Fermanagh - Caldragh Cemetery and the Janus Statue on Boa Island

Ireland Genealogy Projects Archives
Fermanagh Index


File contributed by:  John Cunningham


The two Janus figures in Caldragh Cemetery  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 guidebook 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. 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 meter 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 Cemetery 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 center 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 Christianized. 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? Seamus Heaney, the poet, who seems to have felt 
a strange power in meeting these deities from the past 
writes about the Janus figure of Boa Island as the "JANUARY 

JANUARY GOD. Then I found a two faced stone On burial 
ground, God-eyed, sex-mouthed, it's brain A watery wound. In 
the wet gap of the year, Daubed with fresh lake mud, I 
faltered near his power ---- January God. Who broke the 
water, the hymen With his great antlers ---- There reigned 
upon each ghost tine His familiars, The mothering earth, the 
stones Taken by each wave, The fleshy aftergrass, the bones 
Subsoil in each grave. Seamus Heaney.

CALDRAGH Cemeteryon Boa Island had only seven gravestones 
but many rough marker stones from 20 to 40 cms high. This is 
a remarkably small number of gravestones considering that 
the island once had over six hundred people living on it. 
Why is this so? There are a small number of gravestones 
scattered around the island which might have come from this 
Cemetery and it is a mystery why this has happened. The most 
likely answer why there are so few is that the people did 
not feel that they needed gravestones. Everyone on the 
island knew where each family buried and rough marker stones 
sufficed to guide those who had to dig the next grave. In 
modern times this Cemetery was given a boundary by the 
erection of an ironwork fence. In the past it would have 
been of much greater extent. The mysterious Boa Island 
figures of thousands of years ago look impassively over the 
following gravestones.


In loving memory of William Snow, Ardshankill, who died 10th 
Feb 1967, aged 81 years. Also his wife Sarah who died 24th 
March 1954 aged 57 years R. I. P.


Pray for Patrick Kerrigan who died 11th Feb 1966. Also his 
wife Mary who died 22nd Nov 1972. R. I. P.


[A Maguire coat of arms ]

Here lies ye body of John Maguire who died Feb -- 176- aged 
45 years. Erected by his son John.


Erected by John Mc Golrick in memory of his father Edward Mc 
Golrick who departed this life September 20th 1813 aged 70 
years. Also his mother Jane Mc Golrick who died March 27th 
18015 [1815] aged 66 years. Also his brother [Felix ?] who 
died June 12th 1802 aged 21 years. Also for his posterity.


A concrete headstone with "FLANAGAN" on it.

[Beside the above. ]

Pray for the soul. Rose Flanagan died 2nd February 1940 aged 
82 years. Also her son James Flanagan died 3rd March 1944 
aged 66 years. Also her daughter Mary A. Flanagan died 3rd 
April 1956 aged 70 years. Also her sister Ellen Monaghan 
died 39th September 1950 aged 86 years.


I.H. S. Here lies the body of Laurence Mc Geo who departed 
this life October -- 1810 aged 30 years.


Danny Thompson died 9th of March 198 aged 57 years.


[A flat gravestone].

While repairs were being carried out on the old Protestant 
school on Boa Island a headstone was discovered. The 
inscription is as follows:-


Erected by Hugh Chittick In Memory of his daughter Mary 
Chittick Who departed this life 15th April 1809 aged 15 
years. Where the stone was found could not have been a 
burial place as there was little or no soil in which to bury 
anyone. The only plausible answer is that the stone was 
carved on Boa Island and for some reason it was never 
erected. The Chittick name is one of the oldest associated 
with the island other than native Irish names.


A similar sized headstone unexpectedly came to light when we 
looked around the walls of an old house belonging to people 
called Mc Cabe. This headstone reads:- I. H. S. Here lyeth 
the body of Terence Mc Cabe who depd this life 27th June 
1794 aged 76 years. Also his wife Anne Mc Cabe who depd this 
life December 1790 aged 74 years. Why is this stone in the 
ruins of a house of a Mc Cabe family now died out ? Was it 
to have been erected and then forgotten about ? Is it 
possible to "forget" a headstone ? Was it retrieved from the 
field still called the "Cemetery field" where no gravestone 
indicates that it was used for that purpose ? Are their 
other stones hidden in the ruins of the houses?