Ancient Sites Archives - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide
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Medb’s Heap – Miosgán Medb

Medb's Heap - Miosgan Medb at Rathcroghan

This post is about the monument known as Medb’s Heap, Medb’s Cairn, Medb’s Tomb, Medb’s Nipple or Medb’s Grave (and sometimes the name Medb is anglicized as Maeve).

In Irish it’s called Miosgán Medb, from the old Irish word mescán – mass, lump, heap.

Now, you’ll likely have heard tell of the one in County Sligo, the famous “Maeve’s Grave” that sits on top of the 327 metre (1,073 ft) hill called Knocknarea, just to the West of Sligo town.

That may be what you’re looking for… but did you know there are 4 other sites that bear the name “Medb’s Heap’ too?

Stay with me now here, for a few minutes, and let me show you some of what I’ve found while researching my new book: ‘The Irish Queen Medb: History, Tradition, and Modern Pagan Practice’.

Find Out More in the Queen Medb ‘Cheat Sheet’ Here!

So, I was sorting through the Cruachán (Rathcroghan) sites associated with Medb specifically (because that’s where she lived and ruled from, never mind that oul Sligo connection, for now).

There are two large stones named for her that lie directly between the Rathcroghan Main Mound, and Ráth Beag, a high status burial mound directly across from it. They are called Miosgán Medb (again, Medb’s Heap) and Millín Medb (Medb’s Knoll, related to the modern Irish meall – knoll, mound, or a lump of butter).

As expected, so far.

However, when I looked the name up on Logainm.ie (the Irish placenames database), I got a surprise.

Medb’s Heap in… Donegal?!

The entry for Medb's Heap on Logainm Website
Image shows 3 database entries for Medb’s Heap sites in County Donegal.

These references are for Cairn monuments in the areas of Raymunterdoney, Meentaghconlan, and Clonmany. And if you look these places up on the map, you’ll there’s none of them very far from that upper NorthWest coastline. 

I looked them up on the map already for you. Here…

Medbs-Heap-Sites-in-Donegal-on-Google-Maps

The placement of these sites struck me as VERY interesting because they form a boundary against an area that is traditionally a direction which Otherworldly forces might have come from: The NorthWest Sea, and specifically Tory Island, which has links to the Fomorians.

This ancient enemy is NOT from the same time period as Queen Medb, story wise. They are from the Mythological Cycle, while her stories are set in the Ulster Cycle.

Was there a different Medb, a local ancestor or Goddess whose name survived there?

Was our Queen Medb being evoked against general Otherworld/ocean concerns, by the people of a community who may have carried some ancestral memory of foes from that direction, and a powerful guardian who could protect against them?

Unfortunately, we may never know for sure… but I will be exploring this (and more!) further as I continue to write this book.

If you’d like to follow along, you can sign up for my Author Club Reward on Patreon, and read what’s been written so far, with a new delivery at the end of each month.

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Or you can join our Community Mailing List below for a regular delivery of authentic Irish Resources – as well as all the latest news and updates as this book (and many others) are published!

Site Visits – Drumlohan Ogham Stones

Drumlohan Ogham Stones

It’s 2 years since myself and my sister set off on my first Patreon site visit, and I thought I’d share a version of the report for the anniversary!

Before the Visit

Why This Site?

I’ve been aware of the site, peripherally at least, since I saw a picture in Daragh Smyth’s ‘A Guide to Irish Mythology’ (1996 edition), in the entry on Druids – where he makes reference to Druid divination “by means of ogam, carved on wands of yew”, and then on the next page is a drawing tagged – “Cave entrance at  Drumloghan, Co. Waterford, showing ogam stones in place.” Mysterious, eh?!

Obviously not mysterious enough to warrant further investigation at the time though, because I didn’t.

When I moved to Waterford in March 2016, I missed my cave terribly (the Cave of the Cats, at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon). I had a vague recall of the ogham being interesting, so I googled ‘ogham cave’, and found it. Pretty sure I posted a link to my author page round that time, but I was in the throes of book jail and couldn’t afford to give it much time. Even so, I determined to visit.

The Information I Had

The site I looked at around that time simply said: “Located 3.5km north of  the village of Stradbally, this is one of Waterford’s most interesting sites. Known locally as the ‘Ogham Cave’, it was discovered by a farmer in 1867. Ten Ogham stones  were found built into the walls and roof of a souterrain measuring 3.5 m long, 1.5m wide and 1.2 meters in height.

In 1936 five of the stones were erected each side of the now exposed souterrain with just three remaining as roof stones. It is thought that the stones were pilleged from local cemeteries for the construction of the souterrain which could have been used for storage or defence from invasion around 800-900AD.

The site, which is enclosed by a wooden fence, is located out in the middle of a field normally used for cattle grazing.” http://www.prehistoricwaterford.com/products/drumlohan/

Directions I Worked From

Myself and my sister Jay set out on this adventure one rainy Saturday morning in July. I had Google Maps directing on the phone (it’s a marked site you can get directions to, by road) and she’d found these ones:

“From Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford, take the N25 west, at the first crossroads take a left for Stradbally at the second crossroads take a right then the next right, about 300 metres down this road you will come to a gate with a house next to it. Go through this gate and follow the path the stones are about 200 metres down this path in a field on your left hand side.”

http://www.megalithicireland.com/Drumlohan%20Ogham%20Stones.html

I refused to look at the site info from where she’d got the directions, wanting to go in cold, as it were.

All seemed well.

We were in fine form, and had even the use of a posh and luxurious Lexus for our adventure, as my cousin Catherine (who’s like a sister to us as well sure… and also Jay’s actual work boss, by the by) was away for a few weeks and definitely wouldn’t be using it that day.

The Visit

We were driving happily along that main road there (the N25) when Google informed us we had reached our destination. Eh, no. Obviously we hadn’t.

Realising Google was a little confused by the lack of actual roads or pathways to the site, we abandoned that and looked again at the written directions.

Getting awful confused by talk of crossroads and farm tracks, we found what we figured must be the closest farm yard, based on the Google ‘You Have Reached Your Destination’ marking point, and drove up that lane.

It was obviously a working farmyard, so we did the respectful thing and pulled in off the lane so we could go in and ask directions, and possibly permission to access the land, if that was required. Local knowledge and respect are always the way to go when accessing Irish sites, as most of them are based on private (and often working farm) land. I mean, I have social anxiety issues and I still went and knocked on a stranger’s door… that’s how important this is!

We were directed to the forest track down the road by a smiling Saturday farmer, with assurances it was ‘just down there’, and got back in the car to drive off on our merry way. Um…

  oops   

The Lexus is heavy! With slick road tyres! It was raining, a lot!

Luckily, the farmer had a 4×4 and some straps for towing, so he came outside and hauled us out. We were mortified of course, but it was all very good natured. We got turned around and back on the road.

Found the forest track. Examined the car for damage (none, phew). Walked the forest track.

My first proper pic of the day was the solitary Foxglove we encountered in a drainage ditch along this lane. The Fairy Fingers (digitalis) were enchanting me all day, but this one for some reason was waving to me (physically moving, as well as energetically waving) to get my attention as we walked, so I stopped to say hi, and take a picture (below).

Continuing along the lane, we were awful confused to reach the dead end there.

There was some rubbish dumped, including somewhat bizarrely, a broken beehive. But no track or trail or gods forbid a finger post sign, to tell us where the site was.

