The Story of the Pebble 

Even the smallest pebbles come from the greatest mountains. Plain, colourful, sharp, smooth, dull, and shiny … every pebble tells a story.

The idea for this project arose from newspaper article and  a lockdown beach walks along the shores of Tralee Bay.

This project will try to answer these questions: Where do pebbles come from? What are they made of? Is there any connection between the human and a stone? “The Story of the Pebble” is combination of geological information, archaeological discoveries, history, and Irish folklore.

The  Story of ...

1. Quartz   2. Chert/Flint   3. Red Jasper   4. Calcite   5. Fossils   

6. Red Limestone   7. “Hag Stones”    8. Shells    9.“Wishing Stones”   

10. Conglomerate   11. Granite   12. Wavellite   

13. Turquoise   14. Sea Glass   15. Sea Pottery

[mineral, chemical composition SiO2]

Geology -  Quartz is one of the most common minerals that occurs in Ireland. It is in fact the second most common mineral on Earth and component of many rock types. There are several varieties of quartz: in the purest form, colourless and transparent is called rock crystal, white - milky quartz, light to dark brown- smoky quartz and pink or purple variety - amethyst. Brown colour of quartz is caused by natural irradiation, where pink and purple indicate the presence of iron in its structure.

(left) rock crystal, (middle) smoky quartz, (right) amethyst

Quartz is a relatively hard mineral, and it`s resistant to forces of erosion. Very often beach pebbles show only partial damage to the hexagonal shape, which is one of the most recognised characteristics of this mineral. How does quartz form? Well, most quartz forms in either igneous rocks (quartz forms as magma cools, and this slow cooling allows the crystals to grow larger) or form in environments with geothermal waters. Many fragments of quartz found at beaches of Spa, Kilfenora and Fenit, are of large size (palm of your hand) and sometimes almost with the fully preserved top part crystal, which resembles a sharpened pencil! This might suggest that bigger fragments were growing (crystallising) slowly, and though some parts had eroded away,they had not travelled from its original source. Milky quartz, in its original form, usually occurs within the red conglomerates. Amethyst has a different story. Many locals are aware that amethysts can be found in the Slieve Mish Mountains. I have found a few small fragments of amethyst myself in mountain streams across Tralee Bay. They occur in cervices of the red sandstone that the mountains are made of. But how it ended up on the other side of the bay? The only one answer comes to the mind and that is that during the glaciation period, broken fragments of amethyst must have been transported by glaciers and deposited in its current location.

Archaeology and folklore - Some ancient civilizations thought of it as a frozen water and attributed powers both magical and prophetic to it. Smoky quartz was widely used in Scotland, especially as decoration of Scottish kilts and production of pretty brooches, as well as handles of daggers called “sgian dhu”.

The colourless and white stones appear throughout the Irish mythology, folklore, and history. In Irish, quartz stones are called “cloche geala” (radiant stone) and “clocha bána” (white stones). Quartz stones are the stones of the sí, the fairy people. According to legends, quartz stones were not for the living.

In Ireland and Scotland, natural quartz crystals, as well as worked quartz or agate beads and spheres, were employed to ward off and cure diseases, particularly those afflicting cattle. These were often known as "murrain stones" ("murrain" meaning an infectious disease that affected cattle). A beautiful example of such stone is in the possession of  The Hunt Museum in Limerick.

Archer-Butler Luck Stone, 17th century, Rock crystal, gilded copper, Irish (?), H5 xW5, The Hunt Museum (photo courtesy of The Hunt Museum, Limerick)

The Archer-Butler luck stone was owned by the Butler family of Granvilla, near Cahir, Co. Tipperary. This small amulet was traditionally used to protect cattle from disease. It consists of a crystal ball weighing c. 200g that is mounted in a decorative bronze frame. There were two ways the ‘cure’ could be invoked. Sometimes the stone was placed in the livestock’s drinking water, while in other instances it was tied around the animal’s neck via a suspension loop.

