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15th century engraved camán in a graveyard on the north coast of Donegal

High on the north west coast of Inishowen, in the ruined church at Clonca near Culdaff, lies the 15th century gravestone of Magnus MacOrriston. MacOrriston was a Hebridean gallowglass and the intricate carvings on his gravestone include a claymore sword, a camán and a ball. The gravestone is of a type usually found on the islands of Iona and Islay and underlines the familial, linguistic and cultural links that existed between Gaelic Ulster and Gaelic Scotland until the start of the 17th century. The inscription is in Scots Gaelic and the stick looks similar to a modern shinty camán.

What’s an engraved camán doing in a graveyard on the north coast of Donegal where sliotars rarely stray? Little is known of the gallowglass MacOrriston, other than his surname is that of a locally important ecclesiastical family from the early 15th century. The inscription simply reads: ‘Fergus MacAllan made this stone; Magnus MacOrriston lies under it’. Although local legend held that the stone was brought to Inishowen as ballast in a ship, tests on its composition concluded that it is local in origin. Given his memorial, it is fair to assume that MacOrriston was renowned as much for his prowess with the stick and ball as he was for his sword.

Gallowglass Gravestone Caman
Gallowglass Stone

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