There were large red overhead barriers at the end, something to do with forestry machinery I believe… but nothing else. I was feeling drawn to a place that MIGHT have been a way through, but Jay pointed out that a particular tree wasn’t just one season’s growth, and likely indicated that there was no use pushing our way through brambles to try and get to the other side… the direction I felt the site to be in.

Frustrating.

We walked back up the lane, and figured we could find the site from the original written directions, but we’d need to start from the farmyard where we’d got the car stuck.

Leaving the car parked safely where it was, we walked along the main road (google maps helpfully telling us we’d reached our destination somewhere round the middle again, thank you very much). We were hoping to spot a way in from the road, but it was pretty dense forestry and undergrowth, so it looked like a return to the farmyard was inevitable.

Embarrassing though. So, we walked a bit up their lane, but hopped a stone wall into the fields beyond, and crouch ran across the open space to a point we recognized, a large erratic boulder that was mentioned on some directions she’d seen that I can’t actually find now… it’s all a little hazy.

Talk about stepping on a stray sod somewhere along the way and begin turned around? We wandered those fields for the guts of 2 hours in the rain and wind, I kid you not.

Eventually, I hit on the brain wave of taking out google maps again, and turning on the satellite view to get some idea of the terrain, and although the data wasn’t quite up to date, that at least gave us the general direction to be hitting for. Thankfully her map reading skills and spatial orientation abilities are on point, as mine as severely challenged, I will admit.

And we found it!

And it was wonderful!

We recorded the first video (under the thorn tree in the ‘fairy cave’ once we had it in sight, but before we approached. Then we went over, wandered around a while, sat down into it, examined the ogham and talked. It was very still and quiet down in it, and I don’t think that was just due to the relief of being out of the bluff and bluster of the windy hillside fields. I got a feel of burial, which didn’t make sense.

Jay recorded another video, inside the cave. Then she graciously departed and went and sat on the hillside by the hedge, while I lay down in the space and Journeyed to the Otherworld location of that site.

When I came back to this world, I recorded a quick extra video that unfortunately lost the sound… that may or may not have been technical difficulties. Well, it was definitely technical difficulties, but whether it was a random glitch or Otherworld interference is anyone’s guess. Then it was time to leave.

The Journey

The Otherworld Journey was a little odd, but not uncomfortable.

I lay down, closed my eyes, and went through my usual process – going inside myself, through the blackness, path to the beach, out across the ocean… and I landed on the Otherworld Ireland. From here I travelled ‘as the crow flies’ to the location of this site, and set down to visit.

The ‘locals’ there were very much unused to visitors. Such a kerfuffle! I sat, and waited for things to calm down and natural curiosity to take the place of that initial ‘wtf is this?’ It did, in little time. The stones were originally all laid across the hollowed souterrain, and this was the case in the Otherworld too. But there was a mirror/shadow of the stones stretching out along a boundary a little distant, at the same time. There was a definite burial energy showing up on that side too, for me.

As I lay there under the originals, I got a strong sense of ‘Protection’ – but it was very unclear, shifting,  and confused to me as to whether the stones were meant for protection of something inside the ‘cave’, or protection of those across the landscape from something within. I got a sense that the thing being protected from, in either case, was something very different, with an ‘alien’ feel to it (unusual, not extra-terrestrial) – i.e. so vastly different as to be almost incomprehensible to the locals.

I said thank you, and left the Otherworld. Returning to this world, I found a large lump of moss lain across my chest, with no easy or obvious way it could have gotten there.

Academic Research

Archaeological Record

When I was home, I visited the SMR Database (always my first port of call) at www.archaeology.ie, to see what is available in the known record.

On their map, we can see the red dots representing points of interest in the area. The top dot on right hand side is the Ogham Cave, which is helpfully marked ‘ogham’.

The note reads:

“The souterrain (WA024-033004-) associated with the perimeter of ecclesiastical enclosure (WA024-033003-) at N contained ten ogham stones which are now preserved at the site. This is on the fourth lining stone on the W side which Macalister (1945, vol. 1, No. 281) read as: DEAGOS MAQI MUCO[I……]NAI.” – ‘Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford’. In this instance the entry has been revised and updated in the light of recent research.

This stone has been studied as part of the ‘Ogham in 3D’ project undertaken by the School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. To access details go to the following website: http://ogham.celt.dias.ie/search.php?ciic=281

The line of three dots underneath is the mentioned ecclesiastical site (bottom, centre circle) which I hadn’t been aware was there before our visit, with an unknown artefact previously classified as a millstone in the grounds, and a bullán stone near the boundary edge.

The ecclesiastic/church site entry is as follows:

Situated on a gentle S and SE-facing slope overlooking a river basin to the S and E. This is an early ecclesiastical site, but there are no known historical references. Subcircular grass-covered area (dims. 40m E-W; 35m N-S) defined by an overgrown stone field bank (Wth 2m; int. H 1m; ext. H 1m) which is truncated at SE by a NE-SW field bank. There is no evidence of a church or that the enclosure was used for burial (WA024-033002-), but this is very likely. There is a cairn (diam. 4m; H 0.5m) (WA024-033019-) in the centre, and a millstone and subrectangular bullaun stone (WA024-033005-) of Old Red Sandstone (dims. c. 1m x 0.7m) with a single basin (diam. 0.4m; D 0.18m) are also at the site. An outer boundary of an ecclesiastical enclosure (WA024-033004-) is visible as an eroded bank (Wth c. 6m; H 0.2m) with traces of an outer fosse (Wth 4m; D 0.2m) SW-NE (diam. c. 130m). Traces of field banks (WA024-033020-) connecting the inner and outer enclosures were present c. 1980 (SMR file). There is a souterrain (WA024-033004-) with associated ogham stones (WA024-033006- to WA024-033015-) on the outer boundary at NW. (Kirwan 1985; 1987)

As you can see – the ‘church’ assignment is not definitive. But there is a cairn, and a hollowed stone.

History

You will see in the Report folder a file you can download, which is a copy of the article from the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland by William Williams, entitled “On an Ogham Chamber at Drumloghan, in the County of Waterford”.

[Source: The Journal of the Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland, ThirdSeries, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1868), pp. 35-39]

In this, he speaks of local knowledge at the time (1868), claiming the church site to be:

“an ancient cemetery, if not actually of Pagan origin, at least long disused, except for the interment of unbaptized children, suicides, and any others not considered entitled to burial in consecrated ground.”

He describes the discovery of the Ogham Cave, only a year or so before he wrote the paper:

“Mr. William Quealy, a very intelligent and obliging young man, on whose land the cemetery is situated, and who, too, gave practical proof that he is no stranger to the exercise of the national virtue of hospitality, directed his men, a few weeks since, to demolish the remains of the external fence above referred to. In the progress of the work they came upon a long stone which crossed the foundation of the fence; and having noticed some earth to fall into the ground by its side, they removed it, and found underneath a moderately large chamber, which contained nothing but loose earth and a few small stones. Having failed to turn up the much-coveted hoard of gold, they proceeded with the work of demolition, and took little further notice of the matter. Intelligence of this important discovery having been brought me a few days later, I visited the spot in the month of August last, and was agreeably surprised at finding that the chamber thus accidentally broken into was an ogham cave”.