During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries such folk remedies appear to have been quite common in Ireland and similar amulets are recorded from several locations. For example, the Imokilly and Ballyvourney Stones, both from Co. Cork, were similarly immersed in drinking water to effect the ‘cure’. Those however were made not from rock crystal but other stones (agate and possibly basalt). I came across something that is called “Kerry Amulet”, a round stone that was used for healing sick cattle and humans in the neighbourhood. The stone was locally known as “The Baully” or the “The Bully” and was kept by the Corridon family in their house. The stone was used in conjunction with water from a nearby well, known as St. Macadaw`s well. The family would walk around the holy well in a clockwise direction while praying. Only Corridon family had the privilege of this custom, no general public visited the site during the ritual. To cure the humans, the stone was dipped in the holy water, where later the sick would bath or wash their hands. Curing ailing cattle, the water was poured on them.

The Baully Stone in Keel, Ballyheigue

Crystals and white stones were also left inside mounds to lie with the dead. Excavations in Loughcrew Cairn, Co. Meath revealed a clear quartz crystal, drilled, and used as pendant. In Poulnabrone Co. Clare, two such crystals were found amongst other artefacts. The beliefs and rituals associated with shining stones were adopted by the early Christian church with stones used on saint`s beds, graves and at holy wells. To this day this tradition is continued.

In Kerry, those quartz crystals are called “Kerry diamonds” or “Kerry stones”. Professor Patrick N. Wyse Jackson, from Trinity College Dublin discusses the origin and history of those stones in “Kerry Diamonds: Facts and Folklore” article that was published in the Kerry Magazine (2001 – Issue 12). Although not precious ,but the Earls of Kerry seemed to be fascinated by them too. It is said that the Thomas, 1st Earl of Kerry used to wear them as buttons, and a set of earrings and neckless were presented to Queen Caroline by the Countess of Kerry. Samuel Lewis in “Topographical Dictionary of Ireland” describes  the process of acquisition of amethysts from the Kerry Head, “persons suspended by ropes from the cliffs, and detach them with hammers from the crevices of the rocks”.

(right) William Fitzmaurice, 2nd earl of Kerry, 1744 (photo sourced from “Lixnaw and the Earls of Kerry”, by J. Knightly). (left) two references from Ipswich Journal 18th Oct 1729.

Quartz from the vicinity of Ballyheigue is said to be of the best in terms of quality. A few years ago, I was given a small quartz crystal (size of 2 Euro coin) that perfectly clear. I sent it to be cut into diamond shape and polished. Now, it looks very like a real diamond!

(left) rock crystal from the Kerry Head, and (right) the same crystal that was cut and polished into a brilliant shape
[sedimentary rock, form of microcrystalline quartz SiO2]

Geology - Chert and flint are sedimentary rocks composed of microcrystalline or cryptocrystalline quartz, the mineral form of silicon dioxide (SiO2). They often occur as dense and structureless nodules within beds of limestone and chalk. In general, flints are found in nodules but chert is also found as bedded deposits. Chert physically and chemically is indistinguishable from flint. The deference between the two are essentially colour and stratigraphic (age); flint is often honey-coloured and occurs in the Cretaceous chalk, whereas chert is typically brown or black and occurs in the limestone of Lower Carboniferous age. 

(right) pebbles and fragments of chert and flint, (middle) flint which shape was possibly worked by a human, (left) chert fragment with sharp edges

The most characteristic physical property of chert and flint is conchoidal fracture. Conchoidal fracture describes the way that brittle materials break or fracture when they do not follow any natural planes of separation. Due to this property chert/flint can be easily flake off chips to shape them into razor-sharp objects.

conchoidal fracture

Flint bearing chalk deposits in Antrim are one of the most significant Irish resources of high-quality flint. In situ chalk has been recorded here in County Kerry (Ballydeenlea, near Killarney) and nodules and fragments of flint can be found within the glacial drift (deposits) that are noticeable along coastal cliffs. Chert found locally is probably result of erosion of the chert beds present in grey limestone that is exposed on local beaches. Some of the most beautiful cherts and flints can be found at Kilfenora and Fenit Beaches.

Archaeology and Folklore - Chert and flint were the main sources of tools and weapons for Stone Age peoples. Modern experiments have shown that the edge of a single flint flake is as sharp as a razor blade and the effect is as good as of a modern knife.

I am fascinated by the interpretation of flint arrowheads! Dr Marion Dowd, an archaeologist, who is best known for her book, The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland, writes about the “interpretation of Neolithic and Bronze flint arrowheads as fairy darts that were both the cause and cure of illnesses, particularly in animals, and a belief that prehistoric polished stone axes were thunderbolts that fell to the earth during a lightning strike and could safeguard he family home”.

