Magh Slecht, Ancient Site of Human Sacrifice, or Holy Massacre?

If you follow this blog, you will know how I like to visit the old places I learn about whilst researching Irish mythology; how I like to tread in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors, lay my eyes on the horizons they saw, feel what they felt when they looked out over their homeland. It helps me get a sense of who they were, and who we have become.

Certain places last year had a really powerful effect on me. Shee Mor was one of them. Another was Magh Slecht, which means ‘Plain of Prostrations’.

Sandwiched between the Woodford and Blackwater rivers lies an area of Co Cavan known as Magh Slecht (pronounced Moy Shlokht). Overlooked by the scenic Cuilcagh Mountain and distant rounded shoulders of Sliabh an Iarainn, this panoramic vista of gentle rolling countryside is packed with an unusually dense concentration of megalithic monuments, including cairns, stone rows and circles, standing stones, fort enclosures and burial sites.

I had long known about the legacy of Magh Slecht, but it was a chance discovery reading through a translation of an old document, looking for something else entirely, which claimed that this iconic site was located in my very own county.

I went to meet local historian, Oliver Brady, who recently assisted on an archaeological investigation of the region. We first went to see a replica of the Killycluggin Stone, which is located on the side of the Ballyconnell – Ballinamore road only 300m from where it was found. The original can now be seen in the County Cavan Museum in Ballyjamesduff.

The stone’s surface is covered in simplistic scrolling designs of the Iron- Age La Tene style, and, Mr Brady suggests, was probably once richly decorated with gold and colourful paint. These carvings look somewhat like stylised faces to me, or birds, but they have never been definitively interpreted. It looked very… well… innocent and unassuming, if such a thing can be said of a stone, particularly one with such a dark and turbulent history.

In fact, this stone is similar in style to the Turoe stone, a rare aniconic iron-age pillar stone found in Co Galway, about which little is known.

This particular stone was discovered buried in the ground in pieces in 1921 by the landowner, close to the Bronze-Age stone circle at Killycluggin. It is thought that originally it would have stood at the centre of the stone circle, which currently consists of eighteen standing stones, many of them fallen, and has a diameter of 22m.

Tall trees now encircle the stones protectively, casting them into deep shadow. Moss has draped a delicate mantle of soft green over them, shielding them from sight, and brambles bristle like a guard of honour; if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you could be forgiven for missing it altogether. A fine view of Cuilcagh dominates the horizon to the north, and the two entrance stones, once proud but now recumbent, look towards the rising sun in the east.

The circle and the stone share a dark and mysterious past, according to Irish mythology, for they have been identified as the site of pagan human sacrifice and the worship of the Sun-God, Crom Cruach.

Crom Cruach is also known as Crom Dubh, or Cenn Cruach, among other names. The meaning is elusive; Crom means ‘bent, crooked, or stooped’, while Cenn refers to the head, but also means ‘chief, leader’. Cruach could mean ‘bloody, gory, slaughter’ and also ‘corn stack, heap, mound’.

We know that there was a cult which worshipped the stone heads of their patron Gods and Goddesses in other areas of Co Cavan from finds such as the Corleck head, although nothing similar has been recorded as being found at Magh Slecht.

The ancient Irish considered the head as ‘the seat of the soul’, and warriors were said to have collected the heads of their vanquished enemies after battle as trophies. There are many tales of decapitated heads continuing to talk and impart great wisdom to the living.

The legend of Crom Cruach is a sinister one. The ancient texts of the Metrical Dindshenchas claim that the people of Ireland worshipped the God by offering up their firstborn child in return for a plentiful harvest in the coming year. The children were killed by smashing their heads on the stone idol representing Crom Cruach, and sprinkling their blood around the base. This stone idol has been identified as the Killycluggin Stone.

The manuscript describes the site as twelve companions of stone surrounding the idol Crom Cruach of gold. Other documents, such as the Annals of the Four Masters and the Lebor Gebála Érenn, confirm this, although none of them can be taken as a historically accurate record. They also describe how Saint Patrick put an end to this practice.

The story goes that one Samhain, the High King Tigernmas and all his retinue, amounting to three quarters of the men of Ireland, went from Tara to Magh Slecht to worship. There, St Patrick came upon them as they knelt around the idol with their noses and foreheads pressed to the ground in devotion. They never rose to their feet, for as they prostrated themselves thus, they were, according to Christian observers, slain by their very own God. This was how Magh Slecht won its name.

St Patrick destroyed the stone idol by beating it with his crozier. It broke apart, and the ‘devil’ lurking within it emerged, which the priest immediately banished to Hell.