Also in your Report folder is another research article, published by the Old Waterford Society publication ‘Decies’, issue XXVIII, Spring 1985; this is entitled “The Ogham Stones at Drumlohan, Reconsidered”, by E.M. Kirwan.

On the Ogham stones, they write:

“When the ogham stones were discovered at Drumlohan, it was evident immediately that they had been used primarily as building materials in the construction of the underground chamber in which they were set. There are ten stones that have been inscribed with ogham and the question of the actual origin of these stones remains open. It is quite certain that they had been inscribed long before being used as supports and roofing stones, and it is supposed that they came from the immediate vicinity. The exact age of both underground chamber (souterrain) and ogham stones is uncertain.”

There is a detailed look at the Ogham inscriptions and translation opinions too.

(Williams, 1868)

Kirwan wrote:

“The readings of the Drumlohan oghams show little consistency. The main difficulties have been due to parts of the stones being missing; not reading the whole length of the stones; but more frequently, the difficulty has been in interpreting the forms of the ogham genitive case. A shortened account of the various readings should be of help in trying to put these ogham stones into historical perspective.”

First Lintel Of M. boy of G. descendant of M.
Fourth Lintel (monument) of Calunovix, son of the Kin of Litus or Lith
Fifth Lintel (monument) of MacInissen the Good
Sixth Lintel (monument) of Cunalegis, son of C. of the Legs, descendant of Quects
Eighth Lintel Fractured, partial – Dag, or Lag
East 1st Lining (Monumentum) Birmaqui generis Rothae
East 3rd Lining MAQI NE(TA-SEGAMON)AS – possibly
East 5th Lining DENAVEC(A MU)OI MEDALO
West 1st Lining CORRBRI MAQUI X,  or  BRO(INION)AS
West 4th Lining Older inscription – SOVA(L) (I)NI
West 4th Lining Newer inscription – DEACOS MAQI MUCO(I…)NAI

Not all of the Lintel or passage Lining stones have Ogham inscriptions on them, hence the gaps.

Folklore

“Passing out of the old cemetery to the west, the eye is at once attracted by the remains of a broad circular rampart. This external ring appears to have been con centric with the cemetery, and of about thrice its diameter. It can be easily traced from N. to S. E.; and although the remainder is now quite obliterated, I have no doubt that originally it surrounded the cemetery. Nay, more, fortified by the presence of the ogham cave, shortly to be described, and of a fine rock-basin which lies at a few yards distance from the cemetery, I have no hesitation in stating that this great external ring was an open-air Pagan temple.”  (Williams)

Conclusions and Takeaways

The Way Out

It was easier to orientate ourselves off the road way from that point, and we figured out which direction the car was parked in and tried to make for that, but came to a boundary that we couldn’t cross. We ended up standing by the boundary ditch and fence across from that particular tree that wasn’t just one season’s growth, having spotted those large red barrier things for the forest machinery… that way through was indeed unpassable, so thank you Jay for saving me from the bramble push and pull, but it was heartening to realise that while my spatial awareness and road negotiation leaves a lot to be desired, my internal ‘magic stuff is this way’ compass is absolutely spot on.

We decided to go up and around, to try and hit the road from the other side and further down, as neither of us relished the idea of the crouching run back across that farmer’s land. And so we did, and we found a laneway, leading to a gap in the hedge, and ended up at the top of the hill again, in the field behind someone’s back garden, with the road running in front of their house.

As we were about to swing out that way, and back along the road, when Jay noticed a gap in the hedge on the other side of their house, in what looked like forestry, and wondered if that, possibly, was the forest we’d parked in, and if the gap might lead us back onto the forest path?

Lo and behold, it was and it did.

Looking back up the hill…

And back on the forest path laneway, where did we end up?

Coming through a gap and over the drainage ditch to be greeted by my first little foxglove friend.

I shit you not, that energy waving at the start was about trying to show me the right way in.

Opinion – Summary

All in all, the research to attempt to explain (or even confirm) my personal gnosis on site showed up some interesting academic analysis and opinion. There is no consensus there, of course, but the ancestral boundaries are certainly indicative of protection, while the local folklore points to burial tradition.

I would propose that my uncertainty between protecting within from without, or without from within, may be rooted in the re-purposing and re-locating of the stones. Boundaries were strong. I have no doubt that there was a sacred or even magical element to these carvings, and the placement at these sites.

This was an important place to our ancestors, and that can still be felt in the stone bones and echoes.


— Visit Irish Sacred Sites with Me every Month —

The Stolen Child

The Stolen Child

Clochar na Trócaire, Ceapach Chuinn
Location: Cappoquin, Co. Waterford

In the center of Waterford there lies a place which long ago was the stronghold of the ‘Fir Bolgs’. This place is a large Lios descending into the ground for about two feet, and then in underneath for about four yards. At the end of this a round room is entered.

This room is built around with brick on either side. In the left hand side there is a trap door and a long dismal passage going down for about three feet and then there is heard the soft lapping of the river. About three miles down is the river. The Lios is surrounded by a deep trench going all around it. There is a legend told about the Lios, true or not.

There was a widow who had her house not very far from the Lios. This poor woman had only one child, a little girl. The child, when young used to spend her time picking flowers.

So, one May evening, she was picking a bunch of flowers as usual when she heard strange music in the direction of the Lios. The girl was young and had no sense and went to examine the matter. When she came near the Lios she saw a strange sight, a band of fairy people dancing, singing and playing music.

But, to the girls amazement, they advanced towards her and laid a magic spell over her and changed her into a fairy. Then they went back to the Lios with their comrades and all was over until morning.

In the morning the child thought of home, in spite of the magic spell that had bewitched her. She succeeded in arriving at the Lios when she found herself in the most admirable land of dolls, boys, dresses and everything that could attract one. She began to play with her new toys and forgot all about home. Soon the Queen took her by the hand and brought into a room.

She was made sit on a stool and was handed a bottle of milk and a whitethorne branch. She drank it and she was changed into a Princess.

When the Queen died she became Queen of Fairyland and was over all the fairies.

ARCHIVAL REFERENCE

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0637, Page 129

Image and data © National Folklore Collection, UCD.


 

Liosanna – Irish Fairy Forts

Ringfort in Mayo - Lios na Gaoithe near Newport

To follow on from the recent post on Irish Ráths, I wanted to include some extra detail on a type of Ráth – the Lios.

In my experience and understanding, Liosanna (plural) are particularly associated with the Sidhe, the Irish Fairies, so I was very surprised to come across this account today…

Liosanna are plainly seen in many districts near the school. Quite close to the school in the same townsland – Ballycurrane – are three or rather were for one of them Crunnigans is gone. Coughlans is a field or so down from the school. Healys is at the other side of the stream running down from the well. Both are just round mounds with trees growing on them. There is no account of a passage in either of these. A part of Healys has been dug away at one side and the clay etc. coming out of it is a peculiar black colour. Some loads of it were brought here to to the school about nine years ago to make a dry path in from the road. It set like cement and gave it the appearance in patches of a tarred road. Bones were got there at one time but whether they were animal or human nobody knows. Old people used to say they heard music there at night long ago.

Crunnigans ploughed out the lios and as a result there is no one of the name there to day. The house is in ruins and the farm was bought by Merrinans.
Probably the nearest Lios to these is Hallorans in Kilgabriel. This differs from the others in the fact that it has a passage and underground chambers. In the time of the Civil War it was examined by the Free State soldiers who thought it was a dump for arms.

