Site Visits 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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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 Rag Tree in the Irish Tradition

Irish Rag Tree - Hawthorn in Snow

 A version of this article on the Rag Tree in the Irish Tradition first appeared as a guest post on the Call of the Morrigan community blog in 2016.

So, I’ve worked for the last 14 years as a professional tour guide to the sacred sites of Ireland, and let me tell ya, I’ve seen some shit. And some of that involves the Rag Tree tradition.

Or rather, the mangling of our rag tree tradition!

8 of those years were spent managing the sites and visitor centre at the royal complex of Rathcroghan, Cruachan; which (as many of you know, unless you’re believing the nonsense that there’s no Morrigan sites in Connacht), is where the Mórrígan ‘resides’ – Her primary site in Ireland is the Cave of the Cats, Uaimh na gCait.

This site is an ancient cave, worked by human hands in later times, known as the primary physical entrance to the Irish Otherworld, which Medieval Christian scribes referred to ‘the Gates of Hell’ due to the unfortunate amount of monsters and demons (to their perception) which flowed out from this hole in the earth on an all too regular basis.

I’m probably telling y’all stuff you already know here, if you’re folk who are interested in Herself. Although, I’ve also seen some pure shite being said by folk who claim to know all about Herself… so a quick recap never does any harm. I’ve been Her priestess for 13 years, and I know how hard she pushes us to do the work, and how important real information is to Her.

But what you might not be aware of, and what I’d really, really, like you to be aware of (and tell all your mates), is the absolute misconceptions and horrific disrespect that Pagan or ‘spiritual’ visitors to Ireland show at our sites.

Let’s talk about the Rag Tree tradition, shall we?

In Ireland, we have long had the custom of the ‘Raggedy Bush’ or Rag Tree, and there’s similar in Scotland, with what they call ‘clooties’ tied to certain trees.

The trees are Hawthorn, one of our most prominent native trees/bushes – Crataegus Monogyna, or in Irish, the Sceach Gheal. The Irish name literally means something like, ‘that which makes the hedgerow bright’, and when it’s covered in colourful rags it sure does. Most often, there’s a particular hawthorn, growing near a particular holy well, and this is the local Rag Tree.

Occasionally there’s no well or spring to be found, but my theory on that is that there used to be one and it’s gone now, or that the misconceptions around Rag Trees stretch back further than your average modern American tour group, and some fecker just decided at some stage that a single growing hawthorn was actually a Rag Tree, way back in the mists of time, and it stuck. Now, that doesn’t mean there’s no magic there today… just that it probably didn’t start out that way. The water nearby is a pretty important part of the magic here.

What’s it all about then? Well, basically, the tradition goes that you take a piece of cloth from a sick person, tie it to the tree (often with prayers), and the sickness disappears as the rag rots away. The water nearby is most often a holy or healing well, which helps of course.

Sounds simple enough, right?

From a magical perspective, we’ve got sympathetic magic in the rotting of the fabric – the visual representation of the illness losing power and strength and eventually disintegrating. We’ve got an energetic loop that’s formed between the sick person (it has to be an item they’ve worn while ill, so imbued with their DNA or essence) for illness to flow to the tree, and back the way then with the healing energies from the water, through the roots of the tree.

Make sense? Sure!

You know what doesn’t make sense though? Folk who come along and tie their rubbish to the rag tree. Or tie strings or cloth so tight they damage the tree branches. I’ve removed everything from crème egg (candy) foil wrappers to junk jewellery rings to plastic covered wire wrap ties from the branches of our Rag Trees on this island. Not cool people, not cool. That, at least though, can be written off as ignorance of a ‘quaint’ local tradition they want to be a part of, by people who are really just here for lip smacking the Blarney Stone and the Guinness.

What’s more worrying is the visitors who come to sites where there’s no Rag Tree, on supposed spiritual pilgrimage, and tie their shit to whatever tree happens to be there.

The Cave at Cruachan is a prime example of this. I was a guardian there for 13 years, and for 8 of those I was paid to be in and out of it most days of the week. There’s a hawthorn that grows over the mouth of the cave, but it’s a relatively young one. Maybe 20 or 30 years old is all. It’s a fairy tree in the sense of it being smack bang over the mouth of a Sidhe dwelling, and it’s definitely magical… but it’s not a Rag Tree.