Flint Arrowhead from vicinity of Ardfert, Co. Kerry

(photo courtesy of the Kerry County Museum, Tralee)

Beautiful work of flint art is treasured in the National Museum of Ireland. A small stone mace-head is displayed in the "Prehistoric Ireland" exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology and mounted on a perspex shaft, showing how it appeared thousands of years ago. This ceremonial mace-head was found in chamber tomb at the great passage tomb at Knowth, in the Boyne Valley, Co. Meath. This is one of the finest works of art to have survived from Neolithic Europe. The unknown artist took a piece of very hard pale-grey flint, flecked with patches of brown, and carved each of its six surfaces with diamond shapes and swirling spirals. At the front they seem to form a human face, with the shaft hole as a gaping mouth.

Flint Mace-Head from chamber tomb, Knowth, Co. Meath

(photo reproduced with kind permission form the National Museum of Ireland)

[microcrystalline variety of quartz - SiO2]

Geology - Jasper is an impure variety of silica, usually red in colour due to presence of iron impurities, but might be found in yellow, brown, and green colours too. The mineral breaks with a smooth surface and is used for ornamentation and as a gemstone. Very often is referred as a semi-precious stone. The beaches of Tralee Bay are abundant in red jasper derived from the red sandstones and conglomerates of the Slieve Mish Mountains and Kerry Head cliffs. Once eroded from their source, they were moved around and polished by glaciers, deposited on beaches,  then further polished by the force of waves.

(left) Jasper-Agate pebble from Kilfenora, (middle) Jasper cobble from Fenit Beach, (right) Part of red conglomerate derived from the Slieve Mish and Bandon Mountains

Archaeology -  Jasper is referred as semi-precious stone and widely used as a gemstone. The stone was revered by ancient civilizations who believed that it provided spiritual and physical protection. In Ireland, during archaeological excavations, beads and pendants were discovered. A red jasper pendant was found at the site of the Eagle`s Nest (Lambay Island). As a keen archer, I am really fascinated by the fact that red jasper was used in the production of archer`s wrist-bracers.

(left) Red jasper pendant from Eagle`s Nest (Lambay Island), (right) Red jasper bracers

A 110 archer’s wrist-bracers have been discovered so far in Ireland. Those bracers and other ornaments were deposited during funerary rites to portray an idealised form of social identity for the deceased and to act as gifts to the ancestors. Irish bracers are predominantly two-holed, and their form is highly characteristic to the Western Beaker tradition. However, Irish bracers are predominantly red in colour, where those found in Britain are mainly blue/grey and green/grey. The Irish wrist-guards seem to indicate influences from Central Europe where four-holed red examples are common.

(left) Orbicular jasper from Fenit, (right) Rock Art in South Kerry – photo reproduced with kind permission of archaeologist - Aoibheann Lambe Rock Art Kerry (link)

One of my most interesting finds of red jasper is cobble from Fenit. Under closer inspection orbs or spherical inclusions of different colour are noticeable. This type of jasper is known as an orbicular jasper. Quite fascinating that this reminds me of examples of rock art that is to be found in South Kerry. Even more curious is the fact that red jasper occurs within the red sandstone and conglomerates that are the medium for the rock art. Would those ancient communities known about orbicular jasper?!

[mineral, chemical composition CaCO3]

Geology - Calcite is the most common form of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). This mineral perfectly demonstrates the optical property of double refraction: light passing through it is split into components, giving a double image of any object viewed through it. Cleavage - the ability of a mineral to break along flat, planar surfaces, is one of main characteristics of calcite. When broken, calcite shows perfect rhombic shape forms. Calcite pebbles also tend to smooth along the cleave plane surface.

(left) Pebble of calcite worn by the sea water, (middle) white calcite pebbles with rhombic shapes, (right) broken fragment of calcite showing perfect cleavage

Archaeology - A famous ancient source of calcite was Hattsub, Egypt, where white or yellow calcite was quarried to make, among other things, buildings, vases, and inlaid eyes in statues. The Vikings may have navigated using crystals of calcite. Over 1000 years ago, before the invention of magnetic compass, those fearsome seamen navigated by reading the position of the Sun and stars, and their knowledge of landmarks, currents, and waves. Old Viking tales suggest that they may have used enigmatic “sunstones”, that helped them navigation in cloudy or foggy weather. They may have used the transparent calcite crystal, known as “Iceland spar”, which possess this “magic” ability of splitting the light in two.

