The following are quotes from my forthcoming book about ancient astronomy and myth in the Boyne Valley:
Called the “Lady’s Finger” locally, the “phallic symbol of date unknown”(43) is made with stones and mortar, and forms one part of a unique navigational system along with the nearby “Maiden Tower”. The tower, and evidently the Finger, were erected long before lighthouses were in use in Ireland (44) and in latter times when ships were approaching the river mouth, they could find the correct navigational channel for entry to the river by first lining up the Maiden Tower and Lady’s Finger. This function of the monuments is still well known and related in stories locally.
Our curiosity is aroused by the phallic nature of the Lady’s Finger, and the fact that, as Henry Boylan says, “it does not at all resemble a finger”.(45) Its strikingly phallic nature leads us to speculate that it is probably pagan in origin, but there is no record, written or otherwise, which can point us to its date of construction.
Phallic stones were symbolic of fertility in ancient times, and there was a distinct connection with the festival of Bealtaine, which was not merely a celebration of the beginning of Summer, but a celebration also of new growth and fertility. The “maypole”, a feature of ancient May Day and modern Bealtaine celebrations, is often considered a wholly sexual symbol (46), and perhaps the phallic stone (like the one called the Lia Fail at Tara) were the early precursors. A symbol of Bealtaine, located not far from the place where the astronomer Amergin landed in Ireland on the ancient festival of the sun, is not conclusive evidence of its antiquity, but there may be further astronomical details to support the notion that the Lady’s Finger may be quite old, pre-Christian at least and perhaps much older.
There is a fascinating little story told of the Maiden Tower which may echo the astronomical explorations and tie in very closely with the river Boyne itself. The story is nicely recalled by William Wilde:
“There are many ‘old stories’ related about this tower, – tales of love, of maiden faith and knightly honour, and, in latter days, of mystery also. Tradition says it was erected by a fair lady, to watch the return of her betrothed from a far-distant country, wither he was obliged to journey upon the eve of their nuptials. It was agreed beforehand that, if her lover returned successful, he should hoist a milk-white banner; but if the contrary, a red flag should float from his mast-head. The preconcerted signal was forgotten, and the knight, seeing the tower, – which his true love had erected during his absence to watch his return, – and mistaking it for the watch-tower of an enemy and an invader, instantly displayed the blood-red flag, whereon the disconsolate maiden precipitated herself from the top of the tower, and was dashed to atoms.”(48)