There is another big one in Declan Flahertys land in Ballindrumma. This is connected by an underground passage with the one in McGraths of Knockaneris. People who saw it say it was marvellously done and was paved with stones. Unfortunately hunting for foxes who went to earth in it has caused parts of it to fall in.
There was another passage from Knockaneris to Flemings in Coolbagh and from there to Dromore.
On the other side of the school across the Licky on the Grange side are two more – one in Briens and one called ‘Maire Ni Mearas’. There is an entrance to Briens one and some men went into years ago bringing a ball of hemp with them to guide them. The fox when hard pressed always takes refuge in it.
The following story was told to me by James Scanlan of Cladagh. When Maire Ni Meara lived she sent a man with two horses to plough the lios. He was not long ploughing when the two horses fell prostrate on the ground and despite all his efforts he couldn’t move them. He rushed in for the woman and she seeing how matters stood knelt down and asked God to restore the horses to her and promised faithfully that she would never interfere with it again. Immediately the horses stood up and from that day to this Maire Ni Meara’s Lios has remained undisturbed. The land now belongs to Currans of Ballylangiden.

The general opinion held by all the old people here is that they were built by the Danes. Whenever they were attacked or in any danger they lit a fire on top of the lios and this gave warning to the others. A fire lit on any of the Grallagh Liosanna can be seen from Healy’s Lios in Ballycurrane. This was evidently the important one here. A fire lit in Flaherty’s Lios could be seen from Knockaneris and so on. Mr. Mason of Augh heard the old people say that it was only when Brian Boru found out the secret of the liosanna and how they were able to signal and communicate with each other that he was able for the Danes.

Curiously I have met no one yet who mentioned fairies in connection with them. All seem to hold that they were used by the Danes for defence. They were all practically on a slope to give them a commanding position and all are the same shape round.

ARCHIVAL REFERENCE
The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0640, Page 233

 

Now, I’m not sure what they think might have been the cause of them horses falling over and then miraculously reviving with a promise of leaving the site alone… but I’ve never heard tell of a Lios that didn’t mention fairies in connection with them. So I was curious.

There’s no mention of these monuments or the townland names on my go-to for Waterford sites – Prehistoric Waterford. Which suggests that they’d be Medieval monuments, not Iron or Stone Age sites.

Next stop is the SMR Database on www.Archaeology.ie, where we have the Archaeological Survey of Ireland from the National Monuments Service. Here we find a Ringfort of no apparent archaeological value at Ballycurrane…

But a little further North we can see the Ballindrumma site mentioned (on Declan Flaherty’s land) does have mention of a Souterrain attached:

WA035-010002- Class: Souterrain, Townland: BALLINDRUMMA.
Description: Two souterrains are marked on the 1927 ed. of the OS 6-inch map, one of which is also marked on the 1840 ed of the map. It is likely that there is only one souterrain which is indicated by an area of scrub centrally located within rath (WA035-010—-), and also by two lintels on the perimeter at N.

So, I wanted to show ye a little insight of how I get some preliminary research on Irish monuments, and how the different resources can work together. From here, I’d like to get feet on the ground out at Ballindrumma (maybe for a Patreon Site Visit) and see what it looks like from there.

I wonder will I find any sight or sound of the Sidhe myself?

 


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What is a Rath?

Yes, I feckin spelled that right. Thank you.

Rath, not wrath.

Ráth is the Irish term for an archaeological Ringfort, anglicised as Rath – or one of the terms, rather. Others being lios (anglicised lis), caiseal (anglicised cashel), cathair (anglicised caher or cahir) and dún (anglicised dun or doon). [ref Nancy Edwards, ‘The Archaeology of Early Medieval Ireland’, 2006]

A casual perusal of any Irish map or story will show you a whole rake of placenames with at least the anglicised versions of these words built right into them. Like, you can’t miss them. Rathcroghan would be a very famous example; Ráth Crúachán – the legendary home of Connacht Queen Maedbh (Maeve), and the Irish Goddess of battle and prophecy, the Mórrígan.

Ráth and Lios are what we call those earthen enclosure ringforts (with lios having a particular connotation as a fairy fort in more modern times, out of all of them, for some reason), while Caiseal and Cathair both signify a stone ringfort. The Dún then, can refer to any fort really, and it doesn’t even have to be circular either for that one… it’s basically used to signify an important stronghold.

There’s examples of these types of Ringforts in Ireland dated from the Bronze Age onwards (roughly 2500 or 2000 BCE on), but they’re definitely most common in the early Medieval, and they stopped being built probably around 1000 CE.

They came in all sizes really, with the earthen ringforts marked by a circular rampart (a bank and ditch), and they would have had (generally) at least one building inside, but often multiple dwellings and animal enclosures. The majority of them seem to have been domestic, but there’s a strong theory that the later more domestic working Medieval Ráth was  built over or incorporated earlier Bronze and particularly Iron Age dwellings or even ceremonial enclosures, as there’s a distinct relative lack of vernacular housing remains for that period.

Archaeological excavation within some of the Ringforts revealed a lot about their function – there’s some of them with nothing we can find inside, and these have largely been deemed as livestock enclosures, but I’d suggest that an occasional ’empty’ one might just have been ceremonial in nature. In general though there’ll be a large central building found, usually circular, with smaller out-buildings beside or near it. There might be some other stuff too, like cereal drying kilns, or smithing furnaces. It looks like most of them would have been a homestead for small community or extended family, with the protection built in for any dangers roaming round outside the walls or banks.

In Ireland, there’s over 40,000 sites currently identified as Ringforts, and they reckon there would have been at least 50,000 on the island. [ref Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, ‘A New History of Ireland’ Vol 1, 2005]. They are so common in fact, that within any average area of 2 km2 (0.8 sq mi), you’ve a good chance of finding one.

Nowadays, they’re respected and not touched, for the most part, by landowners and communities, as they’re most often referred to as ‘fairy forts’. And you don’t want to go messing with the Good Neighbours now, do ya?

 

[NOTE – Photo Source]

Kite aerial photograph of the Multivallate Ringfort at Rathrá, Co Roscommon, Ireland. April 2016.
Source: West Lothian Archaeology’s camera flown on a kite at the field outing of the Rathcroghan Conference in April 2016. Credit: West Lothian Archaeological Trust (Jim Knowles, Frank Scott and John Wells).


 

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At Caiseal Manannán

Aerial photograph of Cashelmanannan from the west (After Waddell et al. 2009, fig 6.7). Note the two 'annexes' attached to the main enclosure.

A clash of metal rang out over the training grounds, followed by a muffled grunt of exertion, and the wooden thud of shield engaging shield.

“Put yer backs into it little wormies! Domhnall, keep that shield up, yer shoulder is wide open. Aoife, thrust and slice, stop that bloody hacking!”

Her attention caught by the familiar morning sights and sounds of Corbhall putting the young warriors through their paces, she couldn’t help but smile as he met her eye with a wolfish grin. The benevolent smile faded somewhat as she observed him raise his leg and let rip a loud fart in her general direction. She sighed a little, observing him grab up a large wooden waster and stride off towards the hapless Domhnall, who was about to get a very practical lesson in what happens when a person leaves their shoulder exposed in a battle situation. Well, at least he was using a wooden training sword this time, and not his own fierce blade. Phuic’s latest ‘little chat’ with him must have done some good.

