Ireland

Sacred Sites

October, 2009

Dunloe Ogham Stones – County Kerry, Ireland

In beautiful County Kerry, between Beaufort village and the Gap of Dunloe the traveler that visits here will be rewarded, for eight stones inscribed with Ogham have been collected here.

Seven of the eight Ogham stones in this group were discovered in Coolmagort in the nineteenth century and have been set up on this site close to Dunloe Castle. These seven stones were originally the roofs of a souterrain or underground passage, which collapsed at the end of the last century, several centuries after they had been carved. Because of their long protection from exposure, the Dunloe inscriptions are unusually well preserved.

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The tallest of the Ogham Stones is 8 feet high. The strokes are marked along the edge of the stone.

Ogham (pronounced OH-yam) was a form of writing dating from the 3rd century AD. It consisted of lines and strokes normally carved at the edge of a stone, which represents an early form of Irish. Oghams were thought to be the writing of Druids and Bards, and having a close relationship with nature they associated the energy that corresponds to individual trees to the Oghams.

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The left front edge of this Ogham Stone shows the strokes facing away from the edge.

If you look closely at the left front edge of this Ogham stone you will see strokes facing away from the edge. The edge of the stone forms the main vertical line of the Ogham. In studying the Oghams you will note that there is a central line of the marking in which all the strokes share, the strokes either face to the right of the line or to the left of the line, as some cross the line and others cross the line at an angle. Here is a further illustration of this from a marker at the site.

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Illustration of the strokes along the edge of the stone.

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Each of these stones commemorates a deceased person and the details of his descent. They may originally have marked places of burial.

From our travelers:

It was an amazing experience to see the Ogham Stones, for two reasons.  The first was to be able to be so close to ancient artifacts that are such an important part of Ireland’s past.  There were no fences to keep anyone out, so we were able to get very close and touch the stones. The other reason it was so great was that I felt it exemplified the current Irish culture.  They have such a great respect for history that there is no need to keep stones like this in glass cases or behind fences.  We just parked the car and walked right up to them.  It truly was a moment I will never forget.

Kate Wright

During my trip to Ireland, we came across several Ogham Stones in our travels.  When I think about how the written word has evolved, it is amazing that even then, people had communication as advanced as this.  The Ogham alphabet is written right to left and bottom to top and the time put into the stones was painstakingly careful and extensive.

Anyone still fluent in this written form of language would still be able to read most, if not all, of the messages left behind as the stones were very well done and, considering Ireland’s penchant for rainy weather and its numerous invasions, is indeed a miracle that they have survived.

Rebecca Beld

This National Monument is held in the care of the minister for arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and Islands, for the state, under the provisions of the National Monuments Acts (1930-1994)

Resources:

www.goireland.com

www.guidekillarney.com

www.discoverireland.com

Meandering Through the Past

October, 2009

On the History of Ireland

History of Irish Myths

Well this author was thoroughly impressed to discover that Ireland has a rather rich historic mythological background. I also suspect that it wouldn’t be considered “myth” had Christian monks not been the ones recording everything. The fact that they are of a tradition, caused me to hesitate, but then again, if it had been my own tradition doing the recording, then, maybe I wouldn’t feel that way. This will mark the beginning of a series of articles studying the different periods of the history of Ireland. If you would like to read about the history of your own tradition please feel free to email me the suggestion.

The monks of the time listened to elders telling their families of the history. As they recorded what they heard, they intended to entertain the royals and thus decided to tweak the stories just a bit to a Christian lean.  They did this by removing the divinity of key players and rewrote epic events into simple tales. Despite this discovery there are a couple of manuscripts we can look back and read such as The Book of Invasions. With that in mind, let’s go back in time, and visit what the history of Ireland may have entailed.

Apparently there are four different historical cycles. The first historic cycle is called the Mythological cycle. This period of time is specifically called the Mythological cycle because it deals with many “Otherworld” type beings. The monks couldn’t exactly say these beings are completely real, and their tales true, because of their own tradition. I suspect this is one of the areas where they changed the characters from glorious powerful players, to regular human beings. This is also considered the time of the Invasions.

It is this time period where we learn about all the different types of beings that tried to rule the island. I found it extremely interesting to learn that the Partholonians were considered the first inhabitants of Ireland. This group landed on Beltaine, fought with the next group to try to rule and were said to be wiped out by a plague.

The next group to attempt to rule Ireland, were called the Nemedians, also said to have lived on Ireland for many years. They fought with the Partholonians who fought with the Fomhoire’. The Nemedians were also killed by the plague, and any left living were defeated and run off by the Fomhoire‘.