Every week though, there’d be some new bit of tat tied to it. One tour group got a nylon umbrella off their bus, ripped it to bits, and tied the bits to the tree. Then they left the umbrella carcass in the field, got on their bus, and drove off.

There were obviously some who wanted to leave an ‘offering’ at the site, to connect themselves there in some way, and perhaps that’s how some of the cloth strips got into the tree. Maybe some were even cloth from the garments of sick people. But this is not a healing site.

In my experience – personally, and collected from feedback of those who energetically interacted with the site – the entities at this site will gleefully follow any connection you choose to make there, go right back to source, and tear down anything weak that they find there. Ostensibly ‘for your own good’, of course, but they are absolutely merciless about it… if you lay a pathway for them they will follow it.

This is not a good thing, for most people. Especially unprepared people. People who maybe think that Irish entities and Sidhe spirits are essentially pleasant and good natured, full of the craic, and harmless to let in. People who are perhaps sick, and not at full energetic defensive strength.

There was once a baby’s bib tied through the branches of the hawthorn tree at the Morrigan’s Cave. Just take a moment, and let that sink in for yourself.

You see now why I might be a bit ranty on this topic? Can we not do this anymore?

My best advice is to take local advice. If you want to find a real Rag Tree, there’s websites and books that will tell you where to begin your search, but first and foremost you should be talking to local people.

Get exact directions. Check that the tree you think might be the one is actually the one.

DON’T tie things that are not biodegradable to the trees – to any tree?! Tying strings and straps around our trees that stay there for years – I’ve literally seen the poor trees trying to grow around the shite that has been tied to them – will, in the worst cases, literally strangle and kill the branch it’s tied on, and sicken the whole tree.

And remember, just because some eejit has tied something to it before you got there, doesn’t make it a Rag Tree.

Please, be sure?


 

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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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Wild Camping in Ireland

Tent View Camping

Ok, so legally, you can’t. Or at least, you can’t in most places.

In the Wicklow Mountains National Park, wild camping is allowed (with sensible restrictions), except in Glendalough. You can check information on this area here.

A lot of folk camp on the beaches of Ireland, and some are more favourable than others. Fallmore near Belmullet in Mayo, Baginbun Beach near Feathard in Co. Wexford, and Wine Strand or Ventry Beach along the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry are all recommended, though I’ve not camped on any of them personally.

Generally, you have to be aware of trespassing on private land. If there’s a spot you’d really love to camp at, knock on the door of the nearest house and ask who owns it, then ask for permission. Offering a wee donation is always a good idea.

State owned land is technically public property, but the rangers and lifeguards and such obviously get first say in what you can and can’t do there. For beaches, there’s legal access to the foreshore – which means ‘the bed and shore, below the line of high water of ordinary or medium tides, of the sea and of every tidal river and tidal estuary and of every channel, creek and bay of the sea or of any such river or estuary. The land above this can be privately owned so if you have to cross above the median High Water mark you may be trespassing.’ (Further Info)

For his birthday one of the years, my son asked for a family camping trip, “away from people”. His requirements were a river, and trees. And no people. Did we mention no people? He was very clear.

I hadn’t done a wild camp in many years, so, cue frantic research scramble to see if the laws had changed. Not a lot, it turns out.
We were leaving from Dublin on Friday afternoon, and had to do the food shopping first… so somewhere within 2 hours drive of the capital was necessary, to ensure that we had time to find a place, park safely, hike (with all the gear) to a suitable spot away from the road, pitch the tent and set up camp before dark.

Wicklow Mountains camping was out for me, with the boy along. To be honest, I’m still hearing there’s a rash of break-ins to cars at popular parking spots – look for broken glass on the ground around any intended parking to check if there’s been windows broken there recently. It’s also a popular spot for a gang of lads to get cans and head out to of a Saturday night, for drunken fun and frolics.

None of that seemed like a recipe for a peaceful family trip, or an enjoyable birthday for him, so we went a little further afield.

I’m not going to say exactly where – the internet is full of horrible people after all, as well as all you lovely types – but what I did was choose a general location with national parkland (it was the Slieve Bloom Mountain region for us this trip), and source a few potential parking spots around an area I liked the look of.