As she turned to go inside, movement through the hawthorn boundary stirred her curiosity, and she stepped towards it for a clearer view. As her home was situated with the School to the east and the Procession Ways to the west, she gained a clear view of the latter direction by moving through a small gap in the boundary with her back to the morning sun.

A tall, graceful figure was moving softly over the grass, and Leila recognised her immediately. Alone, as usual, the girl Saille made her careful way to a point exactly between the two raised banks, placing herself at the start of the ritual procession route. Pale arms seemed to glow in the bright morning light as she raised them in salute, the loose sleeves of her robe falling back lightly, and fluttering as she turned to face the newly risen sun. Eyes closed, she did not notice that she had an audience. Opening her mouth, her voice poured forth – the strong beginning note sounding pure in the morning air. Respectfully, Leila turned back, not wanting to disturb the solitary girl’s rituals, or embarrass her with observation. Besides, it was time to make her way to the School, classes would begin shortly.

Gathering her things from inside, she shut the door on her way out and walked a brisk pace around the training grounds, out to the horse fields. If she didn’t collect little Anande every day that child would never set foot in the classroom. Leila doubted she would ever do anything that didn’t involve those horses, unless someone cajoled, begged or forced her to do it. It had been the very same since she had arrived for fostering at the age of 2 – she was already grooming and working with horses by then. 8 years on, the obsession had only grown deeper. Her own breeding pair were her pride and joy, a fine white stallion she had called Tír na nÓg, and a proud dark mare who went by the (somewhat risky, Leila had often felt) name of Mórrioghan.

Indeed, her hard work and dedication had already paid off, with their offspring highly sought after – holding top position in many races each year, all over the land. Anande’s talents had come to the notice of the Queen herself, and it was known that she would have the option of a place in the royal household when she came of age. Although knowing that girl, she would probably never venture much beyond the stables and the horse fields, once she didn’t have to.

With the Óenach just around the corner, Leila braced herself for the frustrated tirade she knew was imminent. Sure enough, as soon as she came into view, Anande was upon her, demanding to know the news – would she be allowed to compete her own horses this year? Every other year she had been judged too young, even though her skill was equal to any grown man or woman. Privately, Leila supposed that the judges were listening too much to the whispers of their friends – friends whose whispers were fuelled mainly by fear of being beaten by a 10 year old girl. At these large community fairs, pride was everything; Anande represented too much of a threat to the long established egos.

“I am sorry mo leanbh, I have not heard a decision yet. But it would not do to get your hopes too high. You are young yet, and there is plenty of time to compete. This year again, the children of your horses will run, and be shown, and all will see and know your gifts with these creatures. Your time will come.”

Leila waited patiently while the girl cleared up and said goodbye to her friends, preparing herself for another day away from them. Hearing a grumpy ‘harrumph’ from the mare, she turned to find a large hairy hound loping across the open ground towards them, tongue lolling with exertion from the run. Greeting him with a smile, she spent the remaining wait for the child stroking Phuic’s sleek black head, and scratching his soft furry back. When Anande was ready to leave, they set out together, Phuic still in his hound form leading the way to the School.

When Leila had first arrived at Caiseal Manannan, it had taken her a while to get used to the Shifters.

Nervous at first, she had avoided their company, keeping largely to herself, as much as possible. But she had soon realised it was impossible not to like Phuic, with his easy going nature and boundless energy. The rest had taken her longer to get to know, with Corbhall being the last and latest. That one still made her slightly uneasy at times – the singular nature of the warrior wolf a contrast to Phuic’s flexible changing. The man did a great job training the young warriors though, she had to give him that. It made up for some of the noisy body functions and harshly practical and abrupt personality, at least.

Approaching the School, the trio made their way up by the stone wall of the first enclosure, over the ditch and in through the largest, central enclosure. Beyond the next ditch was the third enclosure, where her classroom was situated. Opening the door wide to catch the early breeze, she decided that today was a day for outdoor learning; perhaps a walk to identify some new plant species, and a lesson in the afternoon regarding the medicinal and magical properties of their new found flora. Phuic was already settling into his shift mode – which she still, despite her best efforts, found difficult to watch – for he would need human hands again to complete his daily tasks. It was not easy to maintain the armoury or practise sword forms with the hooves of a goat or the talons of a raven. Anande picked the broom from the yard, making her way to the classroom door to begin the morning sweep. Leila was close on her heels, and they both stopped short when they encountered the man seated inside. Uncurling from the chair, he rose and followed them as they backed out into the open. Phuic looked up in surprise at the unexpected visitor, but when he identified who had joined them, he quickly took his leave. Anande too, found somewhere else she urgently needed to be. Left with a polite smile glued to her face, Leila barely suppressed the flutter of panic in her breast. The man watched Phuic enter the main enclosure and disappear into the armoury, waiting for the last longing look that inevitably reached Leila as he left, and nodding with seeming satisfaction as it arrived right on cue. Leila failed to notice either man’s actions, her eyes on the ground.

“Sit with me.”

The command was not harsh, but it brooked no argument, so Leila sat at his feet. As she looked up into eyes that gave their colour to the seas, she felt nervous tension drain from her shoulders, and took a deep breath. This refreshed her. However apprehensive his unexpected presence had made her, they shared a trust carefully built with years of respectful interaction. She closed her eyes, and allowed his voice to transport her…

“You are floating. Dark seas all around you, and you sit in a currach, calm amid the storms. The motion is gentle, soothing, a contrast to the turbulence that surrounds you. As the boat moves, the serenity moves with you. You focus on that still centre, and look outward as you journey.

An island. People, music, fire. A confusing jumble of strange activity, odd clothing, incomprehensible speech. You move on, away, seeking forward on your journey.

Another island. Large structures, fast moving objects. You move on. Another, a large procession, giant green hats and banners, standards and crests unrecognisable. You move on. Faster and faster you move by the islands, none are right for you to see. Metal monsters that roar and speed faster than you can follow. Houses and keeps taller than any tree, taller even than the mountains. Music and sounds so loud they hurt the ear. Plants and animals so alien to your eyes. Colours and lights brighter than the stars, than flames, brighter than the summer sun. People of so many tribes, in garments and materials the like of which you have never dreamed. Doing things you can make no sense of. Your boat skims onwards, forwards on your journey.

And stops. This island seems empty, the shoreline clean and unbroken by habitat. Your currach washes up, bow softly kissing the sand. You disembark, sandy shingle quickly giving way to smoothened rocks as you make your way up the beach, then to wiry scrub, and finally to grassy land. There are trees you know, some small plants that are recognisable. Familiar forest noises, soothing after the strangeness. Then human sounds, voices in the distance. No discernible language, but shouts and laughter that seem to indicate contented playfulness. Continuing in that direction, you keep to the cover of the trees as you come to an open space, a clearing, in which a family are at rest. Not wanting to disturb them, you simply see.

A young boy, about 6 or 7 years old – shouting and whooping as he runs through the long grass. He is broad shouldered for one so young, sturdy and healthy looking. His sisters chase him, laughing carefree girls of early puberty, maybe 11 or 12; there’s not much between them in age. The younger girl is fit and strong, whooping with sheer pleasure, filled with energy and raw power. The older is graceful and willowy, more reserved than her siblings, joining in as she wants to but deliberately curbing her enthusiasm, and often distracted by some small detail, mesmerised in her own world until a shout or a poke brings her back into the game.

