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.
Dún Dealgan means ‘the stronghold of Dalgan’ in Irish. According to legend, long before it became the home of Ulster’s hero, Cuchulainn, it was originally the site of a fortress constructed by a Fir Bolg chieftain by the name of Delga.
The mighty Proleek Dolmen is a portal tomb which dates from around 3000BC, and which lies in the heart of Cuchullain country. However, this iconic monument is associated with another hero of Irish mythology, the giant, Fionn mac Cumhail. The ‘Giant’s Table’ is another name for the dolmen, which actually comes from a Breton word ‘tolmen’ which means ‘stone table’.
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.
According to legend, there were once five great roads which led to the Hill of Tara. The Annals of the Four Masters claim they magically appeared on the night of King Conaire’s birth. Just a story, or is their any evidence that Ireland really was criss-crossed by these five arterial lines of communication?
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 Abbey takes its name from an ancient tribe whom once ruled the Burren, known as Corcamruadh, from the Irish Cor, a ‘district’, Cam, a ‘quarrel’, and Ruaidh, meaning ‘red’. The Red Book of Kilkenny states that in 1194, Domhnall Mór O’Brien, King of Munster and great-great-great grandson of Brian Boru, founded the monastery for Cistercian monks, and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary.
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.
In Ireland, the beginning of Spring is celebrated by the festival of Imbolc on February 1st, which also happens to be the feast day of the Goddess Brigid. Patron of poetry, smith-craft and healing, Brigid was deeply loved and revered by our Irish ancestors. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn of a cult which had worshipped Brigid from pre-Christian times well into the 19th century.