An ancient religious stone closely linked with Saint Patrick has been presented to Down Cathedral by the Army.
The granite bullaun has a history dating back over 1,000 years to one of the patron saint’s earliest landing sites in Ireland, and has since served as a font for holy water.
In Celtic times, mystical powers were attributed to it, and rainwater which collected in a hollow in its centre was believed to have healing powers.
The stone was once housed in a small church marking one of St Patrick’s landing sites near the mouth of Dundrum Bay, Co Down.
It had been kept in the garrison church at Ballykinler, but with the transfer of 2nd Battalion The Rifles to Lisburn, the Army decided to gift the stone to Down Cathedral in Downpatrick.
A small 12th century church at Killyglinnie marks the spot where St Patrick landed on his mission to Ireland.
The church fell into decline and eventually much of the stonework was used for local building work, while the historic bullaun, which was central to pilgrimages, disappeared.
After being used as a bird bath in a Downpatrick garden it was placed in the safekeeping of St Martin of the Mournes - the church at Ballykinler - and used as a baptismal font.
Following the closure of the church the bullaun is now housed close to the reputed burial site of St Patrick.
Cathedral Dean, the Very Rev Henry Hull, said: “The gift from the Army is not only welcome but poignant coming in time for the annual pilgrimage from Saul to the Cathedral.”