FOR 2,000 years it has stood proudly in all weathers – a testament to the great mysteries of our Celtic ancestors.
But now the Turoe Stone, known as one of the finest of its kind in Europe, is to be moved from its home in a remote part of Co. Galway and housed in a museum.
The plan has stirred up a storm of disapproval among villagers in Bullaun who have demanded that Environment Minister John Gormley intervene.
The Turoe Stone is a unique white stone and is about one metre tall. It was placed near a ring fort at Kiltullagh over 2,000 years ago and then moved a century and a half ago to its current resting place in Bullaun, a few miles north of Loughrea.
Experts now believe it needs protection from the elements, but the Turoe Historical Society wants the stone to remain where it is. They are instead calling for a visitor centre to be built on the site.
Dr Kieran Jordan of the society says that such a move would ensure the stone remained locally and would help boost rural development.
Plans to move the stone to Galway City Museum are advanced. However, a public meeting in Bullaun on Saturday night heard that there is vehement opposition.
'The stone needs protection from weathering, but rather than removing it, this protection can be given to it on-site,' said Dr Jordan.
'With millions of euros being spent on rural development, removal of the very treasures that could attract visitors to rural areas is unfair.
'We would prefer to see proposals for development of an acclaimed Celtic tourist attraction site. This would support rural development, create and maintain the authenticity and integrity of the viewing experience and keep people out of our already clogged-up city,' he said.
Local PD Senator Ciaran Cannon has called for cross-party support to prevent the stone being moved.
'Removing the stone is taking the lazy option. The Turoe Stone is far too important and needs imagination and foresight to ensure that it is there for hundreds of years to come,' he said.
The Turoe Stone, an oval granite monument, was decorated in a Celtic style related to the La Tene culture of northern modern-day France during the Iron Age.
Many historians believe that the stone was carved in France, brought to Ireland in Celtic times and ultimately, like some family heirloom, moved further west, far from the prying eyes of the invaders.
Although the religious or ceremonial purposes of the stone are lost in time, for anybody who is interested in prehistoric Celtic art or, indeed, in art of any kind, this stone is a priceless treasure.
It is decorated all over with concentric spirals that are carved in low relief to a depth of about three centimetres.
Legend has it that the carvings on the stone – were they spread out on a flat surface – would equate to a primitive globe map.
The concept of the ritual stone was created by the pre-Christian Celtic communities.
They appear to have generally dismissed writing in favour of a relatively simpler set of symbols for expressing ideas and maintaining their religious and political beliefs.
Insofar as the long-term survival of their race and language was concerned, this 'paper free' approach appears to have proved very successful for the Celts.
The Irish Celts took to pen and ink art in the fifth century AD. So the beautiful eighth-century Book of Kells was produced by the direct descendants of the same race of people who cut and carved the Turoe stone.