The Triple deity and the number three in Pagan Mythology , the Corleck Hill stone head
Last weekend I visited the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, to take a good look at some of the pagan/ per-christian objects that they have on permanent display.
One of the items that really captured my attention was the Corleck Hill – Carved stone head, a sculpture in the form of a triple deity. I think this stone is fascinating and provides a mythological link between per-christian Ireland and the wider world, well before the 1st century AD.
I have spent sometime this week doing a little study on the stone head and reading as much as I can find about its form, so I just wanted to share some on the images I took from the visit and some of the details I have found so far.
The Corleck Hill stone head
Object Number: IA:1998.72
Stone HeadCarved stone head. Early Iron Age, 1st – 2nd century AD. Known since it came to scientific attention in 1937 as the Corleck head, this three-faced stone idol was found in the townland of Drumeague, Co. Cavan around the year 1855. It appears that it was one of a number of carvings found, including a bearded bust now known as the Corraghy head that was later built into a barn in the nearby townland of that name. Thomas Barron, the local historian who brought the three-faced head to the attention of the National Museum spent a lifetime researching the local traditions concerning the find and he concluded that the figures were associated with a shrine located at Drumeague Hill. Nearby is Corleck Hill where it appears that between 1832 and 1900 a Passage Tomb surrounded by a stone circle and a circular embankment 70 yards in diameter were dismantled. The site of these monuments was the center of an important Lughnasa festival that celebrated the harvest, an ancient Celtic tradition that survives into modern times. Other Celtic stone heads have been found in the vicinity such as those from Corravilla and Cavan Town and the find place of the three-faced idol is but twelve miles distant from Loughcrew, Co. Meath. A little further north there is another group of Iron Age stone carvings that appear to be centred on the vicinity of Emhain Macha, the main political and ritual site of ancient Ulster. The likelihood is that the Corleck Head was associated with a shrine reflecting Romano-British traditions located close to where the carving was discovered. The three-faced carving is the finest of its type and there is a small hole in the base to assist its being stood securely, perhaps on a pedestal. One of the faces is heavy browed and all of them have bossed eyes, a broad nose and slit mouth. One of the mouths has a small circular hole at the centre and this feature is also found on two of the Co. Armagh carvings and on another from Woodlands, Co. Donegal. There are several examples of this feature from Yorkshire the best known occurring on two three-faced idols from Greetland, near Halifax. The feature also occurs on a stone head from Anglesey, Wales. H. 33cm; Max. W. 22.5cm.
What is the triple deity
A triple deity (sometimes referred to as threefold, tripled, triplicate, tripartite, triune or triadic, or as a trinity) is a deity associated with the number three. Such deities are common throughout world mythology; the number three has a long history of mythical associations. Carl Jung considered the arrangement of deities into triplets an archetype in the history of religion.
In mythological and its art,three separate beings may represent either a triad who always appear as a group (Greek Moirai, Charites, Erinnyes; Norse Norns; or the Irish Morrígna) or a single deity known from literary sources as having three aspects (Greek Hecate, Diana Nemorensis). In the case of the Irish Brigid it can be ambiguous whether she is a single goddess or three sisters, all named Brigid. The Morrígan also appears sometimes as one being, and at other times as three sisters, as do the three Irish goddesses of sovereignty, Ériu, Fódla and Banba.
The Matres or Matronae are usually represented as a group of three but sometimes with as many as 27 (3 × 3 × 3) inscriptions. They were associated with motherhood and fertility. Inscriptions to these deities have been found in Gaul, Spain, Italy, the Rhineland and Britain, as their worship was carried by Roman soldiery dating from the mid 1st century to the 3rd century AD. Miranda Green observes that “triplism” reflects a way of “expressing the divine rather than presentation of specific god-types. Triads or triple beings are ubiquitous in the Welsh and Irish mythic imagery” (she gives examples including the Irish battle-furies, Macha, and Brigit). “The religious iconographic repertoire of Gaul and Britain during the Roman period includes a wide range of triple forms: the most common triadic depiction is that of the triple mother goddess” (she lists numerous examples).
More ( A fascinating read !!!)
Hi Nigel, the Corleck head originates just up the road from where I live. I wrote about it and the local legends on my blog. Here is the link, if you’re interested. Cheers, Ali.
May 28, 2015 at 1:35 pm
Hi Ali 🙂 🙂
Thank you , that’s great I will go an have a good read , Thank you very much 🙂 🙂 🙂
May 28, 2015 at 2:20 pm