aliisaacstoryteller

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.


Living on the edge of Táin territory, Dún Dealgan is a place I’ve long wanted to visit. A couple of weeks ago, I got my chance, as I was writing a piece about his long-suffering wife, Emer.

If this was where Cuchulainn was based during his heroic escapades of the Cattle Raid of Cooley, this is where he must have brought her after they were married, although it seems from the tales that she spent much of her time at the ‘Royal Site’ of Emain Macha.


 


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I‘ve been channelling Emer this weekend for my manuscript, Mavourneen, so as I live on the edge of Cuchulainn country, I thought I’d head down to their neck of the woods and see some of the sites associated with their legend.

As the wife of Cuchulainn, Emer spent much of her time at the court of King Conchobar at Emain Macha, but originally she was from Lusk, which is just down the road from where I used to live when I first came to Ireland, Skerries.


Dún Dealgan, Cuchulainn's Fort, www.aliisaacstoryteller.com


However, according to the old stories, Cuchulainn had his own dún near the town we know today as Dundalk, and as such, it is reasonable to expect that Emer would have spent at least some of her time there. The site was later developed by the Normans; the stone tower we see today would not have stood there in Cuchulainn’s day. I’ll write more about this wonderful site another time.

What I really want to show you is this… Read More

Walking the Ceremonial Path at the Hill of Tara

I went back to Tara today to walk the ceremonial path. I thought it may be interesting, in light of recent posts and comments. to take a closer look.


The Teach Miodchuarta, or Banqueting Hall at Tara. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Looking down the length of the Tech Midchúarta from the top of the embankment.


You may recall that early writers described this feature as the banqueting hall of the Kings of Tara, naming it Tech Midchúarta, which in Irish means exactly that. Of course we now know it was nothing of the sort, but in actual fact is an ancient road by which the summit of Tara and all its monuments are approached. The evidence, such as the raised embankments with their irregular slots suggest a ritual, or ceremonial purpose. Read More

In October 2015, I had a very strange experience at Tlachtga, the Hill of Ward. As I walked the site, I became increasingly dizzy and developed a powerful headache. Half an hour after driving away from the site, the headache had gone and I felt fine.


Tlachtga, Hill of Ward. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com. #ancient sites #ireland

Google Earth view of Tlachtga, showing all that remains of its quadrivallate ditch and embankment system


I don’t believe I’m very receptive to picking up the energies and vibes of a place. I’m often in the presence of people who are, and it irritates me immensely that I don’t feel the power they are feeling when we stand together on an ancient site.

I was deeply affected by what I felt that day at Tlachtga, however. Here is what I wrote about it at the time: Read More

According to legend, there were five great roads which led to the Hill of Tara. One of them runs between the north and south campuses of my university at Maynooth, and I’ve been crossing it almost every day for the last two years. Of course, it looks a bit different today; it’s tarmacked for a start, cars drive along it instead of carts, and it has rather a lot of traffic lights. You can read more about the five great roads in my post, The Ancient Origins of the Irish Road, but since then I’ve learned a whole lot more about them which I’d like to share.

It has always been believed that the Hill of Tara was the royal residence of the High Kings of Ireland; after all, we have inherited a vast wealth of early Medieval literature which tells us so. However, since the 1980s, a new school of thought began to emerge which interpreted these medieval tales as a reflection of the times they were written rather than the Iron Age which they claim to portray.


Mound of hostages, black and white images, people standing on top of it.

Mound of hostages at Tara. (c) Ali Isaac


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Last week, I told you the legends of Macha; today we look at the monuments in the Irish landscape she is said to have inspired. EMAIN MACHA, also known by the name of Navan Fort, is real and still standing today, and like the Hill of Tara, and Cruachan, is open to the general public to access, free of charge.

The Hill of Tara gets all the glory and the visitors, but much as I love it, I think this is a bit of a shame. There is as much a wealth of heritage, in terms of archaeology, history, and mythology at our other provincial ritual sites as there is at Tara, and they are well worth experiencing.

The early literature of Ireland has identified a number of ‘Royal Sites’: Tara, in Co. Meath as the seat of Ireland’s high kings; Dún Ailinne in Co. Kildare, which is associated with the kings of Leinster; Cruachain, Co. Roscommon, as the fort of Queen Medb, and Emain Macha, said to be the palace of King Conchobar of Ulster.


