Inside the ‘Hell-Mouth’ of Ireland (video)

Me standing just outside the entrance to Oweynagat.

I nearly didn’t go. I had a handful of essays on the go for uni at the time, but it was Samhain, and Treasa had been kind enough to invite me a second time, and I couldn’t believe it was already a year since the last time I was there. That was a euphoric experience, and I wondered, how would it be second time around, now that I knew what to expect.


Sliding into the mouth of Oweynagat.
Sliding into the mouth of Oweynagat.

Oweynagat is an incredibly female site, in its physicality, its mythology, and in its energy, something I was immediately struck by on my first visit, and so it felt right that this was a women-only experience. Queen Medb was born in its dark depths, and the Morrigan is said to use the cave as a conduit between this realm and the Otherworld.



This is how Queen Medb describes the cave in her story from my latest book, Mavourneen:

 

“There is a cave at Cruachan. Its small dark mouth yawns at your feet beneath a shroud of hawthorn bushes, and is never lit up by the sun. You can slide your way in, if you dare. The only way is supine on your belly, sinuous as a snake in the thick blackness, or on your back, enclosed so closely that the rock wall brushes your skin as you pass, the weight of the earth pressing on your consciousness, on your lungs, filling you with the fear of rockfalls, of demonic creatures which burst through from the Otherworld, of the terrible Goddess of strife and death we call the Morrigan, of the dread that once inside, you will become trapped, unable to ever return to the surface. Your heart begins to race, and you pant for breath, lungs squeezed flat in your chest. This is a potent place; a deep, dark cleft in the earth which men fear, a place associated with powerful women, sacred women, sorcerous women, women who command all the skills and strengths which men feel should belong to men alone, alongside the dark, disturbing female magic they cannot comprehend. That is why they call it ‘the Hell–Mouth of Eire’. They fear to penetrate it, they fear what is born out of it. But when you, the brave feminine, have traversed its uterine passage, have felt the energy pulsing in cold moist, glistening, flesh–coloured stone, have slid through the glutinous membrane of mud which lines the inner, womb–like cavity, have listened to the earth breathe around and beneath and above you; when you leave, then you will feel reborn. And you will know me, for I am Medb, and this cave is where my mother, Cruachú Crobh-Dearg, lowly handmaid to Étain, squatted to bring me forth into the world.”

And if you think that sounds dramatic, know that is exactly how it feels, how it looks. The mud that coats you as you leave is like the blood of birth. The experience changes you. Perhaps that is the same of all deep, dark places. I don’t know. But there is something special about Oweynagat, something addictive, a braving of one’s fears perhaps, or the communion with something not quite of this world, made all the more special by sharing it with this unique group of strong, spiritual women. I think, I hope the Great Queen approves.

Oweynagat 2018

I would like to thank Treasa for inviting me on this special journey once again, and I’m looking forward to next year’s adventure already. Treasa operates the Full Moon Walking Tour of the Hill of Tara, Spiritual Tours of the Hill of Uisneach, and private guided tours of Loughcrew, and Glendalough. You can find out more on her Facebook page, Sacred Sites of Ireland.


56 Comments on “Inside the ‘Hell-Mouth’ of Ireland (video)

  1. That looks AMAZING, Ali. Almost out of this world! I love your fictional description, too. It’s enough to make me feel even more womany than usual 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was very much a visit to the Underworld, if not the Otherworld, Tara. Although getting covered in mud doesn’t feel too womany, but I guess it’s good for the skin, so what the hell… been covered in worse, baby poop, vomit, canned dog food…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! I would love to do that! Must have been fascinating. I have been to Peru, and flown over the Nazca lines, and trekked along the Colca Canyon and saw the Condors. I trekked to Macchu Picchu. I left a bit of my heart in Peru. Always thought I’d go back one day, but Carys has kind of changed things. Nice to hear from you, lovely Cybele! 😍

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Alethea, yes, it’s right beside someone’s farm. There are farms and houses dotted all over that sacred landscape. I often wonder how it feels to live so close to ancient sites. Perhaps familiarity means they become part of the everyday and lose their reverence and mystique.