The Fomhoire’ were next and means “come from the sea.” These creatures were said to haave come from the “evil or dark fairy” race and were terribly misshapen. They were said to be the gods of death and cold. These creatures were said to be worshiped by the Fir Bholg or Men of Bags. The Men of Bags were also known as the men of the Goddess Domnu, a Goddess I hadn’t heard of before. Though they lived and worshiped the Fomhoire’ The Tuatha De’ Danann defeated them in battle and took over Ireland at that time.

The Tuatha De’ Danann were considered the race of the gods of the goddess Danu. They rules the powers of Light, life and warmth. According to the Book of Invasions this race came upon Ireland by surprise inside clouds. From the cities they settled in after battling the Fomhoire’ many sacred objects were said to have been created. The stone of Destiny, The Spear of Lugh, as well as the Sword of Naudhu, and the Dagda’s Cauldron. The Dagda being the God to Danu’s Goddess.

The Tuatha De’ Danann were defeated by the Milesians the first human ancestors of Ireland. Here the book of Invasions states that an agreement was reached between these two forces. The humans would get to rule the upper regions of Earth and the Tuatha the lower regions or underground. This is where the name Sidhe came from, eventually dwindling to the name of the Faerie Folk.

Source: http://www.sacredfire.net/peoples.html#Partholonians

In next months article we will study the second period called Fenian Cycle.

Sacred Sites

August, 2009

Druids Stone Circle – Kenmare, County Kerry, Ireland

Founded in 1670 and cradled in the heart of Kenmare Bay, Kenmare has been titled Kerry’s first Heritage Town. Its breathtaking scenery and unique charm make it a worthwhile stop while in the Killarney area. For the traveler willing to take a longer look, Kenmare abounds with archeological sites. Set among the artisan shops and spectacular views are ancient roots, for this town has one of the largest stone circles in the south-west of Ireland, and it is also the only monument of it’s kind to be situated so close to a town.

The pamphlet we obtained from the Kenmare Stone Circle tells us that “the Cork/Kerry Stone circles may have some relationship with the famous monument at Stonehenge”, and that in the center of the circle is a type of burial monument known as a “Boulder Dolman” which are rarely found outside of Southwestern Ireland.

This monument shows occupation in the area going back to the Bronze Age (2,200-500 B.C), when it was constructed. The circle has 15 stones that are made of greenstone or brownstone and form a large egg-shaped circle with a boulder dolmen in the center. This is an impressive boulder-burial with a giant capstone that weighs almost seven tons. Stones of this type are not found for many miles and were undoubtedly moved to this location. It is unclear as to what the meaning of this monument is. It may have been used for rituals by druid priests, hence the local name “Druids Stone Circle”. It may also have been used as a primitive calendar, or a burial site, beneath the center stone.

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Stone circles were built during the Bronze Age for ritual and ceremonial purposes. Some studies have indicated that they were orientated on certain solar and lunar events, such as the position of the sun on the horizon on a solstice.

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Visitors to the Druid Stone Circle conducting a ceremony.

When we arrived at the Stone Circle, we found another group holding a ceremony there. We stayed in the background observing their ritual, quietly lending our own energy to it. As you look around the landscape you’ll notice that a grove of trees surrounds it, giving it a sense of privacy, even though it remains a scarce few feet from the modern world.

As they finished, the woman who was leading the ceremony came over to us and offered a blessing and a smudging. Moved by the kindness we gratefully accepted. It seemed a shame to break the silence and inquire where they were from, so we shared in the beauty of the moment.

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Celebrant offers a blessing to a traveler

It was only a few days ago that I realized who this lovely woman was, certainly serendipity connected us and I was able to thank her for her gesture of welcome and the blessings that came with it.

Observations from the group of travelers,

Inside this circle, one would find a very massive center stone, which we gathered was used for an altar stone. A ritual had just been held there, and in that spot, I felt a source of energy. Very interesting. The energy didn’t seem at all alarmed that we were there.  Perhaps it was not even aware of it.  Perhaps it was on its own plane of existence.  Stepping into that circle was like stepping back into time if one opened their minds and closed their ears and eyes.

On Friday morning we visited another stone circle just outside of Kenmare. This one seemed powerful to me, perhaps because the stones, taller and broader than the ones at the lake, stood like the ghosts of the people who once worshipped there. I breathed deeply as I stepped through the invisible boundary. These stone circles date to around 2500BC, well before the time of the Druids, though the two have become linked in our minds. We know that the Druids performed ritual sacrifice, but we have no idea about the Neolithic people of 4500 years ago. Nonetheless, it was disconcerting to see the large, flat boulder smack in the center of the circle. Maybe for sacrifice, maybe not, but it still gave me the chills.

Highly recommended place to stop if you are visiting the Killarney area of Ireland.