The Stone does in fact bear evidence of repeated blows with a heavy implement at some point in antiquity, and was deliberately removed from its central position within the circle and buried. A sign marks the site of its long repose.

St Patrick led the survivors to a nearby well, now known as Tober Padraig, and baptised them all into the Christian faith. He then founded his church adjacent to the well.

St Patrick’s church still stands in the townland known as Kilnavart, from the Irish Cill na Fheart, meaning ‘church of the grave/ monument’, and indeed there is a megalithic tomb, flanked by two sentinel standing stones, no more than 250m from it.

The present church was constructed in 1867, replacing an older, thatched structure with clay floors. Interestingly, the church rises from the site of an prehistoric circular fort, once known as the Fossa Slecht, possibly the home of a local chieftain.

The site of the holy well, however, has sadly fallen into disuse, and lies somewhere close to the church in a patch of wasteland between two houses, and to which there is currently no public access. It is said that St Patrick moved from the stone circle to the holy well on his knees. Whilst not far, it can’t have been an easy journey.

Although the legend surrounding this site is quite gruesome, it should be noted that this is the only mention of human sacrifice occurring in ancient Ireland according to the early literature.

There are also some conflicts within the story; Tigernmas, for example, is listed in the Annals as having reigned for 77 years from 1620 BC. If this is so, he could not have been at Magh Slecht at the same time as St Patrick, who came to Ireland in the C5th AD.

In my view, this smacks of Christian propaganda. St Patrick was on a crusade to convert Ireland. If the Christians couldn’t reason with the local people and persuade them to give up their pagan Gods, they would absorb them and build churches on their holy places. If that didn’t work, they would punish them, denounce their practices as witchcraft, even kill unbelievers in the name of God, if necessary. We know these things happened; history tells us they did.

Magh Slecht was clearly an important site in relation to religious activity and rites of sovereignty, the number of ancient structures located there are evidence of this. Perhaps the High King, whether it was Tigernmas, or someone else whose name time has erased, refused to obey St Patrick. The priest obviously wanted to lay his claim on the site very badly. Perhaps he came there with an army. Perhaps the men of Ireland died in the act of their devotions because a holy army fell on them while they were unarmed and at prayer. Perhaps there was slaughter at Magh Slecht, pagan blood was spilled, not in sacrifice to Crom Cruach, a God feared by his worshippers, but because he was so beloved by them, they refused to give him up.

Indeed, there is some debate over the identification of this cruel deity with the character of Crom Cruach. In some stories, he is represented as a pagan chieftain who eventually converted to the new faith, and as such was well known to St Patrick, and even considered as his friend.

In Co Kerry, it is told that St Brendan asked Crom Cruach, a rich local chieftain, for help with funding the building of his church. As an ardent pagan, Crom refused but gave St Brendan his evil-tempered bull instead, in the hope it would kill the Christians. They, however, managed to tame it, and suddenly afraid of their power, Crom agreed to convert to their faith. Before doing so, the monks punished him by burying him for three days with only his head above the ground.

The Ronadh Crom Dubh, or ‘the staff of Black Crom’ is a standing stone associated with a stone circle at Lough Gur in Co Limerick, where offerings of flowers and grain, not blood and death, are left at harvest time.

Crom Cruach/ Dubh has a festival day on the last Sunday of July called Domhnach Chrom Dubh, where vigils and patterns are held at holy wells around the country in his memory. An association with St Brigid is recognised in an all-night vigil still held on Crom’s feast day at her holy well in Liscannor near the Cliffs of Moher.

This seems surprising when one thinks of the terrible deeds once committed in his name. It would imply he was loved and respected to be thus remembered into modern times, rather than a God who was feared and hated.

Guardian sentinel stone dappled by tree shadows looking towards Cuilcagh.

Guardian sentinel stone dappled by tree shadows looking towards Cuilcagh.

As I stood blinking in the bright sunshine in the centre of the plain of Magh Slecht, having relived its legacy at each prehistoric structure, with the green fields vibrant against the blue sky, Sliabh an Iarainn and Cuilcagh a hazy purple smudge on the horizon, I was struck by the great sense of peace and serenity which lay over the land.

These monuments practically stand in people’s back gardens, yet from the road which meanders by, they cannot be seen. They are, in effect, hidden in plain view. It seemed to me that nature, the age-old Gods, the Sidhe, perhaps Crom himself, had all conspired to keep them safe.

Our ancestors certainly knew how to pick a site. It was hard to equate this place with such a perpetual dark scene of violence. I couldn’t help but wonder if such events had ever taken place at all. Perhaps it wasn’t children who were sacrificed here, but truth.


