Knowing how creative the Irish are, it still surprised me when I walked up Mullagh Hill for the first time, and found… Poetry!
Mullagh is a small village in Co Cavan some fifteen minutes drive from my house. The Hill itself rises 684 feet above the lake at its base. Interestingly, its name in Irish is An Mullach Laoighill, meaning ‘the mound of Laoighill’, but whether this refers to the hill, or something man-made which might once have topped the summit, I don’t know. There are some rather large chunks of rock up there, though, but my untrained eye cannot distinguish between that which has been shaped by nature, and that which has been carved by the tools of ancient man. However, it seems that Ordnance Survey engineers in 1913 claimed to have located a mound with a grave somewhere on the hill. Soon after this announcement, the tomb was found opened and raided, but by whom, and what they discovered, remains a secret never to be revealed.
Mullagh is most famous for its associations with St Killian, who was born there in 640AD. He was later martyred in Bavaria in 689 AD. Killian’s story is an interesting one; born of noble descent, he went on to complete his education in Cork and Kerry, where he became patron saint of Touist. From there he travelled to Rome to meet the Pope, before finally settling in the German town of Wurzberg, where the Duke Gozbert and his people were still pagan. Failing to convert the Duke’s wife, Geilana, Killian informed the Duke that he had acted against scripture by marrying his own brother’s widow. Enraged by his badmouthing her marriage, Geilana sent soldiers after Killian, and had him beheaded on the spot as he preached in the town square, along with two of his colleagues. Wurzberg Cathedral was later built on the very spot where they were said to have met their deaths, and their remains dug up and placed in a crypt. Bizzarely, their skulls were inlaid with precious jewels and currently reside in a glass case which is still paraded around the streets of Wurzberg on Killian’s feast day, July 8th.
It is said that the Rev. Dr. Jonathon Swift wrote part of his tale, Gulliver’s Travels, whilst staying at Quilca House, the home of his friend Thomas Sheridan, on the outskirts of the site of the old Mullagh Village, which is situated about one km NW of the present village.
But what I like most about Mullagh Hill is the solitude, the serenity, and the scenery. It’s a short but steep walk. There is an uninterrupted 360* view from the top, which on a clear day, takes in the vast Neolithic mound complex of Loughcrew, and the tower at Kells, which incidentally, is also the site of an ancient hill fort. Birds of prey call to each other as they fly overhead, and the lake below glistens in the sunlight. Resting at the top, absorbing all this while the heady scent of yellow gorse washes over you, gives you the chance to reflect on the words you have read on the way up. Going back down gives you the chance to read them all again. It’s a truly unique experience.
A selection of the poems found along the route up Mullagh Hill. There are more, but I couldn’t include them all here.
Fond memories dwell beside
fair Mullagh mountain’s mist crowned dome
And sadly turned from scenes of pride
To you my lovely island home.
(From My Native Hills – Bernard Nulty 1895)
Old Mullagh hill of the craggy braes
Is clothed with fern and fir
And looks as young as in olden days
But it never seems to stir.
It is all the same in a thousand years
The lake looks calm and mild
Whilst steering up the old mill-stream
By the church yard drear and wild.
(From Mullagh Hill – Robert O’Reilly)
I am a stream as old as time
From Mullagh’s wave I take my rise
I gurgle on with busy chime
And sparkle like a lover’s eyes.
(From The Old Mill Stream – Robert O’Reilly)
Home again in Noble Breffni
Filled with yearning of the past
Stood I on the Mullagh Mountain
As the sun’s last line was cast
And I thought upon the evenings
Far away in Germany
When my ears drank in the story
That the wood man told to me.
(From A Lay of Early Missionary Days – John Keegan (Leo) Casey 1866)