Icelandic spar or Iceland crystal

double refraction in calcite

A transparent calcite crystal had been found in wreckage of ship that sank in the English Channel in 1592. Researchers came up with the idea of how the Vikings read this navigation tool. They explained this phenomena: “as a person holds up the crystal to the sun and rotates it, there's a particular angle at which the two beams of light appear equally bright. By holding the spar at the same orientation and scanning a cloudy sky for a point where the beams line up, Vikings could locate the sun through cloud cover”. (link)

[marine fossils, Lower Carboniferous limestone (359 to 326 million years ago)]

Geology - Many of the beach pebbles are fragments of the shells of marine creatures preserved (fossilized) within the grey or black limestone rock of the Lower Carboniferous Period, which started around 359 million years ago. Over 350 million years ago, Ireland was south of the equator, and the rocks that we see today in Fenit, Barrow and Banna, were once part of a tropical sea with a thriving marine wildlife full of corals, gastropods, brachiopods and squids.

(top left) Solitary coral, (top right) Tabulate coral (Michelinia species), (bottom left) Gastropod, (bottom right) Brachiopod (Spirifer species)

Archaeology and Folklore - In Ireland fossils have been discovered in passage tombs and probably held some ceremonial or decorative purpose. Locally, fossils has been found in a 4500 - 5000 year old passage tomb at Ballycarty, near Tralee. This is the oldest such occurrence yet reported. These pre-dates similar instances in Bronze Age burial chambers by between 500 and 2000 years. Those fossils are now stored in the Kerry County Museum. You can listen the 20:20 Radio Kerry Podcast on the discovery and significance of fossils from Ballycarty Passage Tomb (link).

Fossils from Ballycarty Passage Tomb

(photo reproduced with kind permission of the Kerry County Museum)

From “Fossils as Neolithic funereal adornments in County Kerry, South-West Ireland” by Professor Patrick N. Wyse Jackson and Dr Michael Connolly” we can learn that “in popular folklore, many fossils were given names that alluded to their supposed origin. In England, pointed shells of the cephalopod belemnites were thought to be petrified thunder bolts on account of their shape and crinoid stems were known as screwstones. In the 1930s, when a cist-grave at Stonepark was excavated, a specimen of the Carboniferous coral Michelinia megastoma was discovered and was thought to have been worn as an amulet”.

[sedimentary rock, Lower Carboniferous limestone (359 to 326 million years ago)]

Geology - Interesting pebbles with pink and white patterns are scattered along Fenit and Banna Beach. Those are examples of red limestone that generally is known as “Cork Red Marble” but here locally called as “Castleisland Red Marble” and “Lisheenbawn Red Marble”, named after places where it has been found. Making Victorian Dublin website give us detailed description of its origin: “a lime conglomerate that contains rounded white blotches representing the original calcite pebbles, surrounded and supported in a red clay-rich matrix. This rock type was deposited during the earliest part of the Carboniferous 350 million years ago in a shallow water marine environment quite close to the shoreline. The dominant red coloration results from haematite (iron-oxide) the eroded from underling Old Red Sandstone (rocks of this period build the Slieve Mish Mountains and hills of the Kerry Head). This limestone is rich in marine fossils with mainly crinoids that circular traverse section as well as longitudinal sections are easily visible.

(left) Pebble of red limestone, (right) “The Pikeman” at Denny Street (Tralee)

Red Limestone become particularly popular from the 1850s and used as a decorative stone. The best local example of use of the stone is the 1798 memorial “The Pikeman” located in Denny Street in Tralee town. The central portion of the monument and the columns flanking the inscribed plaques are made of the “red marble”.

Just a note of explanation here. This stone is sometimes referred as limestone or as “marble”. In geological term this is not a true marble. The name "marble" is used in a different way in the dimension stone trade. Any crystalline carbonate rock that has an ability to accept a polish is called "marble".