The grownups sit and watch, at ease with each other and comfortably familiar. He is a young old man, whose countenance seems to shed a light all his own; a bright, happy soul who cannot help but show his adoration for the family, and a deep self-satisfaction with the situation in which he finds himself. Fit, with a warrior’s movements and the innocence of youth. And she, she is dark of hair and light of skin, taller than a woman should be, but striking. There is a… presence about her, something that is hard to describe, a power that lies smooth under the surface. As you observe her, puzzling, she turns and looks directly at you. With no surprise, she smiles, and nods hello, and you return the courtesy. With that recognition, you know it is time to leave this happy family, to return through the trees, to the beach, and climb in to seat yourself in the currach.

The sea swells gently to carry you back, away from the island and back out across the waves. As you return, you think of this family, the knowing smile of that mother, safe in her home surrounded by her loved ones, and you can’t help but smile again.

You are floating again. Dark seas all around you, and you sit in the currach, calm amid the storms. The motion is gentle, soothing, a contrast to the turbulence that surrounds you. As the boat moves, the serenity moves with you. You focus on that still centre, and hear my voice. You remember those people. Their spirits are familiar, you have met and known them already, and will remember and love them again. Keep that calm centre within you as you travel your outward journey, and when you are ready, just open your eyes…”

And she did.

***

This piece grew from a character banter/brainstorm with the kids in the car on the way to school one morning. I write the following when I returned home, and the rest came later.

Saille: Priestess in training. Mystery figure who refuses to engage with anyone. Age undetermined.
Anande: 10 year old horse breeder/trainer. Not allowed to compete her horses in the óenach, too young! But there’s men of 50 who aren’t ¼ as good as she is. She keeps a mare and a stallion who’s offspring regularly win the races, breeds horses for the king and the queen themselves.
Corbhall: 19 year old warrior who farts a lot! Trains all the child warriors at the school, and can shape shift into a wolf.
Leila: Teacher in Caiseal Manannan.
Phuic: Shape shifts – black dog, black stallion, black bird. Young warrior knight.

All that aside, Manannan is a fascinating figure in Irish Gaelic tales. In his essay, Dr. Charles McQuarrie describes:

“Manannan mac Lir, the sometime god of the Irish Sea and lord of the Otherworld, who appears most often as a beneficent Otherworld-god-in-disguise. In some tales, especially the earlier ones, Manannan appears disguised as a noble mortal king, but in later tales, as in a number of 15th century sources, he appears in bizarre, horrible, and even comical disguise.”

The late, great, Prof. Dáithí O hÓgáin described him as “Otherworld lord and mythical mariner”, who rode over the waves on a horse named Enbharr (‘water-foam’), and the professor tells of the waves being called ‘the locks of Manannan’s wife’.

This son of the sea is associated with stone remains lying South West of Rathcroghan mound. Caiseal Manannan was a multivallate stone fort, made up of three concentric stone walls, with ditches between each – a site which may originally have incorporated a roofed structure. The inner enclosure is 40 metres in diameter, and the walls are approx. 1.5 metres thick. There is reference to a ‘Druidic school’ in the area, and Caiseal Manannan (the stone fort of Manannan) is a likely site for that.

Learning journeys to the Otherworld, teaching the secrets of safe travel, the mysteries of warrior training and initiation, and the priestly arts… it all had to happen somewhere, right?

[Excerpt from ‘Rathcroghan: A Journey’, eBook by Lora O’Brien. For more in the story series, see Tales of Old Ireland – Retold]

The Royal Sites of Ireland

Circles & Avenues: Rathcroghan, Navan, Knockaulin (Waddell, Fenwick, Barton - Chapter 5, fig 5.42)
The Royal Sites of Ireland are important places of assembly, ceremony, burial, and royal inauguration ritual; located in the four provinces of Ireland and the central region of Meath and Westmeath.

Tara in the Middle (Meath), Navan Fort in Ulster (North), Dún Ailinne in Leinster (East), Cashel in Munster (South), and Rathcroghan in Connacht (West), were major seats of the Kings and Queens in Iron Age Ireland, while Uisneach is the traditional ‘Navel of Ireland’, where all provinces met.

As we see in the included ‘Circles and Avenues’ image, Rathcroghan and two of the other Royal Sites at Navan Fort, and Dún Ailinne, were enclosed by impressive circular monuments of great width. All of these provincial centres form part of large ritual landscapes with many sacred and ceremonial sites concentrated in a relatively small area – but none so large or complex as at Rathcroghan.

Activity at these sites stretches from deep roots in the Stone Age, through the Bronze Age, to the height of power during the Iron Age, and even on into Medieval Christian times. Modern spiritual seekers still gather at the sites which are accessible today.

Their presence in the landscape was commanding, sited at strategic and elevated positions, and each grew organically through many phases of use, but always with a similarity of form – as is clear from the Circles and Avenues image – and a distinct spiritual and ritual focus.

What ancient Irish Kings and Queens were inaugurated and lived, were born or buried at these Royal Sites?

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Queen Maedbh (Maeve) Cheat Sheet

Queen Maev by J. C. Leyendecker

Here we’ll look at the basics on Maedbh, the ‘Celtic’ warrior queen of Connacht (yes, that’s the correct spelling – ‘Connaught’ is the later anglicised version) – her home, family life, relationships, ruling from Rathcroghan, burial, and the cultural inspiration she has become.

“How do you spell that?!”

It depends on which version of Gaeilge, the Irish language, you are using.

Medb (the Old Irish spelling) – in Middle Irish: Meḋḃ, Meaḋḃ; in early modern Irish: Meadhbh; in reformed modern Irish Méabh, Maedbh, Medbh; sometimes anglicised Maeve, Maev, Meave or Maive (all modern versions are pronounced May-v).

I’m going to stick to using the modern Irish name Maedbh for this article, except for direct quotes from the manuscripts.

Who was Queen Maedbh?

Most notably, the warrior priestess queen of Connacht, the western province of Ireland.

It is said that her father gifted her with Connacht, and no king could rule here unless they were married to Queen Maedbh.  She had many husbands, and ruled for many years.

Maeve appears in much of the literature of the Ulster saga tales, and our most famous epic literary tale, the Táin Bó Cuailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley) features her strongly as the protagonist.  Or is that the antagonist…?

Historically, she would have lived sometime around the years 0 – 100AD, if she existed as a real flesh and blood queen.  And that is the question – was she real?

A queen, or a Goddess of the land?  A priestess of a sovereignty Goddess, who rose to power?  An archetypal figure, representing… what?  These are some of the riddles of Queen Maedbh.

Queen Maedbh’s Family Tree

Meadb of Cruachan, daughter of Eochaid Feidleach, another of Conchobar’s wives, mother of Amalgad, Conchobar’s son, so that Conchobar was Meadb’s first husband, and Meadb forsook Conchobar through pride of mind, and went to Tara, where was the High-King of Ireland.

The reason that the High-King of Ireland gave these daughters to Conchobar was that it was by Eochaid Feidleach that Fachtna Fathach had fallen in the battle of Lettir-ruad in the Corann, so that it was as his eric these were given to him, together with the forcible seizure of the kingship of Ulster, over Clan Rudraidhe: and the first cause of the stirring up of the Cattle-raid of Cuailnge was the desertion of Conchobar by Meadb against his will.

