I bought a copy of Archaeology Ireland today...it's a monthly magazine with interesting articles...and there is one such article which was about Bullaun stones long thought to date back to Pagan times, and then re-purposed in the early days of Christianity as a simple baptisimal font...
This Bullaun has three depressions or holes in it...many just have one...some as many as five.
They are invariably found in ancient burial places...the ruins of old churches and monasteries or close to Holy wells, which was what had everyone confused I suppose because following further research it's been decided or discovered that they had were in no way 'Holy'...they were actually used for pounding and chopping up Furze or Gorse for winter feed for farm animals...
Some of the Bullaun stones have man-made holes and others are the result of many years of weathering...many were considered to be 'lucky' and it's thought they were the ones placed within ecclesiastical precincts for safety...those just outside church porches may well have been used as fonts after land was cleared of the Gorse and used for grazing or ploughed for crops...
You'd have had a long stout wooden pole with a blade attached to the end...place the Furze into the hole of the Bullaun stone and pound hard with your pole and blade until the Furze was almost pulverised...leave it to dry out...and you have winter feed for your cattle and horses.
It's rarely that either a cow or horse will eat Furze straight from the bush because the entire plant is covered in extremely sharp spiny thorns...but when it's been beaten down and the thorns have broken up and are soft then it's eaten readily...likewise when the bushes send out new soft growth in the early spring...
The Bullauns which were picked out for more intense research have been dated to between the fifth and twelfth c. ce..maybe there was more man power then to produce enough winter fodder...it must have taken a while to gather the branches and then process them..We regard the Furze or Gorse as an intrusion onto grazing land but in the days when it was used as a crop and grown as such, it is said the economic value rivalled that of hay, cereals and potatoes...which means it was still being used as winter fodder for farm animals well into the 1600's.
I rather liked the folklore surrounding the Bullauns...the water from them was said to cure warts and ringworm...but I also like the new research into how they were used and for their true purpose...