Black Rock, Banna Beach – red limestone exposed at low tide

Apart of scattered pebbles of the red limestone along the local beaches, there is no evidence of its exact origin. Except from one small outcropping rock visible at low time near Black Rock at Banna Beach.

[pebbles of mainly sedimentary rocks with a distinctive hole in it]

Geology -  The “Hag stones” are here mainly pebbles of sedimentary rocks that have naturally occurring hole or holes in them. Some of the folklore stories links it to be created by “serpents venom in the centre of the stone”, however, the scientific explanation might be less fascinating! The culprits behind the creation of those holes are… common piddocks.  Piddocks are bivalve molluscs, with specially adapted oval shells that are edged with fine teeth which they use to excavate burrows in rock. Those creatures can bore holes into a rock by locking on with a sucker-like foot and then twisting its shell to drill. Their long oval shells are distinctively wing shaped, giving piddocks their other common name of “angel wings”. During the low tide and darkness, you may witness a weird bluish-green glow because the animals are bioluminescent.

(left) Calcite and grey limestone “hag stones” (top right) Piddock shell, (bottom right) limestone pebble with remains of piddock shell

Folklore -  The oddity of the stones has long made them a focus of folk magic, where they have been used for everything from fertility spells to warding off ghosts. The history of the use of hag stones goes back millennia, with archaeological evidence of their use in ancient Egypt. They are an incredibly versatile tool, one that travels easily in this modern world as well.

Hag stones are known by other names in different regions, therefore you might hear of “witch stones”, “adder stones”, “snake eggs”, “hex stones”, “fairy tones”, “holy stones”, “holey stones”, and “eye stones”. They are referred to as “adder stones” because they are believed to protect the wearer from the effects of snake bite. In parts of Germany, legend holds that “adder stones” are formed when serpents gather, and their venom creates the hole in the centre of the stone.

Livestock owners would use the stones to protect their animals from bewitchment. A stone would be suspended by a cord in the centre of each stable to protect the horses and other livestock. Fisherman and sailors would often find them on beaches during their travels.  They would tie them to their boats to keep off evil spirits and witches from affecting their ships and their catch. An example of "hag stone" that was found in Dorset is in the collection of The Pitt River Museum (Oxford University, England) and is describe in detail here (link).

[composed of calcium carbonate CaCo3]

Geology - Shells are referred to as biominerals, inorganic solids produced by a wide variety of organisms to harden and stiffen tissues. The shell is part of the body of the animal. Most shells at the beach are empty after the animal has died, and the soft parts decomposed. A shell is typically composed of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is a chemical compound with the formula CaCO3, and common substance found in rocks as the minerals - calcite and aragonite.

Mother of Pearl

Archaeology and Folklore - Seashells have been used by humans for many different purposes throughout history and pre-history. The cowrie shells were used as currency as early as 1200BC, and this practice spread throughout Europe. In an Irish context perforated cowrie shells are most common in Neolithic burials, but have also been found in various Bronze Age instances. In the Glencurran Cave, Co. Clare concentration of 40 perforated cowrie shells (Trivia monocha) has been discovered. They were probably part of the clothing adornment or as piece of jewellery (Down, 2009). Scallop shells have also been found in several Bronze Age burials. Their inclusion in burials may indicate a belief that they held the power to assist in the transition between worlds.

European or Spotted Cowrie (Trivia monocha) from Fenit

The scallop shell is the most well-known and iconic symbol associated with the Camino de Santiago. From ancient times to today, the scallop shell has accompanied pilgrims on their way. The scallop shell is the emblem of St. James and a souvenir of pilgrimage. Burials of pilgrims with scallop shells had been found in various places in Ireland (e.g. Tuam in County Galway and Mullingar in County Westmeath). The Kerry Camino starts and finishes in Tralee at St. John`s Church. The route crosses the entrances to several impressive glacial valleys, which are the source of the beach material transported by glaciers across Tralee Bay.

Wonderful example of Pilgrimage Shell is on display at Medieval Mile Museum in Kilkenny (link).

(left) Scallop shell from Barrow and (right) cover of “Ardfert Cathedral” book written by Fionnbar Moore on the discovery of pewter scallop shell

An exciting discovery was made by Fionnbarr Moore in 1992 underneath the wall of a late medieval tomb at Ardfert Cathedral. He found a pewter scallop shell, on which a little bronze-gilded figure of St. James had been mounted. The shell was attached to a brooch, clearly defining it as a pilgrim’s badge.

