Tuesday, 2 July 2013


Today we went to see Rathcrogan Complex – an area with over 5,000 years of Legends, and over 200 sites of many archaeological and mythological significance that are contained within 16 square miles. With over 200 known sites covering this area, a visit to ancient Cruachan shows you an early burial and death ceremonial site, as important as the famous Newgrange, attested to in a poem found in one of the Irish manuscripts Lebor na Huidre, the Book of the Dun Cow.

Queen Maeve (Maedbh, Madb, Maebh) and her husband, King Ailill, famously ruled Connacht from Rathcroghan during the Iron Age; this is the place where the Irish literary epic tale of the Táin Bó Cuailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley) began, and saw the final bloody battle fought between the White Bull of Connacht (Fionnbhennach) and the Brown Bull of Cooley, at Rath na dTairbhe(also known as Rathnadarv – the Fort of the Bulls). In Cruachan is Uaimh na gCait – Oweynagat, the Cave of the Cats. Appearing in illustrious Irish tales such as “Bricriu’s Feast”, and “the Adventures of Nera in the Otherworld”, this cave or underground fairy fort, is known as one of the most important entrances, and exits, to the Otherworld. Christian Scribes described Oweynagat as ‘the Gates of Hell’ due to the amount of demonic and ghostly traffic that is recorded in Irish legends travelling through here. The Cave of the Cats is especially active at Samhain (Halloween) – the Irish/Celtic New Year, a time of change, when boundaries are changeable and the Otherworld is most accessible. This fairy dwelling, the Síd ar Cruachan, is also home to the Irish Celtic Goddess of Battle, witch of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, the Morrigan. It is from this Otherworldly entrance that she drove forth on her chariot, carrying two spears to battle. 

Tullsce celtic for Tulsk means mound of water. A natural spring emanates from it and flows directly from it and flows directly into the Ogulla River.

We know we are out of city now when you park next to the tractor in the carpark

Rathcrogan Mound the focus of sacred ceremony for over 5,000 years, where 7 great timber circles (a neolithic wooden henge) an enclosure of 370 mtrs (1214ft) in diameter surrounded the site.
Home of Queen Maeve, Earth Goddess and Warrior Queen, although it was believed that this was not her principle residence, she came here at Samhain to confer with her magicians and her poets. This area is considered to be the Tara of the West where the Kings of Connaught ritually married with the ancient spirit of the Goddess. Cruachain, derived from the Goddess Crochen Croderg, the ancient Goddess who is said to be the mother of Medb. Her name means cup or drinking vessel, the sacred centre of Cruachain being her mystical cauldron in which she gave birth to Medb, the "Intoxicating One".

This sandstone slab is believed to cover the grave of Queen Medb (Maeve) however is is also believed that she is buried on top of Knocknarea in County Sligo.

Misgaun Medb "Maeves Heap"
This marks the grave of the former king and High King and nephew of Niail of the Nine Hostages. Daithi (405AD - 426AD) was the last Pagan King of Ireland.

Milleen Medb (Also known as King Daithi Stone)

Rathbeg the small fort a ring barrow burial mound.

Looking back to Rathcrogan Mound from Rathbeg


Rathmore a raised ring fort - probably a high status residence in later times

Looking back at Rathcrogan

 Pronounced (Oen-na-gat) also known as the Cave of the Cats (from a legend where a Great female warrior killed a Monster Cat that dwelled in the cave). This is believed to be the entrance to the otherworld and home of the Morrigan, where it is believed she arose at the beginning of the wars realted in the story of the Tain. When she emeres from Oweynagat, the Morrigan is the earth spirit aspect of Medb and as the fearsome "War Trio" she becomes the Morrigna or Morrigu. The name is generally taken to mean "Great Queen". She is generally accepted as a Triple Goddess, but there are disagreements about how specifically this works. The most common "threesomes" are Ana (pronounced Anya), Badb (pronounced Bave) and Macha as well as Badb, Macha and Nemain. Her triple form has also been referred to as Morrigna, Badb and Macha. Inside the cave are two ogham stones which translate to mean "the pillar of Fraech son of Madb". Here it is believed that the spirits emerge at Samhain to mingle with the human world.

Owenagat - Cave of the Cats - Entrance to the otherworld

Kilronan Abbey according to tradition St Ronan and his daughter St Lasair travelled from Monaghan in the 6th century and established a church here on the banks of Lough Meelagh. The present church dates from the 14th century, but the romanesque doorway on the south side may date from an earlier 12th century church. On the north side of the church is a crypt belonging to the McDermott Roe family. This is where the last of the Irish Bards Turlough Carolan is buried. 

