A small saddle quern has recently been discovered in Coolteige, Bree by Mr. Nim Dunne, who recognised its significance and brought it home for safe keeping. The quern, which is made out of granite, has a dished depression on its upper side that was formed as a result of constant rubbing. Its origins most likely lie in the Bronze Age when it would have been an essential tool for processing grain.
Throughout the world saddle querns have been used by primitive societies to grind grain into flour. Typically they consist of two parts, a large lower stone known as a bedstone/saddle stone (as found at Coolteige) and a much smaller upper stone called a rubber. The grain was placed on the bedstone (the saddle) and then ground down using the rubbing stone, normally with a back-and-forth motion. In Ireland they are primarily associated with the Neolithic (c. 4000-2500 BC) and Bronze Age (c. 2500-700 BC) periods as they were gradually superseded by the more efficient rotary quern during the Iron Age (although some continued to be used into later periods).
In 1993 a survey carried out by Anne Connelly identified 228 saddle querns in Ireland (Connelly 1994, 26) and this number has undoubtedly increased over the last 20 years. As with the Coolteige example the majority of these saddle querns were fashioned out of granite, although sandstone was also favoured. Connelly suggested that most saddle querns dated to the Bronze Age, with a small number, such as those recovered from Ballygalley, Co. Antrim, also dating to the Neolithic (ibid, 31). Her survey did not identify any examples from Co. Wexford, but this situation has changed in recent years with the discovery of a saddle quern at Harristown Big, near New Ross (Tierney & Johnstone 2009). This quern stone was recovered by Eachtra Archaeological Projects during the excavation of a Bronze Age site. If the Coolteigue quern is of a similar date, which seems probable, then it is over 3,000 years old.
Although there are no recorded archaeological monuments in the field where the saddle quern was found, the artefact is indicative of past human activity at this location and it seems likely that there is a yet undiscovered settlement site here. In the surrounding landscape there are number of possible contemporary Bronze Age sites (see above map). These include a group of enclosures located c. 400m to the northeast, a second cluster of enclosures situated c. 500m to northwest, a possible fulacht fiadh located roughly 500m to the south and a large hillfort which is approximately 1.2km to the southeast.
Thanks to Nim Dunne for taking such care of this ancient artefact and also for making the members of The Bree Heritage Group aware of its existence. It has now been passed onto the National Museum of Ireland.
Connelly, A. 1994 ‘Saddle querns in Ireland’ in Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 57, 1994, 26-36.
O’Suillivan, M. & Downey, L. 2006. ‘Know your monuments: Quern Stones’, inArchaeology Ireland, Vol. 20. No. 2, Summer 2006, 22-25.
Tierney M. & Johnston P. 2009 URL:http://www.slideshare.net/eachtra/archaeological-excavation-report-e0425-harristown-big-co-wexford-ireland-eap-journal . Accessed 27-2-2012