Mother of Pearl (the inner layer of some shells) is material produced by some molluscs as inner shell layer. It is also the material of which pearls are composed. Due to its phenomenon – iridescence, mother of pearl was widely used as decoration and in jewellery making. Large and thick shells were used for making the handles of knives and forks as well as other items of cutlery at the turn of the 20th century.

[pebbles of mainly sedimentary rocks with a distinctive white line]

Geology - The Tralee Bay “wishing stones” are no more than rounded pebbles of mainly sedimentary rocks that have distinctive white lines. Those lines are called bands, stripes or veins and are made of mineral quartz or calcite. These lines form as result of pressure within the crust, when the rocks under pressure fractures and the gaps are filled with silica or carbonate rich fluids. Once those fluids cool down, minerals quartz and calcite are formed. The reddish, pinkish, and greenish colour pebbles are sandstones that builds Slieve Mish Mountains and Kerry Head cliffs. The grey and black pebbles are of limestones that are visible as cliffs and hills of Tralee, Fenit and Barrow.

Pebbles of sandstones, limestone, and red jasper

Folklore - Many legends say when you find “wishing stone” you should stand by the seashore and make a wish and throw the stone into the ocean. If you make a wish for yourself, it will come true, but if you make a wish for someone else, all of your wishes will come true!”. Sometimes you might find that to qualify as a true wishing stone, there can be no splits, no out runners, no faint second line on the stone. To find one with just a single perfect line is not easy!”

[sedimentary rock, made of rounded to angular pebbles]

Geology -  Conglomerates are a type of the sedimentary rock consisting of rounded to angular fragments of pebbles. These fragments and pebbles are called “clasts” that sit in the “matrix” or “cement” that binds all together. On the shore of Tralee Bay, conglomerates contain mainly clasts of white quartz and red jasper. Those pebbles once were deposited on beaches or in river channels. The rounding of the clasts indicates that they have been transported some distance from the original source (e.g. river or glacier) or they might have been exposed to a high energy environment (e.g. on a beach and subject to wave action).

Conglomerates scattered along Tralee Bay shoreline

Folklore - The conglomerate stone known as Leac na Naomh (“the stone of the saints” or the “blessed stone”) on Caher Island, near Inisturk, on the Mayo coast was used in religious rituals. The stone, that now sits on the altar in the ruined church, was used as “cursing stone”, and was much feared by local people. In times past, people would swear on the stone to prove they had told the truth, or in more sinister cases, to make curses or cause storms.

[igneous rock, composed of several minerals]

Geology - Granite crystallizes from silica-rich magmas that are miles deep in Earth`s crust, and is a light-coloured, spackled rock with a distinctive gritty appearance. It is familiar as a mottled pink, white, grey, and black ornamental stone. Three main minerals are feldspar, quartz, and mica, which can occur as silvery muscovite or dark biotite, or both. In Ireland granite can be found in counties: Galway, Donegal, Dublin, Wicklow, and Carlow. In Kerry, granite does not occur within the bedrock. However, beautiful, well rounded pebbles that vary in size can be found scattered along Tralee Bay. So, where does this granite originated from? Well, it was brought here from County Galway during the last glaciation. My pebbles are small in size, but if you are ever visiting the Maharees, have a closer look at the massive glacial erratic that was left behind by a melting glacier. You can find it next to the road, about 150 m west of the road junction on the western side of the bay (near Scraganne Point). The boulder made is of Murvey Granite from west Galway.

Granite pebbles

Archaeology -  Round granite boulders from the Mourne and Carlingford areas were used to build the Newgrange passage tomb in County Meath. Those boulders are part of the revetment wall above the kerb along the front or south side of the mound. Also, a large stone basin crafted from a huge lump of granite (1.2 m in diameter) is placed in the chamber. Interesting, that the stone basin was placed there before the chamber was built.

White quartz facade wall with round granite stones of the Newgrange passage tomb, County Meath

[mineral, chemical composition Al3(PO4)2(OH,F)3 x H2O]

Geology -  Wavellite is quite an attractive and rare phosphate mineral that usually occurs in translucent light to dark green spherical or radial clusters. Yellowish green and yellow varieties can be found too. Wavellite was first described in 1805 and named by William Babington in honour of Dr. William Wavell, a Devon based physician, botanist, historian, and naturalist, who brought the mineral to the attention of fellow-mineralogists.