Excerpt from Medb’s Men, or, The Battle of the Boyne
Yellow Book of Lecan, 351b-353a 

PARENTS

Eochaid Feidleach, Father, High King of Ireland at Tara

Crochen Crobh-Derg, Mother, Handmaid to Etain

  MAEDBH

HERSELF

CHILDREN

Maine Athramail
Maine Máthramail
Maine Andoe
Maine Taí
Maine Mórgor
Maine Mílscothach
Maine Móepirt
Findabair

Eh… why were all her sons called Maine?

Well, they weren’t, not originally, but Maedbh and Ailill did end up with seven sons, all called Maine.

Back when they all had other names, Maedbh asked a druid which of her sons would kill Conchobar (king of Ulster), and he replied, “Maine”.  A little bit concerned that she didn’t have a son called Maine, she decided to rename all her sons as follows:

  • Fedlimid became Maine Athramail (“like his father”)
  • Cairbre became Maine Máthramail (“like his mother”)
  • Eochaid became Maine Andoe (“the swift”)
  • Fergus became Maine Taí (“the silent”)
  • Cet became Maine Mórgor (“of great duty”)
  • Sin became Maine Mílscothach (“honey-speech”)
  • Dáire became Maine Móepirt (“beyond description”)

The prophecy was fulfilled when Maine Andoe went on to kill Conchobar, son of Arthur, son of Bruide — not Conchobar, son of Fachtna Fathach, as Maedbh had assumed the druid meant.

Maedbh and Ailill also had a daughter, Findabair.  She got to keep her own name, but was offered around as a prize during the Táin – Maedbh was bribing Connacht warriors with marriage to the fine Findabair if they’d go against the Ulster warrior CúChulainn in single combat.

 

Maedbh’s Mammy

Cruachú Crobh-Dearg (the spelling varies, as ever in our wonderful collection of tales) is remembered as a handmaiden of Etain, appearing in the love story of Etain & Midir.

She may have an older, sovereignty or tribal Goddess function, which is being remembered and carried through the later legends.

Some of her story, and associations with Cruachan (Rath Cruachan, or modern Rathcroghan, in Co. Roscommon) remains in the text quoted as follows…

Listen, ye warriors about Cruachu!
with its barrow for every noble couple:
O host whence springs lasting fame of laws!
O royal line of the men of Connacht!
O host of the true, long-remembered exploits,
with number of pleasant companies and of brave kings!
O people, quickest in havoc
to whom Erin has pledged various produce!
Manly in battle-rout multitudinous
is the seed of noble Brian, with their strong fleets:
in express submission to them have been sent
hostages from all Europe to Cruachu.
If we stay to recount its fame for every power,
we shall not be able to pour out the lore of noble science

for Cruachu, holy without austerity,
whose foemen are not few.
Known to me by smooth-spoken eulogy
is the designation of powerful Cruachu:
not slight the din, the uproar,
whence it got its name and fame for bright achievement.

Eochaid Airem — high career!
when the fierce, generous man was at Fremu,
the man who cherished feats of skill,
holding a meeting for horse-fights,
There came to them noble Midir
(he was no favourite with the gentle prince)
to carry off Etain in dreadful wise,
whence came lamentation of many tribes.
Ill-favoured was the man who bore off
Etain and hardy Crochen
the queen and her handmaid,
who was right lowly, yet ever-famous.
Westward Midir bore the fair captives
after boldly seizing them as booty,
to Sid Sinche of the ancient hosts,
because it was noble Midir’s hereditary possession.
Till three days were out he stayed
in the radiant noisy Sid:
after fruitful enterprise it is custom
to boast at board and banquet.
Then said strong Crochen
What fine house is this where we have halted?
O Midir of the splendid feats,
is this thy spacious dwelling?”
The answer of the famous man of arts
to Crochen blood-red of hue:
‘ Nearer to the sun, to its warmth,
is my bright and fruitful home.”

Said Cruachu the lovely,
in presence of the spacious tribes,
“O Midir, yet unconquered,
shall my name be on this Sid?”
He gave the fine dwelling as reward for her journey
to Crochen, a fair recompense:
by Midir, report says, northward at his home,
by him her name was given to it as ye hear.
Hence men say Cruachu,
(it is not hidden from kindly tribes,)
since Midir brought (clear without falsehood)
his wife to Sinech of the Side.
As for Midir, he was no sluggard thereafter,
he went to Bri Leith maic Celtchair:
he carried with him the bright indolent lady, whitely radiant,
whom he bore off by force from Fremu.
Eochaid at the head of the numerous ranks
of his brave troop,

…was on the track of Midir, the great champion.
Said his druid to Eochaid,
“Thou shalt not be fortunate all thy life long:
lamentation for evil has come upon thee
for the loss of Etain of the golden tresses:”

“Come from the judgment-seat of Fotla
without warning, without royal proclamation;
bring with thee thereafter to Bri Leith
thy host — no cowards they — to sack it.”
“There shalt thou find thy wife
in noble beauty, beyond denial:
be not faint-hearted for long, O warrior;
bring her with thee by consent or by force.”

This is a beginning, with famous perils,
for the proud Wooing of Etain,
though it be a pithy tale to hear,
the tale when men came to Cruachu to listen to it.
It was Crochen of pure Cruachu
who was mother of Medb great of valour:
she was in Cruachu — it was an open reproach-
awhile with Etain’s spouse.

Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Metrical Dindshenchas (Author: [unknown]) poem 63 – Rath Cruachan

Maedbh and her Lovers

Ok, well, how long have you got? Yes, there were a serious amount of men who were getting it on with the Queen. She was a woman of large appetites.

There’s a whole Irish text devoted to this very topic called ‘Medb’s man-share’ (Ferchuitred Medba). The text was also called ‘Medb’s husband allowance’, ‘Medb’s men’, or Cath Boinde (the Battle of the Boyne), and you can find the translated version HERE. It originally comes from the Yellow Book of Lecan manuscript.

In the Tain Bó Cuailnge, we can see how she offers her own favours to the owner of the Brown Bull of Cooley, King Daire, to sweeten the deal… before she heads to an all out murderating war raid. It’s hardly her fault he refused and forced her hand, now is it?

“Go there, Mac Roth,” orders Medb. “Ask Daire to lend me Donn Cuailnge for a year. At the end of the year he can have fifty yearling heifers in payment for the loan, and the Brown Bull of Cuailnge back. And you can offer him this too, Mac Roth, if the people of the country think badly of losing their fine jewel, the Donn Cuailnge: if Daire himself comes with the bull I’ll give him a portion of the fine Plain of Ai equal to his own lands, and a chariot worth thrice seven bondmaids, and my own friendly thighs on top of that.”

 

Queen Maedbh and Her Lovers… the Book!

For a really interesting examination of Maedbh as a Lover, Initiator, and Intoxicator, you won’t go far wrong with this book.

The author is a Jungian Psychoanalyst, looking at the Maedbh myth in the context of her modern practice, which is a fascinating angle that makes for exploration of Queen Maedbh in directions we’d never thought of.

Publisher: Nicolas-Hays; 1 edition (October 2001) – it’s still available on Amazon HERE. (affiliate link)

 

Queen Maedbh – Dead and Buried

Awww, she’s Dead? How?!

