A short drive from where I live, in the parish of Castletara (Cushintirra) in Co Cavan lies the ancient archaeological site known as Fionn’s Fingers, also called the Fingerstones. It consists of a row of five standing stones somewhat resembling a giant hand. The middle finger is over six feet tall and weighs an estimated four tons. The rest of the stones are all proportionate.
The stone row is in alignment with NW – SE, and is located on the North side of of a high ridge known as Shantemon Hill. There is also a sixth stone, now recumbent, and local tradition indicates that this is Fionn’s thumb…although that would give him a total of six digits on one hand, not a story I have ever heard before about the great man himself!
The summit of of Shantemon, (in Irish known as Seantuimin/ Seantóman) is only 218 m high, yet commands fine views over the hills and lakes of Cavan. Here, a trig point marks the highest spot, and one can see the remains of an old stone fort. In fact, although there is very little information to go on, it seems that this hill and fort may have been the site of ancient inauguration ceremonies for the chieftains of East Bréifne from 1100AD until 1700AD, and most likely even earlier.
Certainly there are stories of various members of the Ó’Raghallaigh (O’Reilly) family being crowned there. East Breifne was an ancient historic kingdom known as Muintir Maelmordha, which later on became what is Cavan today. The inauguration stone itself (something like the Lia Fail at Tara) was called Cois an tSiorragh, which means ‘the foal’s foot’, due to a curious indentation said to look like the imprint of a foal’s foot…strangely.
Unfortunately, there is no longer any trace of this stone, but there is an interesting tale about it; the details are very sketchy, so it is hard to be completely accurate, but I believe there arose a dispute between two members of the Ó’Raghallaigh clan over the kingship; in 1534, Maol Mordha Ó Raghallaigh outwitted his nephew by crowning himself there, ‘so that he (the nephew) would never be allowed to set his foot upon the stone of Cois an tSiorragh‘.
These two places of interest lie on a path called, rather grandly, the Castletara Millennium Trail, which also takes in Castletara Church and an ancient graveyard. Fionn’s Fingers is surrounded by a conifer plantation, and the path is very overgrown, indicating few visitors. It’s isolation, however, all adds to its atmosphere and mystique. If you can find it, you will be well rewarded for your efforts, you will have the place to yourself, and it’s completely FREE!