(left) Pebble of black shale with wavellite, (right) close-up on the same pebble

The mineral is found typically on fractures or joints in aluminium-rich folded sedimentary rocks of Carboniferous age (black shales). Those rocks that are black and layered occurs mainly in vicinity of Spa and Kilfenora. There are three main localities of wavellite in Ireland: Clonmel (Co. Tipperary), Laharran Quarry (Co. Cork) and Ballybunion (Co. Kerry). Wavellite can be cut into attractive cabochons, slabs and other ornamental pieces that are used as jewellery.

The pebble containing wavellite that I found in Kilfenora, seems to be a new locality for this mineral in Ireland!

[mineral, chemical composition CuAl₆(PO₄)₄(OH)₈·4H₂O]

GeologyTurquoise varies in colour from sky-blue to green depending on the amount of iron and copper it contains. The mineral has been prized as a gemstone and ornamental stone for thousands of years owing it to its unique hue. The name "turquoise" comes from the French "turqueise", meaning "Turkish stone", because it was first transported to Europe via a Turkish nation. Ancient Egyptians and Aztecs used turquoise as a jewellery gemstone and decorative stone. King Tutankhamun's burial mask and tomb was inlaid with turquoise.

Fragments of turquoise found along shore of Spa and Kilfenora

Turquise occurs only in three places in Ireland: Ballycormick and Grouse Lodge Quarry (Co. Limerick) and Doon East near Ballybunion (Co. Kerry). The mineral forms patches and coatings on phosphatic black shales of Upper Carboniferous.

The Spa-Kilfenora locality was discovered during my post-lock down walks. The geology of Spa and Kilfenora is very similar to the geology of Ballybunion, where the black shale is the most occurring rock and evidence of existence of copper locally was reported by exploration companies during the 1960s.

[made of beach sand, SiO2]

Sea glass is a weathered glass found on beaches along bodies of salt water. These weathering conditions produce natural frosted effect. Glass is made from liquid sand (which is mostly made of silicon dioxide SiO2). The temperature needed to melt sand is incredibly high - 1700 degree Celsius. The source of agents that are used to colour the glass are minerals! These minerals are typically mined, and processed to remove impurities, then used to manufacture colouring agents for glass. Sea glass nowadays is used as common material for decoration or in hand made jewellery.

Frosted coloured sea glass and a glass marble

Archaeology and Folklore - As early as 3500 BCE (Before the Current Era), the first true glasses were being made in Mesopotamia and Antient Egypt. Beads were one of the earliest objects made of coloured glass.

There are many tales and legends associated with sea glass. My favourite says when sailors and fishermen are downed at sea, it causes mermaids to mourn and the the sea glass found on sandy and rocky coasts worldwide is the evidence of their tears. Therefore, sea glass is commonly called “mermaids tears”

[clay minerals]

Pottery is one of the oldest human inventions. The main ingredient for creating a pottery piece are clay minerals, fine-grained natural soil materials.

Fragment of broken pottery with Willow Pattern

History - Fragments of broken pottery are scattered along mostly inhabited places along the seashore. One of the most distinctive blue and white patterns on pottery that are easily identified is Willow Pattern or Blue Willow. This pattern was created in 1780 by British potter Thomas Turner and became popular in 18th century England, and eventually became a classic fixture on many tables around the world. Blue Willow china has graced the tables of British aristocrats and, the frontier homes of American pioneers. The pattern was inspired by the blue and white china that England imported from China during the late 18th century. Legends are said to have been invented to explain the English produced pattern and which supposedly promoted its success.

Listen to the The legend of the Willow Plate  (link)


My sincere gratitude to the Kerry County Museum (Tralee), the Hunt Museum (Limerick) and the National Museum of Ireland (Dublin) for the permission of sharing their photographs on my website.


Double Refraction - division of a single incident light ray or other electromagnetic wave into two separate rays in an anisotropic medium.