Rebecca Beld

Just a short walk up the hill from Market Street you will find Kenmare Stone Circle, just follow the signs on the left side of the road. There is a small structure at the entrance where you can get information about the site; there is a sign that asks for a small donation.

Resources:

Kenmare Stone Circle Information Booth

Andrea Mikana-Pinkham

Rebecca Sommers

Sacred Sites

July, 2009

The Burren, Co Clare, Ireland

The word Burren derives its name from Boireann, which means ‘rocky land’ in Gaelic. This region of naturally interlocking limestone slabs was formed 320 million years ago and it contains a wealth of rare flowers growing in a unique botanical environment in which Mediterranean and alpine plants rare to Ireland growing side by side.

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Glaciation and wind and rain erosion have formed limestone pavements with deep crevices known as ‘grykes’.  The porous rock is easily penetrated by rainwater, which has gouged out an extensive cave system beneath the rocky plateau.

The geology and archaeology of The Burren make it place of great mystery and beauty, its combination of many unusual features, make it unique in Europe. Extending over more than a hundred square miles, the limestone area contains round towers, dolmens, churches and high crosses. The visitor should set aside a few days to explore this area for you’ll want to see the many tombs, monasteries and holy wells that also exist in this region.

Poulnabrone Dolman

Within the Burren are many Dolmens, one of the better known is the Poulnabrone Dolmen. In Irish it means “hole of the sorrows” and the word Dolmen means “stone table.”

Considered a Portal Tomb, some sources date the Dolmen from 2500BC to 3800BC. Remains were found in the chamber when it was excavated in 1968 and they are thought to be that of 16 – 22 adults, the majority of them were thought to be in there 30’s with only one over the age of 40, the remains of the rest were 6 young adults and 1 newborn baby.

Radiocarbon dating suggests that the burials took place 3800 and 3200 BC.  As we understand it, the Neolithic community would have been fairly large and since there were easier ways to deal with the remains of the dead, it is thought that than these remains must have been people of importance within the community and that this must have been a special place of ceremony.

It was further proved that the bones were naturally de-fleshed elsewhere (by exposure, burial or picked at by animals, namely crows) and only then moved within the chamber at Poulnabrone.

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At last, the Poulnabrone Dolmen is found!

In the past my attempts to find the Dolmen had been unsuccessful, so I consulted a few Irishmen as to the whereabouts of this Dolmen. Oddly enough, they had never actually seen the Dolmen, but had heard about it. After much discussion and a few Guinness I was able to secure the directions to The Dolmen, (it was written on a coaster from the pub, scrawled in faded blue ink from a worn out pen). As we headed out the next morning to find the Dolmen, my navigator asked me if I remembered to bring the directions, and the dialog went something like this.

“Do you have the directions?”

“Yes.”

“Well where are they?”

“I have them.”

“Can I see them?”

I withdrew the ratty Guinness stained coaster from my pocket and handed it to her. Her icy stare made me wither in my seat.  It was a very quiet ride to the Dolmen.

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Withering stare from our navigator as she realized the directions to the Dolmen may be a bit sketchy.

I’m told that in the past you were able to walk across the limestone surface and walk right up to the Dolmen, Unfortunately, there is a rope fence around it now that prevents anyone from getting too close to it.  There is a path that you must follow and there is even a “guardian” on duty for security, a shame, but I’m afraid it’s necessary.  Tour buses frequently visit the Dolmen and it is best to wait them out as they have a regular schedule to maintain and the groups don’t linger long.
Comments from our travelers:

“The Burren on the Western coast of Ireland is a windswept rocky area with few trees. I think Stark beauty is an accurate description. Even today the area is sparsely populated and mostly undeveloped. It is hard for me to grasp why the ancients would spend so much time and energy to erect the dolmen. Perhaps the land provided enough for decent survival so these people could spend time addressing their beliefs about death and transporting to the next life. Perhaps they believed their bounty was directly tied to their reverence for the dead.”

Steve

“The Burren has a wild beauty carved by nature that takes your breath away”.
Nan

It was an amazing experience to be able to see an ancient structure, still standing unscathed after thousands of years. Against the beautiful backdrop of the Burren, it is an absolutely magical spot.

Kate

The Burren National Park Burren, Co Clare is Located in the Burren Region on the R480 not far from the Cliffs of Moher.

Resources:

http://www.theburrencentre.ie/

Sacred Sites

June, 2009

Beltane Celebration – Tullamore – County Offaly – Ireland

We are back from our travels in Ireland and we hope you had as exciting a Beltane celebration as we did.  I’d like to share with you some of the highlights of our Journey.

Surrounded by a 700 year old Oak forest (the oldest in Ireland) stands Charleville Castle, known for generations as one of the world’s most haunted castles. Legend states that Charleville was built on the site of an ancient Druid burial ground and it is said that Druids conducted ceremonies on this site.