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      • Have you been to Arbor Low? I was struck by how sacred the farm below it felt when I was there, like the resident humans and animals knew innately of how special their role was as caretakers. They felt like unassuming guardians. Really quite remarkable.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Inside the ‘Hell-Mouth’ of Ireland (video) | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  3. Brilliant Ali. No wonder there are legends/stories handed down about this place. Fair play to all of you for managing the journey – I physically couldn’t these days. But at least it keeps the place from being overrun by tourist coaches.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Roy, even if you couldn’t manage the cave, there is so much else to see. The cave is literally just at the back of Cruachan, and there are monuments everywhere you look! I’ve visited the area a few times now as its only just over an hour’s drive from me, and each time I’ve been the only person there, except when I went to the holy well. It just doesn’t seem to be on the beaten tourist track, in spite of the wealth of tales associated with it.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Not brave, Debby… I was terrified the first time, and even though I knew what to expect this time around, I still had butterflies in the pit of my stomach. Was thinking about those poor boys trapped in the cave this year. 😳

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a fabulous experience Ali.. and thanks for the photos and images as there is no way in hell I was fitting into that entrance or between the sides of the tunnel.. I can imagine the feeling as you exited. I have pressed over at my place for Thursday…And… I saw the mention of your latest book and looking forward to sharing that…hugs xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sally, the space in the middle is wider, you can pass each other there but it is a sea of mud, nearly sucked my boot off! It’s definitely an exciting experience, but there’s so much else in the area, if you don’t fancy the cave, and well worth a visit if you like ancient monuments and all the old myth tales, and of course Queen Medb! 😍

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Inside the ‘Hell-Mouth’ of Ireland (video) | aliisaacstoryteller – The Sisters of the Fey

  6. Ali, I had goosebumps watching this! It must have felt like a rebirth to experience this journey. What kind of stone was inside? It almost looked like quartz and mica, all sparkly! How interesting there were moths there. I believe the fey take that form often. An amazing journey. I’m blown away. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Colleen… actually I’m not sure what kind of stone that is, must find out. It looks very fleshly in real life, in yerms of colour and the way the rock has been shaped by water, I suppose. It reminds me very much of film I’ve seen of camera scopes travelling inside the himan body. Its damp and glistening, too. Only sparkly in the camera lights. That moth has really captivated my attention, for some reason. I think it has been there a long time. How it wasn’t scraped off in someone’s hair in passing, I don’t know. Interestingly, a story has been forming inside my head ever since, I will have to write it down soon, but at the moment I have to focus on uni. I didn’t know ths fey take that form. Apparrantly, there are images of moths in the Book of Kells, so they must have some significance to the ancient Irish… something else to investigate. 😊

      Liked by 2 people

    • But mud is so good for the skin, Craig! 😆 Unlike you, I have never been in caves before, and would never choose to place myself in enclosed spaces, and that means elevators, planes, or anywhere where there are crowds of people. Of course, sometimes I have too. I wouldn’t say I’m claustrophobic, but give me a mountain top and a big wide sky any day! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I know an old cave somewhat like this in Wicklow. Perhaps it’s an ancient mine..I’m not sure. But to look upon it from outside you would think it’s just a drain. You have too squeeze in for about 5 metres then you can stand up. I walked in what seemed an incredible distance then came upon a collapse which we could have walked around. But I decided to turn around and go back. That’s over twenty years ago..well over twenty. I’m maybe one of very few alive who know exactly where it is. Most people would just walk by and it’s off the beaten track anyway. Your story reminded me of this memory from my past. I wonder is there a similar history behind this. I must take another look at it…not so sure if I’m brave enough now to enter this forbidden hide……

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s very interesting, John! I would be very wary of going back in if there has been a rock fall. I reckon wherever there are caves, there are also stories about them. Whether they have survived or not is another matter. I’m glad my story sparked a memory for you. Do you think you could find the cave again?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I could walk straight to it. the woman who owns the land now is a little bit more cautious and prone to…excitement…. her sister owned it before, she died some years back at a big age. I remember telling her sister about going into it. she was a realistic old lady who understood she could not control the world..let alone young men or teenager boys lol. she told me she knew about it, and was surprised I did. she said if she had seen us she would have driven us away, of course I knew this and went when she was at church or something…lol she laughed when I told her this!
        She said she had entered it over seventy years ago at this point in time, and she described the same fallen in area I came too.. it was a more open chamber, with two heaps of shaley stones/dirt etc in the centre. you could just walk about it and keep going, but I got scared and turned back. And apparently all those decades before, she did too, so nobody alive knows whats past that..some say it comes out through the hill at some other location miles away,
        she was a tough old lady..had a double barrel shotgun and two BB cartridges for the burglars should they call, and I have no doubt she would have used them on any bad people had the need arisen. she was a tough decent hardy old lady RIP who worked hard until she died in her eighties.
        I must try and find out more about it, like I said very few people are aware of its existence. perhaps it was used to hide guns or whatever during the war of independence or perhaps even before that. it just looks like an old shore or drain, with water flowing from its mouth, and you can barley squeeze into it and then can stand up after 5 or 3 meters..i think it goes in a long long way. the chap that was with me chickened out after a few meters but I am stubborn and went on. it seemed like over a hundred meters or a lot more…..but perhaps that was my nerves…the analogy of being a few miles off shore on a boat comes to mind towards a few miles inland, perhaps going underground has the same effect on the mind, 20 meters may seem like several hundred when one is a nervous..I don’t know! I am not a geologist, so im not so sure how it was formed or how safe it is! , its not limestone ground, its shale rock, so It may be an old bronze age mine. perhaps some gold was taken from it. I will try and make discrete enquires I will mark it out on google maps but wont make it public in the interest of safety and not to annoy the living sister who is elderly, but if you want to know its exact location I will tell you, I believe you are sensible enough.
        Sorry if I go on about other stuff, when you post on your blog, it does trigger memories. and your blog is very well put together and certainly deserves recognition for your hard work..writing is not easy, glad you got recognition by the way.. im trying to get back into it at the moment, despite my appalling spelling & poor grammar. wish me luck!
        Take care.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi John, that is an amazing story, and the old lady sounds quite a character. Of course I wish you luck with your writing, but sounds to me like you are a natural born storyteller, so I doubt you’ll need it. Thanks for the compliments… I love that my posts have triggered memories, you have a very sharp clear focus, I wish my memory was even half as good, but sadly I was last in the queue when they were dished out, mine has always been rubbish, even as a kid. 😁

