Nor will I the werd rehars
As I fynd of that Stane in wers;
Ne fallat fatum, Scoti quocung locatum,
Invenient Lapidem, regnare tenentur ibidem;
But gyf werdys faly hand be,
Qwhare euer that Stane yhe segyt se
Thare sall the Scottis be regnand,
And Lorddys hale oure all that Land."

The Latin inscription said to have been on the stone has been thus rendered by another—

"Except old seers do feign,
And wizards' wits be blind,
The Scots in place must reign,
Where they this stone shall find."

This has been fulfilled, say some, by James VI. of Scotland, but of Irish descent, becoming James I. of England; or, by so many Irish and Scotch holding official posts in England and the colonies.

But James Mason did not believe the story, when he called the stone in Westminster "a spurious relic, and utterly worthless"; as "not the ancient coronation stone of Scotland at all," but a base imitation palmed off on Edward I. That the Scots in their retreat should abandon the real stone, is to him "the most monstrous of suppositions." Hidden awhile, it may have been lost sight of in the subsequent wars, or lost by the death of the custodian, as many another treasure has been.

Geikie, the geologist, who found it perfectly resemble the sandstones of the Scone district, says, "To my eye the stone appears as if it had been originally prepared for building purposes, but had never been used." Even Shakespeare in Richard III. called it

"A base, foul stone, made precious by the foil
Of England's chair."

It is curious, also, that while the stone Holy Rood, containing a portion of the true cross, was given up by Edward at earnest Scottish solicitation, no pressing was used for the return of the Coronation Stone, not even after the crushing battle of Bannockburn.

It was, perhaps, intended to return the stone to Scotland, and a writ for the removal was dated July 1, 1328, according to the decision of a council at Northampton. Dalrymple states that it was further determined on at a conference between David I. and Edward III. in 1363. The Londoners, however, who accepted the belief of the stone being a national palladium, strongly objected to its leaving Westminster.

Irish, Scotch, Culdees, and Anglo-Israelites have honoured the stone from the fancy that it was the stone pillow of St. Columba, after having been the stone pillow of Jacob at Bethel, afterwards transferred to Scone. The material, however, is unlike the geological formation of either Judah or Iona, any more than of Ireland itself. But it is like that of Scone. McCulloch's Western Isles has this notice—"The stone in question is a calcareous sandstone, and exactly resembles that which forms the doorway of Dunstaffnage Castle."

How came Columba to have this Stone of Destiny for his nightly pillow? It is said, however, that when Fergus carried it from Ireland, it was placed in Iona, before being transferred to the monastery of Dunstaffnage. If it had been Jacob's pillow, the reported visit of the angels at night to Columba is easily accounted for.

In Camden's time, the Jacob theory was received. But the Scottish Reformer and Historian, Buchanan, left this testimony three hundred odd years ago—"The connecting this stone with the name of the patriarch Jacob was most likely a monkish invention, and not improbably had origin in this Abbey, since the most ancient document in which it was thus described appears to have been a tablet that was formerly suspended above the chair, but which has long ago partaken of the same fate as all the other written memorials that were in this chapel."

As to the nature of that one in our Abbey, Neale, in his Westminster Abbey, describes it as "chiefly quartz, with light and red-coloured felspar, light and dark mica, with probably some green hornblende, intermixed; some fragments of a reddish-grey clay slate or schist are likewise included in its composition; and, on the upper side, there is also a dark, brownish, red-coloured, flint pebble." Dean Stanley thought the stone certainly from Scotland. Scone is of Old Red Sandstone formation. The Dean had a piece of it tested in Percy's laboratory, when it was found to be slightly calcareous. Examined under the microscope, grains of quartz and small scales of mica were detected. Prof. Ramsay, 1865, had the like opinion of its geology.

Keepe's Monumenta Westmonasteriensia, in 1681, tells us—"Here is likewise on the west side the Feretory (shrine) of St. Edward, hard by the screan that separates the High Altar from the Chappel, the chair or seat whereon our Kings are accustomed to be inaugurated and crowned. It appears extreamly antient both in its fashion and materials, being made of solid, hard, firm wood, with a back and sides of the same, under whose seat, supported by four lions curiously carved, instead of feet, lies that so much famed Stone, whereon the patriarch Jacob is said to have reposed. —The ruines of this chair itself shows that heretofore it hath been fairly painted, and gilt with gold." The cost of the labours of carpenters, painters, and gilders upon the same, nearly seven hundred years ago, was £1 19s. 7d.

