Rollright Stones

Early in Finnegans Wake we have references to megaliths and stone circles. Page 5, line 30 has “rolls-rights, carhacks, stonengens, kisstvanes”. These are glossed as the Rollright Stones; Carnac – the site of more than 10,000 Neolithic standing stones or menhirs; Stonehenge; and kistvaen – a box-shaped stone tomb or burial chamber.

Joyce visited Stonehenge in 1931, the year of his marriage to Nora Barnacle. There is no evidence of a visit to the Rollright Stones.

The location of the Rollright Stones is often stated as Chipping Norton on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border. More precisely they sit between Great Rollright to the east and Little Rollright to the west on the road joining the A3400 and the A44. They consist of a standing stone or King Stone, the King’s Men stone circle, and a group of stones, the remains of a dolmen, called The Whispering Knights.

The ages of the structures range from 3,800BC to 1,500BC. The stones are of limestone collected from the local area, shaped and pitted by the weather. The King Stone has also suffered from visitors hacking off pieces as souvenirs.

Of interest to readers of Finnegans Wake are the stories and legends attached to the site and which have given the names to the stones.

It is said that a King and his army were marching across the Cotswolds when they were accosted by a witch.

Seven long strides thou shalt take, says she
And if Long Compton thou canst see,
King of England thou shalt be!

The king took seven steps forward but rising ground blocked his view of Long Compton in the valley and the witch cackled:

As Long Compton thou canst not see,
King of England thou shalt not be!
Rise up stick and stand still stone,
For King of England thou shalt be none;
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be,
And I myself an elder tree!

Persons becoming stones and trees is a recurrent motif in the Wake, the best known example being the washerwomen in Anna Livia Plurabelle.


King Stone


Whispering Knights


Stone Circle


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