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow! Impressed.
    Ali Isaac
    aliisaacstoryteller
    1,225 followers
    Following
    Inside the ‘Hell-Mouth’ of Ireland (video)
    4h ago
    cavecave of catscavingcontemplationfemale space
    I nearly didn’t go. I had a handful of essays on the go for uni at the time, but it was Samhain, and Treasa had been kind enough to invite me a second time, and I couldn’t believe it was already a year since the last time I was there. That was a euphoric experience, and I wondered, how would it be second time around, now that I knew what to expect.
    Sliding into the mouth of Oweynagat.
    Sliding into the mouth of Oweynagat.
    Oweynagat is an incredibly female site, in its physicality, its mythology, and in its energy, something I was immediately struck by on my first visit, and so it felt right that this was a women-only experience. Queen Medb was born in its dark depths, and the Morrigan is said to use the cave as a conduit between this realm and the Otherworld.
    Pitch black and wide enough only if you breathe in. Pitch black and wide enough only if you breathe in. You can see here how narrow the cave is in places. You can see here how narrow the cave is in places. It’s very muddy inside, but hey! Mud’s good for the skin! It’s very muddy inside, but hey! Mud’s good for the skin!
    This is how Queen Medb describes the cave in her story from my latest book, Mavourneen:
    “There is a cave at Cruachan. Its small dark mouth yawns at your feet beneath a shroud of hawthorn bushes, and is never lit up by the sun. You can slide your way in, if you dare. The only way is supine on your belly, sinuous as a snake in the thick blackness, or on your back, enclosed so closely that the rock wall brushes your skin as you pass, the weight of the earth pressing on your consciousness, on your lungs, filling you with the fear of rockfalls, of demonic creatures which burst through from the Otherworld, of the terrible Goddess of strife and death we call the Morrigan, of the dread that once inside, you will become trapped, unable to ever return to the surface.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Uh-oh, guess I wasn’t supposed to read this! But anyway, the claustrophobic fissure made me think also of the crystal cave Merlin goes into in order to have visions in Mary Stewart’s classic. Dunno, but it may be described in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s original version, too. Stewart makes Merlin a lifelong virgin in the trilogy, and to give him his seer qualities, he has a strong feminine side. So does Tiresias in classical mythology, having lived both male and female lives. Being on both sides of gender makes him all-wise… Hope I don’t go to Celtic hell for peeping 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! Of course you are meant to see, this was just an all women visit, but many men visit the cave and live to tell the tale! Interesting you mention Merlin there… I am writing about the triple death for an essay at uni, and of course his in the old stories is quite spectacular. I cant remember what Mary Stuart wrote about it in her novels, long time since I’ve read them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, Merlin wasn’t triple death, just asexual in Stewart. He believed that sexual activity would rob him of his magic power. There’s a scene where he’s getting it on with somebody, then abruptly calls it off with her. She turns out to be rather a slut with the other men. Come to think about it, Mary Stewart didn’t write very convincingly about sexual realities. Dunno if I’d recommend rereading her stuff. It’s very dated.

        Have a great winter holiday :p

        Liked by 1 person

        • Haha! He may not have had a triple death in Stewart’s book, but I’m sure he did in the actual myths! 🤣 lol, with that description I won’t bother rereading them either! I’m stressed at the moment, but after next week I’ll be able to relax and enjoy Christmas. Have a great time yourself!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Rachele, it was mostly about remembering and honouring our loved ones who have passed. Very touching, but we are probably in a heightened emotional state after passing through the cave and being in the absolute dark. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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