We headed out, drove about a bit and found a nice spot at the head of a trail. Parked up, did a recon mission and found a place where folk had camped before (slightly flattened land and the remains of a fire pit) in a river valley that was, admittedly, a horrible hike to and from the car – but is absolutely gorgeous.

Site chosen, we hiked back up to the car, loaded up the essentials for the camp set up and first night (it took two trips), and pitched the tent. We had to re-set the fire pit a little, and I double lined it to prevent scorched earth around it. I dug a small trench latrine or ‘cathole’ away from the tent site, and even further from the river, and we’d brought water for our drinking, washing and cooking in 5L containers.

We didn’t light a fire that evening, and were absolutely eaten by midgies, and wrecked from travelling and set up, so it was an early night, with the sounds of the river burbling nearby, and wind through the treetops to lull us to sleep.

If you’re going to attempt a trip like this, there’s a few things you should know…

 

The Wild Camping Code

 

Officially, this is how it runs.

All campers should aspire to minimising their impact on the environment by conforming to the following code of conduct:

  • Campsites must be at least 400m from a road capable of carrying a vehicle.
  • Campsites must be at least 400m from a building.
  • Tents must be moved after every second night to allow vegetation to recover.
  • Campers must remove all food waste and litter, whether or not it is biodegradable. Buried waste is often exposed by foraging animals or by erosion.
  • Soap and toothpaste must be kept at least 30m away from watercourses.
  • Dish and utensil washing must be conducted at least 30 metres from water bodies. All waste-water should be strained and scattered. In no circumstances should waste-water used in washing be poured into lakes, streams or rivers.
  • Campers are required to conduct themselves in a quiet manner, in an effort to avoid disturbing the local community, wildlife or other visitors.
  • Camp-sites must be kept visually unobtrusive.
  • Campsites must be left as found, or better.

Latrine Protocol

Catholes for disposal of human waste must be located at least 30m away from watercourses and 50m from walking routes. Human waste must be buried or carried out of the site. No evidence of latrine use should remain visible. All toilet paper and hygiene products must be carried out.

Campfires

Campfires are not permitted in the National Parks. The issuing of permits for campfires is suspended pending review.
Failure to comply with this code will result in withdrawal of permission to camp. In such cases National Park Rangers will demand that the visitors break camp.

You can find more information on the Leave No Trace Ethos Here.

As with most things, it all boils down to common sense, and respect.

Just don’t be a dick, ok?

 

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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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A Conversation with the Morrigan

Cave of the Cats

In 2013, authors Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone asked me if I would consider contributing to their forthcoming book, ‘Lifting the Veil: A Witches Guide to Trance Prophecy‘.

As they were speaking about communicating with deity throughout the book, my understanding was that they wished to provide a chapter in which deity could communicate right back. So, they approached various priests they most strongly associated as working with particular deities, and they requested that I communicate with the Morrigan.

Here below is the transcription of that communication.

 

Silence – 3 min

 

I feel the kiss of feathers.

The brush of crow’s wing – touches the sky.

I find my way to the world – through the gateway.

Dark in the depths of earth.  I find my way.

I push forth.

I am birthed in mud and blood.  I find my way.

I am in your world.  I find my way.

 

Who.  Am.  I.

I am She by brush of raven – crow in this land.

I am She.  She of the wolf.  She of the eel.  She of the heifer, the sacred cow.

I am She of red.  Of blood.  Of battle and power and prophecy and fury.

I am She of terror.

I am She who finds her way – through your heart, through your head.

I am She who speaks – who tells the world.

I am the truth.  I am the right, and the light.  I am the endless depths of night.

I. Am. She.

 

Great Queen you have called me.  I am She.

Mother you have called me.  I am She.

I am the one who births.

I am the one who bleeds.  And screams.

I am the one who protects.  And strengthens.

I. Am. She.

 

And you.  You who seek for me now, in this world.

You who are disconnected – who are free of responsibility.

 

You seek the power – without the pain.

You seek the knowledge – without the work.

You seek the gain – without the understanding.

 

You.  You who are pagan.  You who are shaman – where is your tribe?

Where are your people?

Where is your language and your spirit?

Where is your connection to this land?

This Ire-Land.  Our Land.