In her later years, Maedbh often went to bathe in a pool on Inchcleraun (Inis Cloithreann), an island on Lough Ree, near Knockcroghery in County Roscommon. Furbaide, who’s mother she had killed (so it is said), sought revenge, and set about planning her demise. He was quite dedicated about it. But I suppose it’s the type of thing that you’d really want to get right.

First, he took a rope and measured the distance between the pool and the shore, and practiced with his sling until he could hit an apple on top of a stake Maedbh’s height, from that distance. The next time he saw Maedbh bathing he put his practice to good use and killed her with a piece of cheese.

Yes cheese. Queen Maedbh was killed by cheese. Her son, Maine Athramail (he who was originally Cairbre, and most ‘like his mother’, ascended to the throne of Connacht in her place.

But buried in Sligo, right?

Well, not exactly. Maybe. ‘Maedbh’s Cairn’ in Co. Sligo, is the best known burial site of Queen Maedbh, but it is one of three possible sites. According to some legends, she is indeed buried in the 40ft (12m) high stone cairn on the summit of Knocknarea (Cnoc na Rí in Irish, Hill of the King/Queen) in County Sligo. The story goes that she is buried upright, facing her enemies in Ulster.

In Bronze or Iron Age burials though, it would be common enough to hack an important dead person apart and bury bits of them along different boundaries, for protection and guardianship. Another story goes that she is buried in the hill of Knockma (Cnoc Medb in Irish, Hill of Maeve), near Belclare in Co. Galway, which is also where Fionnbharr, King of the Connacht Sidhe, holds court. The Fairy connection is an interesting one, and maybe related to her later associations with Mab, the English Fairy Queen? The boundary theory holds here too though, as the views from the top of Knockma are spectacular. Very convenient for a guardianship position, I’d say.

Her home in Rathcroghan, County Roscommon is the third, and most likely burial site, with a long low slab named Misgaun Medb being given as the probable location. In the ‘she got chopped up in bitty bits and buried’ theory, this is where her soul (most likely to be contained in her head, according to thinking of the time) would be.

Or possibly her heart. Whatever bit of her was deemed the most important part would have stayed at home, with other bits spreading out at lesser sites along the boundaries.


Meeting Queen Medb (Maeve)

Medb of Connacht is an ancient Irish Initiator, Brehon and Sovereign Queen. (Two Classes)

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Spiritually Ethical Tourism

rathcroghan visitor centre in tulsk county roscommon

For a decade, I guided at and professionally managed a major Irish spiritual/sacred site; a vast archaeological complex of sites actually, with a ceremonial history stretching back as long as there have been people on this island. I started as a part time tour guide there, many moons ago, and I’m still requested to guide many of the ‘Spiritual Tourism’ groups and individuals who visit Rathcroghan.

There’s two sides to the ethical issue around all this.

First: my own boundaries and guidelines. Spiritual guardianship of these sites is very much a part of the ‘work’ I do for my matron deity here (that would be the Mórrígan), right along with the instruction to “get real information out there”. I have a very personal deep down connection to this place, to these energies, stories, and gods… so it’d be very tough for me to coldly take cash and pimp out my paganism to gullible groups. On the other hand, there are so many genuine seekers coming here, more each year, and if I’m not helping them find a genuine experience, somebody else will.

So, I have to walk a very careful line between giving too much of my personal spiritual self to strangers, and supporting them in their journey, as is my job (both everyday mundane, and in a priestess capacity).

Second: there’s the community I work in. The Visitor Centre I managed there is a local community initiative, with a voluntary board of directors, and it’s often tough for them to understand all the facets of the spiritual side of our business. ‘Spiritual tourism’ is still a fast growing sector, with the highest spend per visitor of any other special interest group, so they can see the practical side to marketing this aspect carefully and responsibly. However, when I ever held spiritual events there, or featured in the media for this market, there was – every time – a local kerfuffle in the community with regard to the “witch that runs the centre”, or for example after our international ‘Goddess Gathering’ on year, I had to deal with open hostility from a particularly short sighted, narrow minded, ignorant fool of a local politician – because I “brought witches to the village”. The fact that the available accommodation was booked out 3 towns over, and the pubs did a roaring trade all weekend, was apparently less important to him than that.

Petty politics aside – there’s a balance to be kept there too, this is after all their place more than mine, and without community support and involvement we’re at nothing. Money talks, as they say, so it’s been up to me during my professional career to make the case for commercial and economic benefit in supporting the spiritual tourism market.

It’s not been easy, I must admit, but my attitude – both personally and professionally – has always been to make the case openly that Paganism is not wrong, or indeed even very different to the Ireland of not so long ago, and to be an open door as far as people’s questions or concerns need to be addressed. We’re not doing anything wrong here, quite the opposite in fact… and slowly, slowly, the Irish communities are changing.

Now.

All of that shifts and changes dramatically when you introduce spiritual tourism which does not consider the native community or landscape, does not support or integrate the local thoughts and experience, and in fact is merely there to add an air of false authenticity to their cultural appropriation and commercialised, shallow nonsense.

This stuff is complicated, and sensitivity to the indigenous climate and community concerns is essential. If you’re coming on a tour to Ireland, please choose your operator carefully. Question them before you give them your money, on how much is going to support the native guides, resources and communities from which they are profiting.

Don’t be involved in the pillaging of native energies or resources.

That’s not very fucking spiritual now is it?!

[I recommend spiritual tours by Land Sea Sky Travel, as they are my first choice American Tourism contact.]

Brian Ború’s Fort, County Clare

Brian Boru Fort

This is Brian Boru’s Fort, Ballyvally, Co. Clare, in the South West of Ireland.  The Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) number is CL045-031.  For your Sat Nav, the GPS co-ordinates are approximately 52.819486, -8.451598, and it’s in Irish State ownership, so you don’t have to get permission to walk the site.

Brian Boru (Old Irish: Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig; Middle Irish: Brian Bóruma; modern Irish: Brian Bóramha; c. 941 – 23rd April 1014) was an Irish king who ended the domination of the Kingship of Ireland by the Uí Néill. He is the O’Brien ancestral progenitor.

Brian belonged to the Dál gCais (or Dalcassians), a newly styled kin group of ultimately Déisi origin who occupied a territory north of the Shannon Estuary, which today would incorporate a substantial part of County Clare and then formed the core of the new kingdom of Thomond.

To visit his home today, you can fly straight into Shannon Airport and be here within the hour, and I highly recommend booking into Glocca Morra B&B, just down the road in Ogonnelloe.  There’s an excellent atmosphere, with consistent top reviews for the host there, Mike, who just can’t do enough for you when you stay, and with the views over Lough Derg, fresh coffee and scones on arrival, and healthy countryside walks, you won’t want to be leaving.  It’s worth a trip into Scarriff though, to visit the gorgeous little health food and gift shop, the Grainey, and the Irish Seedsavers Project.

From Killaloe, you’re taking the R463 for Scarriff, and driving to approximately to the co-ordinates 52.818708, -8.456329.  Park safely (unfortunately, the only available parking is by the side of the road), and you’ll see a shaded woody laneway in to the right, with an information panel on the entranceway, and a sign pointing to ‘Brian Boru’s Fort’.  Follow that lane to the end, and you will see the monument off to your left.

See my YouTube videos of our family visit:

Brian Ború’s Fort, Co Clare – Part 1

Brian Ború’s Fort, Co. Clare – Part 2

 


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