This stone dominates its territory; it was erected as, and remains, a statement assertively visible from land and sea. But what statement? Like the countless other standing stones, large and small, its interpretation is uncertain. Perhaps—an obvious possibility—it marks a burial; perhaps, if not a burial, a memorial or an act of piety or a place of worship; perhaps, more reductively, it is nothing but an assertion (‘look on my works, ye mighty’) by the chieftain of the area it surveys. He, the living chieftain or the memorialised dead, is not quite nameless, for the stone carried, maybe fifteen centuries old, a text in the incised ogham alphabet, of which some survives: Maqi Decceddas avi Turanias (MacDheichead O’Torna, or something like it). The same inscription was found on a stone in the Gap of Dunloe, but nothing else is known of him.
This son of Dheichead, and his kin, were people of power—the power to command the resources of labour and skill that could raise such a massive column with the limited technology of ropes and rollers. This much is in the assertion of its raising; and, by implication, the community that could do this could control the other resources of the area: the grazing, the cultivation (what little, probably, there was), the fishing, the trade by land and by sea. The stone looms over the quiet inlet and beaches of Ballycrovane, a landmark of navigation, as well as of power, from the sea; a megalith with function as well as memory.
Yet we can guess a little more, for the memorial is not only written in stone. Unusually, the site is thick with holly trees, far beyond the random distribution of plant species on Beara; now not quite forming a perimeter, but almost as notable a feature as the ogham stone itself. For holly was the sacred plant in Celtic culture and long before: an evergreen symbol of life in the deadness of winter, berries the colour of living blood, the sharp leaves a protective hedge against the seen and the unseen. The hollies we see hereabouts now are as much the relics of the son of Dheichead as his stone is; less kempt, less regular, than probably they once were, but clear testimony to the groves that were tended two thousand years ago. Such survivals occur elsewhere (by the stone circle at Broadleas in County Kildare, for example), equally unnoticed by those who look for their history in stones only. MacDheichead’s stone stands in a sacred place.