I would like to thank Mr Oliver Brady for taking the time to show me around the magnificent Magh Slecht. If you would like to know more about this site, archaeologist Kevin White has undertaken a very comprehensive study of the area.

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59 Comments on “Magh Slecht, Ancient Site of Human Sacrifice, or Holy Massacre?

  1. Salutations Ali,

    Thank you for this article for it brought some considerations to light that I had not noted before. My mother’s maiden name bears the last name Crum, evidenced with DNA from Ulster county, Ireland among others. Therefore, I have an ancestral invested and particular interest in Crom, in His perceived history and in His many forms and names.

    I agree, the St. Patrick story is undoubtedly contrived. All one must do to understand the modus operandi of the Christian church of the day (little “c”) is to look up the Massacre of Verden, in October 782AD, where 4,500 Saxon Odinist “pagans” were beheaded in a single day by Charlemagne to set a fear-based precedence concerning the “divine” power of Christ’s dominance in the area of central Europe. If St. Patrick came to Ireland two and a half centuries before hand, it is not unreasonable to propose that the same sort of incident took place at Magh Slecht. There must be dozens, if not hundreds, perhaps even thousands of similar massacres hidden in the annals of history the world over, veneered under the premise of an “evil” indigenous god, goddess, or gods, being defeated at the hands of a “saint”. This is how “Christ” liked to do business, bloody, deadly, and en masse. You want to talk about sacrifice to a “god”? No god nor goddess has seen the toll of the likes of this Abrahamic god of death, other than perhaps Islam, a close second yet thirsty for more as evidenced by the crimes against humanity committed every day under Sharia Law and in countries like Saudi Arabia.

    The fabric of the Abrahamic veneer is a multi-layered one made up at least three layers; Judaism, Christianity, and now, Islam. The Abrahamic family’s ability to hide the truth is old now, tattered, full of holes and coming unraveled of its own accord. It’s design is not very well thought out. It is now that time for the indigenous peoples of Ireland and all over the world to pronounce the truth that their ancestors lived, loved and died for, heralding the truth hidden in gross scandal once again. The silver and gold lining in this tale is that the indigenous peoples of any heritage, identified by DNA, have the leverage now to expose and rectify these atrocities that our own very flesh and blood had to endure. The facts are the facts and the Christian church thankfully did an remarkable job at recording their exploits, albeit intermingled with lies to sour the tale.

    Perhaps I should visit Ireland.

    Thank you again.

    Jarame Flores-Crum

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jarame, yes, I have to agree, anyone who studies history can see that the Christians were responsible for atrocities against any non-Christians, and actually even their own when it suited them – one only has to look at the oppression of women to see that their prejudice did not always fall far from home. I must admit that the story of Magh Slecht sounds much like a massacre to me. You might be interested in the strange story of Eithne and Fedelma, two Irish pagan princess who met St Patrick, here is a link:
      Although Ireland is still a very Catholic country, there are still horror stories emerging all the time concerning the abuse of children and women at the hands of the church in fairly recent times; the government has just authorised more time and money to be given to the investigations of mass graves at mother and baby homes across Ireland, they weren’t even proper graves, but children’s bodies dumped in cess pits, hundreds of them. Irish people are certainly waking up to the power of the church and resisting it, as can be seen by recent referendum votes. Also, Ireland has a thriving and growing ‘pagan’ population, who are turning back to the ways of the old gods and to nature.
      Thanks for visiting my blog, and for your very interesting comment.


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    • Wow! That’s interesting! Thank you for sharing, Ted… may have to look into that some more. Could myth and history have become a little confused?


  4. What an excellent read and incredible how much history and myth surrounds this rather beautiful stone. So interesting to hear how the area was christianised by St P and I was especially interested to read about the holy well of course! There was meant to be a head of Crom in an old church in Cloghane in Kerry but it was stolen fairly recently and has never been seen again. This is near Mt Brandon so fits in well with the bull and St Brendan story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fascinating! I wonder why someone stole the head? Yes, I was very disappointed about the well. The general area of its location was pointed out to me, but it was a large space of rough waste land, so I imagine the well has been forgotten and abandoned. Maybe I’ll go back and try to find it… 😊


      • Another great article, Ali. How you do this plus attend school and tend a special needs child plus other family members is beyond me. I wanted to see the Killycluggin Stone while in Ireland, but the museum was closed on the two days we could have done so. I agree that the Christians really distorted the truth regarding the Celtic pagans and their practices. Killing their first born? Ha! I doubt that. Perhaps next time I’m in Ireland, I will hire you again to be a tour guide and take us to these sites.