The chair itself is 6 ft. 9 in. by 3 ft. 2 in. The seat is 2 ft. 3 in. from the ground. There appears a groove in the stone. The circular iron handles, for lifting it, are fixed to a staple. A crack may be observed. The stone is 26 in. long, 16 ¾ broad, 10 ½ high.

Returning to its Scotch history, Skene discovers not a single example of a Pictish sovereign being crowned thereon; and, supposing an instance were known, he wonders why the Scots, as racial foes of Picts, should have used it for the purpose. Robertson, the historian, traced Columba's relics to Dundalk, not Scone.

A work published about 1686 describes the stone as 22 in. long, 13 broad, and 11 deep; and says, "whereof history relates that it is the stone whereon Jacob is said to have lain his head in the Plain of Luga; and that it was brought to Brigantia (Corunna) in the Kingdom of Spain, in which place Gathol, King of Scots, sat on it as his throne. Thence it was brought into Ireland by Simon Brec, first King of Scots, about 700 years before Christ's time, and from thence into Scotland about 300 years before Christ, and in A.D. 850 was placed in the Abbey Scone." Will. Rishanger mentions Milo, King of the Spanish Scots, giving it to his son Simon Brek.

Dr. O'Connor cites an Irish MS. which records the removal of Lia Fail from Tara to the Connaught Kings at Cruachan, and so it lost its sounding property till Con's day, second century; that it was sent by Murtagh Mac Earca to his brother Fergus Mac Earca of Dalriada in Argyle. O'Flaherty, confounding its asserted removal from Iona to Scone in the ninth century, affirmed it was sent then by Aodh Finliath to his father-in-law, Kenneth Mac Alpin. Another version is, that Simon Brek (speckled sun) brought it up with his anchor off the west coast of Ireland.

Pennant narrates—"The stone which had first served Jacob for his pillow, was afterwards transported into Spain, where it was used as a seat of justice by Gathalus, contemporary with Moses." Boece declares this Gathalus was the son of Cecrops of Athens, and that he married Scota, daughter of Pharaoh. Haydn's Dictionary of Dates relates that "the Lia Fail, on which the Kings of Munster were crowned, was laid in the Cathedral of Cashel."

The Royal Irish Academy had the full Tara story from Dr. Petrie's pen. Referring to what he considered the Lia Fail, the author mentioned its position by the Mound of Hostages, though removed to the Forradh Rath in 1798, over some graves after the Tara fight. "But the mound," said he, "is still popularly called Bod Thearghais; that is, Penis Fergusii, an appellation derived from the form of this stone." Other MSS. "identify the Lia Fail with the stone on the Mound of the Hostages." Elsewhere he said—"Between the Irish and Scottish accounts of the history of this stone there is a total want of agreement, which shows that the Scottish writers, when they recorded their tradition, were not acquainted with, or disregarded, the accounts of it preserved by the Irish. The Irish accounts uniformly state that the Lia Fail was brought into Ireland from the north of Germany by the Tuatha de Danaan colony."

The conclusion of Dr. Petrie is as follows—"It is an interesting fact, that a large obeliscal pillar stone, in a prostrate position, occupied, till a recent period, the very situation, on the Hill of Tara, pointed out as the place of the Lia Fail by the Irish writers of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries; and that this was a monument of pagan antiquity, an idol stone, as the Irish writers call it, seems evident from its form and character."

It is, in fact, the remnant of an ancient object of worship, the honouring of the symbol of production, or source of life.

One may smile at a clergyman, the Rev. Mr. Glover, saying of the stone of Jacob, that it was reverenced long by the Jews, and "being lost in the destruction of their sanctuary, 588 B.C., has appeared in Ireland as the precious Liag Phail, brought thither by Hebrew men in a ship of war, cir. 584." Mr. Hine, in Leading the Nations to Glory, regards that stone as "a witness to God's covenants in the future."

One may, also, smile at Dean Stanley's enthusiasm over the rival stone at Westminster, as a "link which unites the throne of England with the traditions of Tara and Iona."

Skene determines that the Lia Fail "never was anywhere but at Tara," while the other stone " never was anywhere but at Scone." Mr. G. Hudson rightly exclaims—"It is a matter of surprise that the Council of the Royal Irish Academy, if they believe this (at Tara) to be the Lia Fail, have made no effort to save such a relic." But Skene's conclusion upon this vexed question of, authenticity is as follows—

"There was no connection between the stone at Scone and the Lia Fail at Tara, and the legends of their wanderings, like those of the tribes with whom they were associated, are nothing but myth and fable."

It is uncomfortable to have one's pleasing romances disturbed; and the Stone of Destiny has had to encounter the searching light of modern inquiry, to the destruction of many pretty fancies. It is good to be happy; it is better to be true.