Fossils - trace of a plant or animal that lived in the past and is preserved now within the rock (e.g. shell preserved in rock layers)

Minerals - natural elements, or compounds, in the Earth`s crust that make up the rocks. They are made of one or more elements combined (e.g. Si and O2 = SiO2 -> one-part silicon and two parts oxygen and together the form silicon dioxide (SiO2) known as quartz). Minerals can be cut and polished in specific form or design and then we call them gemstones.

Microcrystalline or cryptocrystalline - material is a crystallized substance or rock that contains small crystals visible only through microscopic examination

Pebbles - small stones or minerals that were smoothed and rounded by the action of a water or sand

Rocks - made of minerals. There is no practical difference between a rock and stone, but geologists would usually call something a rock when it is sitting in the ground in its original location (“in situ”), whereas a stone, is loose material and of course we call quarried rock a stone.


"Rocks & Minerals: The Definitive Visual Guide"- Ronald BonewitzRa Bonewitz (2008)

"Geology of the Dingle Peninsula - A Field Guide" - Ken Higgs and Brian Williams (2018)

“Fossils as Neolithic funereal adornments in County Kerry, South-West Ireland” , Patrick N. Wyse Jackson and Dr Michael Connolly

"The Building Stones of Tralee: a walking trail" - Patrick N. Wyse Jackson, The Kerry Magazine – Issue 9

"KERRY DIAMONDS: Fact and Folklore "– Patrick N. Wyse Jackson, The Kerry Magazine – Issue 12 (2001)

"Rock around Ireland – A guide to Irish geology" - Peadar McArdle, (2008)

"Lixnaw and the Earls of Kerry" - John Knightly (link)

"The story of Ballyheigue"- Bryan MacMahon (1994)

"A Guide to Ballyheigue" - Bryan MacMahon (2013)

“648 BILLION SUNRISES a Geological Miscellany of Ireland” – Patrick Roycroft (2015)

“A proper place for everything: the character and context of Beaker depositional practice in Ireland” Carlin, Neil (2011) Doctoral Thesis (link)

"Bracers or bracelets? About the functionality and meaning of Bell Beaker wrist-guards" - Fokkens, H., Achterkamp, Y. and Kuijpers, M. (2008).   Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 74. Vol 74, pp. 109-140 (link)

"Bell Beaker wrist-guards reconsidered. A research into their functionality and possible uses" - Sasja van der Vaart-Verschoof (link)

"The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland" - Marion Dowd (2015) WINNER Current Archaeology Book of the Year 2016 (link)

"Bewitched by an Elf Dart: Fairy Archaeology, Folk Magic and Traditional Medicine in Ireland" - Marion Dowd (2018) (link)

"Underground Archaeology: Studies on Human Bones and Artefacts from Ireland's Caves - Marion Dowd (2016) (link)

"Middle and Late Bronze Age funerary and ritual activity at Glencurran Cave, Co. Clare" - Marion Dowd (2009) (link)

"Artefacts and Bones from Glencurran Cave" - Marion Dowd (2010) (link)

The Vikings' Crystal Compass?, Archaeology, online article (link)

"Exploring the chaîne opératoires in Irish quartz lithic traditions: current research" - Killian Driscoll (link)

"Axes, Warriors and Windmills: Recent archaeological discoveries in North Fingal" edited by Christine Baker (link)

"Exchange in Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age (EBA) Ireland: Connecting people, objects and ideas" - PhD Thesis, Ó Maoldúin, Ros (link)

Viking seafarers may have navigated with legendary crystals, AAAS,Science, online article (link)

Explain that stuff, Glass, online article (link)

Geology. com - Glass, online resource (link)

The Sacred Island - website (link)

A Fisherman’s ‘Lucky stone’ from Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland - Eric Edwards (link)

The Irish Medieval Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, onloine article (link)

Ancient Wisdom - website (link)

The Pitt Rivers Museum, Founding Collection, Dorset, Hag-Stone, online archive (link)

A history of amulets in ten objects, Science Museum Group Journal, online article (link)


On a Stone Known as "The Imokilly Amulet." (Cloch Ómra Ua Maccaille), G. M. Atkinson, Journal Article (link)

St Macadaw’s Well: yet to be discovered, blog post (link)

Notes and queries:  A Kerry Amulet - J.C., Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 1906, Vol.12, No 71, page(s) 150-151


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Ruins of Annagh Church

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