Do you walk?  Do you feel the Irish grass beneath your feet?

Do you speak the tongue of the ancient people?

Do you seek – the knowledge that remains to us now?

For all that is left – is bits and broken.  Is mis-remembered.

All that is left – is unclear.  Uncertain.

Do you seek – to put this together?

Do you seek the draoi?  Do you seek the ancient knowledge, the spirit that remains?

And what do ya find when you do?

Who.  Are.  You.

 

Speak your truth.

Listen.  Listen to the land.

Find the questions.  Find your path.

Be guided by what has gone before.  The truth.  The real knowledge – the real power.

Find your way.  Come home.

 

I. I am She. I who speak.

I who give you real knowledge.  Real experience.

Truth – and pain.

Power.

Community.  Responsibility.

I am She.

I am the queen and I am the servant.

I give – and I expect.

If you seek me – find your way home.

 

They say… they say –(light laugh)-  I sought love of an Ulster boy.

They say I sought to give him my power, my sacred cattle.

Mis-remembered.

I offer help.

I take – what I need – in return.

If you give – I give.

Find me in the land.

Find me under the land.

Find me in the darkness – but – beware.

I am change.  I am pain.

I am growth that pushes.  That flows on waves of blood.

I am life – and death.

I am reborn.

I am She.

 

Silence  –  1 min 

 

Lora O’Brien.  February 2014.

The Cave of the Cats, Rathcroghan, County Roscommon, Ireland.

 


 

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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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Vinegar Hill

In 1798, the United Irishmen Rebellion – between May and September – led to over 20,000 deaths, and some estimates would place the toll as high as 50,000.  The Irish were still suffering under the Penal Laws, a system of rule which was called “a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man”, and they’d simply had all they could take.

Vinegar Hill was the base camp for the Wexford Irish Rebels, an estimated troupe of about 20,000 men and women, and even some children who were there seeking shelter, God love them.  The Irish were armed, for the most part, not with firearms or black powder, but with long wooden pikes – a spear between 10ft and 22ft long (up to about 6m), topped with a spearhead of iron or steel.  On 21st June, 1798, about 15,000 British troops, well armed with musket and cannon, attacked the rebel camp in an attempt to crush the insurgency completely.  The Rebel Irish were woken to an artillery bombardment just before dawn, and though they tried at least twice to charge the British lines and break through the encircling forces, they were driven back each time.

A detachment of about 5,000 British soldiers were, at the same time, trying to take the bridge across the River Slaney at Enniscorthy.  Although the Irish were slowly driven out of their barricaded buildings in the town, they held the bridge.  There are recorded tales of stalwart leadership and valorous women, as well as the ensuing horrific atrocities.  Though the Irish had to abandon the hill, the town, and make a tactical withdrawal to re-group the rebellion to the West and North, the battle wasn’t quite the defeat to the Wexford rebels that is often depicted.  You can get the full story and decide for yourself at the distinctively designed National 1798 Rebellion Centre, located just off the N11 and N30 roads.  They are open all year round, and an adult ticket is just €5.50, but check their website for times and full details.

This is Vinegar Hill, in Templeshannon, Co. Wexford, in the South East of Ireland.  The Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) number is WX020-032.  For your Sat Nav, the GPS co-ordinates are 52.503266, -6.553774, and it’s in Irish State guardianship, not ownership, so you don’t have permission to walk the site out across the hill, unless you meet the landowner.

The closest hotel is the Riverside Park Hotel, which can be busy and a bit noisy on weekends but great for those who want to experience some of the culture in historic Enniscorthy.  There’s a great B&B not too far away on the other side of town, Teach Failte, which does a fantastic breakfast and has a warm family welcome.  For something good to eat, the Bailey Café Bar is in a handy location, with free parking, and does a very busy lunch trade for good reason.  Treacey’s Hotel does a great Sunday lunch and The Alamo is hard to beat.  You’re spoiled for choice round here!

From Enniscorthy, head out over the river to the R744, turning off to the right at first crossroads (signposted ‘Vinegar Hill’).  You’re following those brown heritage signs out the road, until you reach GPS 52.500836, -6.547658, and there’s another one there pointing up a narrow lane.  Follow it to the end, and you’ll be looking out across the hill where the battle took place.


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