Sunday, 10 November 2013

Society trip to Rathcroghan: story and photographs!

All the photographs from the day can be seen here:
Society Trip to Rathcroghan 2013

    On Saturday, November 9th, a group of us went on a trip to Rathcroghan where we were given a guided tour of the complex by archaeologist Dr. Daniel Curley, currently education officer at the Rathcroghan visitor centre. Professor Muiris O'Sullivan accompanied us on the day and enlightened us with many insights on the incredible archaeological wealth of the area on our bus drive back towards Dublin.

Society trip to Rathcroghan, 9/11/2013  © A. Guglielmi

              Rathcroghan is one of the ancient "Royal Sites" of Iron Age Ireland and is considered the Royal Seat of Connaught - the others being Tara for Meath, Dún Ailinne for Leinster, and Emain Macha for Ulster. It extenders over four square kilometres and comprises circa 250 sites, spanning millennia from the Neolithic to the 17th century. It is a landscape of paramount ritual and ceremonial significance. Of these 250 sites, 27 are directly related to ceremonials and burials. Other sites include banqueting and feasting sites, as well as settlements. No excavation has so far been undertaken on the complex.
The Táin trail © A. Guglielmi

                 As Daniel Curley explained, the site is intimately linked with the story/legend/myth of Queen Medbh and the Táin Bó Cúailnge, (the cattle raid of Cooley) the famous Irish epic tale recoding the feats of, among others, the famous hero Cú Chulainn.  It was also the site of important pagan festivals like the lighting of the Samhain fire or the cattle parades for Bealtaine. Rathcroghan may also be linked to the site of Uisneach via the Corlea Iron Age trackway that was exacavated in county Longford: the track was indeed only kept in use for a very short period of time, and may very well have been built in the contact of festivals taking place at the two sites (to read in more detail about this theory, go to page 104 of Barry Raftery's Pagan Celtic Ireland, 936.15 RAF in the James Joyce library).
Muiris O'Sullivan addressing our group on the Rathcroghan mound, 9/11/13 © A. Guglielmi

               After spending some time on the Rathcroghan mound itself, Daniel Curley took us to the nearby Oweyganat cave, or the "Cave of the Cats". It is said to be the entrance to the Otherworld and is as such linked with the festival of Samhain (see above). Among the residents of the Otherworld were all sorts of creatures, the most terrible of them being the Morrígan, the goddess of battle who often appears in the shape of a raven. A legend tells of how Queen Medbh sent three Giant Cats after  Cú Chulainn in an effort to kill the hero - of course, she failed. The cave also contains two Ogham stones (out of a total of seven in Connaught), only one of which could be translated in its integrality and refers to the hero Fráech who married Findabair, Queen Medbh's daughter. At that point, a group of us entered the cave with Daniel Curley and were told more about this fascinating place.

Professor Muiris O'Sullivan and students entering Oweynagat cave © A. Guglielmi
                After enjoying a warm lunch inside the visitor centre, our group set off in the minibus with Professor O'Sullivan to view some more sites, among them the Well of Ogula and Carnfree, the inauguration place of the O'Connor kings of Connaught. Unfortunately, our bus had a technical fault and we had to abandon our plans of further exploration and make our way back to Dublin.

A huge thank you to the Rathcroghan visitor centre, Dr. Daniel Curley for his tour, Muiris O'Sullivan for accompanying us and Emmet Fennelly for organising this day !

Alexandra Guglielmi
Social Media Coordinator

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