Approach to Emain Macha through a metal 'kissing gate'. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com


These sites are all depicted in the literature as the royal residences of pre-historic provincial kings and queens. What the medieval writers saw in the landscape was pretty much the same as what we see there today, and they would have noted that these sites all share similar characteristics. What else could they be but the remains of the palaces of mighty pagan kings?


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You may remember these two young ladies:


Incredible Irish Women. The Mysterious Deaths of Eithne and Fidelma


And you may remember also the block I had when it came to writing the next post in my Incredible Irish Women series, and how I was given to believe that I had ‘unfinished business’ to complete before I could move onto my next subject.

I decided to go to the site where Eithne and Fedelma had been baptised by Patrick, and where they were said to have to have immediately ascended to heaven afterwards. Let’s just say it was not at all what I expected. Read More

There may be more impressive castles in Ireland than Maynooth Castle, but this is certainly one of the oldest, and arguably, one of the most interesting and historically significant.

Although Ireland is well known for its castles, they’re not an Irish invention. It was the Anglo-Normans in the twelfth century who began building castles in Ireland, and originally they weren’t even made from stone; they were crude but rather effective, motte and bailey constructions.


By Hchc2009 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

A sketch showing what a motte and bailiey would have looked like. Courtesy Wikimedia.


A motte is a raised earthwork upon which a wooden tower, or keep, was constructed. The bailey is a courtyard at the foot of the motte which would have been enclosed within a wooden palisade. These were defensive structures which could be thrown up relatively quickly. In later years, the wooden keeps were replaced with stone, and castles became more elaborate.


PLanning Your Visit to Ireland? Maynooth Castle


The Anglo-Normans came to Ireland in 1169, and Maynooth Castle was established soon after in 1176. The King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada, had lost a battle in 1166 against the High King, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, and  Tigernán Ua Ruairc, who was King of Breffni (where I live). Read More

They are instantly recognizable, and have spawned a whole genre of tourist souvenirs. They are worth seeing, though, and can be found at many early Irish monastic sites. I saw these recently at Clonmacnoise.

the cross of the scriptures


Also known as the West Cross, the Cross of the Scriptures (Cros na Screaptra in Irish) is located directly before the main entrance to the cathedral, or Daimliag. It was erected in 909AD by St Colmán and the King of Tara, Flann Sinna, to commemorate their alliance, and to inaugurate the founding of the Daimliag. On the east face of the cross, there is a panel depicting the two men planting the first post for the church. The detail is fantastic… look at Flann’s long hair and even longer moustache, and Colmán’s finely embroidered robes and tonsured head! Read More

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short piece about my visit to Fore, an ancient monastic site with a long and varied history stretching right back into the seventh century AD. I’m not normally a fan of Christian sites; I am usually drawn to earlier, older places, but I feel there is something special about Fore, even though there are far grander monastic sites in much better states of repair around Ireland.


 


On the day I visited, the sun was shining, and as I drove along the valley, breaks in the hedge allowed intriguing glimpses of the the building I was heading for. A raised walkway leads from the car park across the boggy valley floor to the Priory. Across the road lies St Feichin’s Church,  and beyond, a short steep climb brings you to the sixteenth-century Anchorite’s Tower, and the nineteenth-century mausoleum of the Nugent family. Read More

After all, we have plenty of them. Most of our holy wells are nowadays named after famous and beloved Christian saints, mostly Patrick and Bridget, but also some others, too. Personally, I think these were sacred springs long before Christianity came to Ireland, but that’s just my opinion. At the end of the day, your religion is of no consequence; these sites are clearly places of healing energy and spiritual peace regardless of your belief system, and I challenge you to visit one and be unaffected by your experience.

My favourite holy wells are those which lie somewhat off the beaten track. They are harder to get to, and therefore, the reward is greater. You feel you have earned the right to be there. However, these may be least impressive in terms of what you find when you get there… they may be untended by all but the wilderness, but for me that only adds to their charm and authenticity. I am a supporter of the underdog, though, it has to be said. The easier the access, the more commercial these sites tend to be. You have been warned! 😁

Don’t forget to take a personal offering of some kind, and please treat the fairy tree with respect: too many of these special trees are dying because they are poisoned with coins hammered into their trunks, or strangled by items being tied to their branches. Biodegradable offerings are best. Most of all, enjoy your experience. Read More