Irish Eclectic

A Stone By Any Other Name: Of Scone, or Innisfail, or Pretender?

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Irish EclecticBy Brian McGowan

More than a few things bond Ireland and Scotland, as more than a few articles in this column have suggested. A common indigenous tongue, a fierce sense of pride, dedication to the memory of a dethroned Stuart monarch, a love for lost causes and a stone. Yes, a stone.

Stones seem to loom large in Celtic myths and legends. Standing stones, arranged in rings, with mystical powers for those “in the know,” dot the landscape of both countries. To this day they are given acclaim for the miraculous.

But there is one stone in particular that claims pride of place, especially in Scotland. That is the “Stone of Scone,” upon which Scotland’s kings were crowned for over a thousand years. It has a storied past and a turbulent history.

Who was the first recognized King of Scotland? Why, none other than an Irishman, Fergus Mac Erc! At the turn of the sixth century, he ruled the kingdom of Dalriada, which spanned portions of Ulster in Ireland and Argyll in Scotland. And to seal the occasion, he “borrowed” a sizable piece of the Lia Fáil, a rock embedded atop Ireland’s Hill of Tara. It was there that each High King of Ireland was enthroned.

Also known as the “Stone of Innisfail,” the Lia Fáil was part of a meteorite that fell from the sky eons ago, in times with no written record. Ironically, it actually fell in Scotland, from where it was taken to Ireland by a prehistoric, pre-Celtic race, the Tuatha de Danaan, eventually ending up on the Hill of Tara. One of the stone’s mystical attributes was the ability to roar with delight when a chieftain worthy of the title was crowned. Conversely, when someone less than worthy stepped up, the stone would cry with dismay.

Fergus’s reign was short. He was king for only three years, and died in 501 C.E. A long line of kings descended from him and expanded their power throughout Scotland. Each of them accepted the honor while seated upon the rock that Fergus had “borrowed” from the Hill of Tara, and planted in Scotland’s soil.

Enter the English King Edward I. In one of England’s many campaigns to subjugate her neighbors to the north, in 1296 he stole the stone, by then ensconced at Scone Abbey, in Perthshire, and brought it back to London. There it has lain under the Coronation Chair that every British monarch has sat upon as they were crowned, the last being the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Talk about a foe being ground underfoot!

Many efforts were made over time to bring the stone back to its rightful owners, the Scots. Or would that be the Irish? Regardless, it wasn’t until 1950 that justice was served, if only temporarily. Some enterprising Scottish students stole the stone from Westminster Abbey and carried it back to Scotland. It took four months for the stone to be returned to the authorities, and it was quickly whisked back to London. 

Since 1996, 700 years after its original theft, the stone was officially restored to Scotland. It can only be brought back to London on the occasion of the coronation of the next British monarch, after which it returns north, to Scotland.

But a mystery emerges. The Stone of Innisfail, the original in Ireland, is a piece of a meteorite. The Stone of Scone is a block of sandstone, quite different. Some speculate that the enterprising Scots duped Edward I. They substituted an impostor stone, and then buried the real one somewhere about the abbey, its location now lost in the mists of time. 

Perhaps someone knows the secret of the stone’s whereabouts, and is waiting for the right moment to reveal it, given Scotland’s progressive move closer to declaring independence from Great Britain. Maybe a Stuart “heir presumptive” awaits, ready to ascend Scotland’s ancient throne.

Who are the Stuarts? Gist for a future article!

Pleasantville resident Brian McGowan was born and raised in the Bronx and is a second-, third- and fifth-generation Irish-American/Canadian, as his immigrant ancestors followed several paths to the New World. Reach him at or on Twitter (@Bmcgowan52M). He is the author of two books, “Thunder at Noon,” about the battle of Waterloo, and “Love, Son John,” about World War II. Both are available at

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