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  7. Fascinating. Magh Slecht sounds so much like Macht Schlecht – or “evil-doer” (in very loosely translated German). If the Christian version’s true, it certainly sounds like it 😀


  8. Wow, that’s creepy! You always have such interesting tales. Are these stories that everyone knows there, or did you have to research to find all this info? 🙂


    • Well, my photos are not very good! I use the camera on my phone. The light was so strong that day, it couldnt cope with the contrast. Some had all their colour bleached out of them. But anyway, they gave you an idea of the place! Yes, in a way, the old gods and legends never really die, they are just absorbed by the new religion. I like your idea of the universal consciousness, that’s a good way to describe it.


  9. your photos add to the atmosphere of these ancient and sacred places and histories. I for one love the speculation and mystery. it’s so interesting that Christianity did absorb much of the paganism that existed in various places which is something I actually like. There is change but also some continuity and certainly a universal consciousness that springs up out of earth’s legends that flows over all!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, my photos are not very good! I use the camera on my phone. The light was so strong that day, it couldnt cope with the contrast. Some had all their colour bleached out of them. But anyway, they gave you an idea of the place! Yes, in a way, the old gods and legends never really die, they are just absorbed by the new religion. I like your idea of the universal consciousness, that’s a good way to describe it.


  10. Excellent post Ali. Love the precarious balance between known fact and legend and leaving it up to the observer to decide.


    • Thank you, Roy. It is a fine line, and I don’t want to mislead anyone, that wouldn’t be fair or right. People have to make up their own minds about these things… but I do like to insert my opinion, as you might have noticed! 😄


  11. Wonderful post, Ali! I really like your interpretation of what might have happened better than the, definitely likely Christian, propaganda version. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Éilis. Its just something about the idea of them all being slain as they knelt in prayer… sounds more like something an army would do, not the God who was being prayed to!


      • 😀 I hope it helps. I have finished my romance story and I am working on the book cover now (Now in its seventh generation of evolution) but I think I might have it. The cover tells much of the story in a single frame.


        • You’re right! People definitely judge a book by its cover. Its so hard to distill a whole book down to one image. Do you make your covers yourself?


  12. Fascinating tour, Ali. Loved it. Ireland is on my list of places to visit – it’s like Israel, with history around every corner. I’m surprised all those stones are left hidden or covered with moss and brambles and not cleaned up for people to see, so they’re not forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Yet another Hail Glorious Saint Patrick tale 🙂 Funny that THEIR god should strike down the pagans. I thought pagan gods were false gods therefore didn’t exist. Must have misunderstood that one. As you say, there are hardly any corroborated stories of human sacrifices associated with the ancient Celts. Most of them were put about by the Romans and Gerald their Welsh monk chronicler. The fact that these mass sacrifices never appear in the legends makes me suspicious. If they were common and accepted practice they wouldn’t have been glossed over.

    Liked by 1 person

        • Funny how St Pat creeps into every post I write. I think I’m going to have to give him a post of his own. He might leave me alone then. He’s clearly very needy and a bit of a stalker!


          • Ali, actually the wiki link to Conall Gulban below has him being murdered at Magh Slecht in 464. It is interesting overall as there are links in this episode to St Patrick as well as he supposedly baptized Conall Gulban thus initiating the spread of Catholicism to the royal/ruling/chieftain class of Ireland at the time. I wonder if the supposed destruction of the stones by St Patrick was actually later tribal Cenel Conall retaliation for the Masraige (sp) killing Conall Gulban.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I wouldn’t be at all surprised, Ted. The archaeology of Magh Slecht indicates it was once a very important site, perhaps with a religious function, or perhaps as a centre for a ruling elite. Perhaps a bit like Tara. If it was the seat of a local king, its quite possible it was destroyed in retaliation. What an exciting story! Thank you for sharing it with me… my mind is working overtime now! 😁 (the imagination of a writer lol!)



              Above is a detailed archeological study of Magh Slecht. My grandmother and grandfather came from Ballinamore and Mohill respectively and we have explored the area and love the history there. Fenagh is a cool area too with a dolmen in the area where supposedly Conall Gulban was buried. I agree wth you that Magh Slecht was an important ancient site up there with Tara but smaller. If you haven’t been to Carrowkeel south of Sligo I highly recommend going……goosebumps with the tombs there and there alignment with the sun and Queen Meave’s tomb in the distance. Take care…my family name comes from the Cenel Conall off the Cenel Aedha line so I am interested in all things Conall Gulban and Neolithic Ireland even though they are very separate time frames. Thanks for the responses!

              Liked by 1 person

            • I am always happy to chat to someone with similar interests. I have read that archaeological report, it’s excellent work. How wonderful that you come from such an ancient and illustrious lineage. There are so many fabulous ancient places in Ireland, and I have so many still to visit. 😊


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