Kilronan Abbey

The site of the last of the Irish Bards Turlough Carolan.
Across the road from the abbey on the shore of the lough is St Lasair's Holy Well, surrounded by a stone path and facings, and the “altar”, a flat stone slab on four stone legs, with a bullaun (spherical stone) set on top.

Lassair’s Altar Stone is said to be the cure for bad backs that involves crawling in a figure of eight around the legs of the altar. The bullaun on top is supposed to be a blessing / cursing stone: you rotate it clockwise for a blessing, anti-clockwise for a curse. The top of the altar is pitted with countless depressions.

The well used to be overhung by a small tree (an elder), and countless pilgrims had hammered coins into the bark as a kind of spiritual tax. So many coins were stuck deep into the tree that it died and had to be removed.

As with any saintly figure, one cannot disentangle history from mythology in examining the stories that cluster around a figure such as Lassair. She was said to be the daughter of St. Rónán, for whom the parish of Killronan is named. Her name means “Flame”, and a 17th century hagiography from the Stow Missile reports that this name was given to her when she survived a raging fire. She was apparently so absorbed in the singing of psalms and prayers that she didn’t notice the flames roaring high above her head. The onlookers saw the young woman surrounded by fire, and the name “Lassair” stuck to her from then on. This naming story mirrors almost precisely a story of the young St. Brigid.

There are many stories of her healing of the sick through preparing a draught using her well-water, and also by using mud scraped from the cliff above the well. This is also reported in the 17th century text, and folk still collect this clay for luck and protection.

There is a story recounted by Mary Condren in her book “The Serpent and The Goddess” which links Lassair to St. Brigid in a curious way. The story is that St. Brigid came to visit St. Lassair, and so Lassair slaughtered her last ewe in order to provide food for the saint. During the meal, however, St. Patrick then dropped by. Lassair had no more to offer the new guest (presumably both clerics had brought full retinues), and Lassair was at risk of breaking the laws of hospitality. Brigid shared her portion so that Lassair would not lose face, and in gratitude, Lassair gave Brigid her church (of women) and her flock of sheep. Condren reads into this a passing on of the following of a local female figure to the stronger, national figure of Brigid; a handing-on of the flame, or the mantle, to keep practices of female spirituality alive in an increasingly male church.

There is something to be said for this hand-over, and some characteristics that seem native to Lassair are certainly now associated with Brigid. In particular, the coincidence of the flame (Lassair, Brigid’s Fire) and the well seems strongest in central imagery. Both women were depicted as powerful land-owners who provided gracious hospitality and could cure the grievously ill. Both fires still burn brightly in their followers.

It is with Sanas Cormaic that we find the first explicit link made between this goddess and the element of fire, in the word ‘bri’. McCone has convincingly shown that the three arts it claims Brigit supervised— healing, smithcraft, and poetry—were in early Ireland all associated with fire. The authors of the saints’ Lives of Brigit seem to have been aware of the same-named goddess, though they never say so explicitly: all of her Lives give Brigit a druid father figure, so she is made into a member of the druid class, the same class as poets and judges….

…McCone has pointed out that another saint, the virgin Lassair, also has a fire name, from lassar, flame. In his view Brigit, like Lassair, was a goddess who became a saint in Christian times; both succeeded in the new religions because their attributes could be harmonized with those of the Christian God, for the Bible is filled with light and fire imagery.”

(source: p.64 – ‘Women in a Celtic Church‘ by Christina Harrington)

St Lassairs Holy Well

Turning the bullaun on top of the Altar Stone

Lough Meelagh

The Knockranny Wood Loop Walk

Court Tomb

Elfin Windmill 
The last legend or myth I have to share form this area is the one of Queen Maeve.

This is the legend of Queen Maeve and her husband Ailill. Queen Maeve was a very proud and wealthy woman who excelled at everything. One day, she and her young husband, Ailill, got into an argument. He challenged her by saying that he had more riches than she, so they matched and measured all their possessions and found them to be the same in number and size, with only one exception. Ailill owned a great white horned bull, Donn Cuailgne, owned by Daire MacFiachna in the province of Ulster. Maeve assembled a great army and marched towards Ulster to claim the bull.

Cu Chulainn was the great warrior of Ulster and he came to defend the bull and fight against Queen Maeve's army. There were many great battles fought along the way but Maeve prevailed and managed to steal the bull and bring it back to Connaught. The bull was accidentally put in the same pasture as Ailill's white bull and once the white bull saw the brown gull, a great bull fight occurred. (The site of the bull fight is at Rath na DTarbh). Ulster's great brown bull defeated Ailill's white bull killing him. The brown bull was so home sick and missed his owner terribly that he walked all the way back to Ulster. Once he returned to his owner, he collapsed exhausted and died.

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