List of Dr. Walter Bernard’s findings

From the proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 1879

Starting in the northern gallery, he found on the floor, closest to the entrance:

A large stone, measuring in its widest part across. In the centre is a round hole, 3 inches deep and 1½ in diameter. The stone itself is of the hard, granular variety of trap or greenstone. No marks of dressing are discernible on its edges or surfaces, and the rhomboid shape is that not uncommon to stones of its class.

From the floor of the interior, near the north-eastern step and under a quantity of ashes and turf-mould:

A slab of sandstone, checkered into thirty-six squares, which I forwarded to the Academy the following evening. The lines on its flat surface have been drawn with accuracy, the four sides, each nearly 6 inches, delineating almost a complete square. The cross lines, forming the small squares, though not quite all the same size, differ but little in proportion.

On the base of the double flight of steps in the south-west, upper strata:

An old socket of a plough, an iron ring, and some defaced coins.

Under a large heap of turf-mould and ashes, in the lowest part, close to the entrance of the southern gallery:

A smooth, flattened, sugar-loaf-shaped stone, with well-cut base, 10 inches long, 15 round base, 14 round centre, and 10 round the top.

A bead.

In front of the south-eastern steps, on the floor covered with flags:

Some bones. They were so much decayed that they, as well as the teeth, when touched, nearly all crumbled into dust. These were the only bones found out of the midden, … and are the ones marked as belonging to the goat, or sheep, and bird.

Near to it:

Wrought and unwrought sling-stones and stone objects, which I regard as warriors’ clubs. A dark, flat, heart-shaped stone, with almost obliterated notches in its edge, and several stone discs.

In the midden / drain in the western side:

Bones, which were examined by Professor Boyd Dawkins, of the Owens College, Manchester.

In his letter, 5th December, 1878, he says – “They belonged to the Celtic short-horned Bos longifrons, one bone of which was broken for the sake of its contents, and had afterwards been gnawed by dogs; the other bones belong to the goat, sheep, and bird. I take them to be the relics of a funeral feast.”*

*All the finds were presented to the Academy by Dr. Bernard.

Walter Bernard's plan

Walter Bernard’s plan

This list will be hopefully the first piece of an inventory of all the archaeological finds ever made in Inishowen. There is no compilation of what has been found and where, including the items in H. P. Swan’s collection. As a result it is impossible to even attempt any sort of reconstruction of the history of Inishowen.

It seems that all the stone objects found by Dr. Bernard remained in his possession except for the thirty-six square checkered stone, which was send to the Royal Irish Academy, from where it has gone ‘missing’ (Dr. Brian Lacey). The bones probably suffered the same fate. If at least they could be re-discovered, the dating of the bones from the Bos longifrons should be very interesting. But with the storage facilities of the National Museum in Dublin being in such a state that, if I would be able to enter, I could take anything small enough and no one would be any wiser, hope to locate what belongs to ‘Grianan’ and Inishowen is at best just above zero.

I don’t know what happened to Dr. Walter Bernard’s private collection, or even the extent of it, but it must have been quite substantial. Some of it may have even found its way into the Harry. P. Swan collection, of which we also don’t have an inventory. ‘Missing’ seems to be the right and only word to describe Inishowen’s past.

Museum’s 4m priceless artifacts face serious threat, Irish Examiner, 15th. March 2008

Museum has no inventory of treasures, The Sunday Times, 16th. March 2008

Priceless heritage that our national museum – lets rot, Mail on Sunday, 16th. March 2008

Exploration and Restoration of the Ruin of the Grianan of Aileach, by Dr. Walter Bernard

Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 1879, containing Bernard’s account

Update May 31: Yesterday night I came across the obituary for Dr. Walter Bernard in a medical journal, stating that he lived and died in Buncrana, which was news, since he was always referred to as being from Derry.

Obituary Dr. Walter Bernard

Found him this morning on the Census from 1911, a year before his death. And after much intrusion in other peoples lives and homes, I am still not any wiser where house number 223 is. There was no gravestone for him in the Church of Ireland cemetery in Buncrana which I searched with the kind help of Owen, a caretaker. Discovered Harry P. Swan’s grave, rough and neglected, unknown and forgotten.


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