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The 500-year-old Oak tree that hoards the entrance to Charleville

We had traveled here to celebrate Beltane with fellow Pagans in the heart of Ireland. After a warm welcome by our hostess Mary Alagna, we were introduced to others that would be joining us for the may pole dance. They had been hard at work, felling an Ash tree that would be the focus of our celebration.

Mary had asked us to each bring ribbon in a color or pattern, that symbolized the energies we would like to manifest. We tied our ribbons to the tree that would represent the energies we wished to bring into our lives.

Most of our group had participated in rituals, but some had been primarily solitary practitioners. So we found it fascinating to celebrate Beltane with Mary and Eileen (among others) in the gardens at Charleville Castle.

“Everyone was incredibly warm and friendly, although this was true with literally every person that we met in Ireland; it was especially true with Mary and Eileen. They welcomed each and every one of us with open arms.”

“We danced around the may pole which was so fun and a great way to loosen every one up!  The ritual itself was much more interactive than some of the other rituals we had done in the past. We fed each other, massaged each other’s hands with oil and danced together. It was truly a celebration of the season!”

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Mary Alagna, as she prepares for our Beltane celebration at Charleville Forest Castle.

“Some of us had never done, the weaving before and the energy raised was light, yet powerful, intense but not overwhelming. Our beautiful, yet eclectic creation will remain in our memories for years to come.”

It was a privilege to stand in circle with them and witness the celebration of Beltane or as they say it Bealtaine (Be All Tinna). We thank them for making a dream come true, celebrating with other Pagans in Ireland!


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Our first look at the May Pole framed against the backdrop of Charleville Forest Castle.


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Finishing a fine job of wrapping the May Pole.

Always a hospitable, Bonnie Vance and Dudley Stewart, the castle keepers, presented us with a lovely dinner in one of the magnificent rooms. As the Castle runs a bit cool, even in warmer weather, we were also treated to a cozy fire for our dinner.

Unfortunately as beautiful as the day had been, the weather turned on us for the evening, dampening our spirited hope of having a Beltane fire outside. But with warm hearts inside, we took a tour of the castle and it’s amazing rooms. The Castle is being restored, with many areas in various stages of repair and we learned even more about this site.

The Castle was designed in 1798 by one of Ireland’s leading architects of the day, This magnificent building was almost lost through vandalism while it stood vacant during a large part of the 20th century. The main rooms with their spectacular ceilings have for the most part survived the onslaught. The Castle is now occupied and the owners are lovingly attempting to preserve and restore it to its former glory. They hope to infuse the Castle with music and spirit, to bring it to life again with all manner of celebrations, as Charleville has seen it’s darker side.

Although a wonderful example of Gothic revivalist architecture, it is also known for being haunted. For decades Charleville has been visited by parapsychologists, paranormal investigators and documentary makers hoping to capture photographic or video evidence of the many phenomena reported throughout the years. Orbs (spectral light balls) are frequently seen in the building and the grounds. The stories abound in the castle, from Druids and a grotto, to tales of devil worship by the owner, and wicked tales of the use of the dungeon.

Just down from the Great Room, there is a staircase leading to the upper levels of the castle, it is said to be haunted due to a tragic accident that occurred shortly after the Bury family took up residence. Charles Bury’s eight-year-old daughter was sent upstairs to wash her hands, the nursery is situated on the top floor, and on the way down, and she attempted to slide down the banister. Unfortunately she fell and was killed. They say her spirit loves to play with other children that have come to live at the castle; one of them was Bonnie’s son. He tells a story about the little girl ghost that helped him when we became lost in the castle one day.

The Yew trees that surround the castle form a union jack, according to Celtic tree lore; Yew trees were used to keep the spirits of the dead inside the boundaries of cemeteries. I had to wonder if it had the same effect here and if the souls left behind were kept within the walls of the Castle because of it. Perhaps fanciful thinking, but I prefer to remember what Bonnie told us about the Castle returning to life with music and art and activity again. If it brings peace to whatever energy or spirit is there, so be it.

Resources:

http://www.offaly.ie/offalyhome/visitoffaly/Attractions/historic/

Mary Alagna

Bonnie Vance

Dudley Stewart

Kathryn Wright

Rebecca Beld

Rebecca Sommers

Sacred Sites

May, 2009

Beltane in Ireland

For this issue of Sacred Sites we begin by wishing you a Happy Beltane! This month we are in Ireland with a group of travelers exploring sacred sites. We hope you’ll journey with us in spirit as we make our way across the mystical emerald isle.

This will be an interesting opportunity to experience the difference in celebratory styles, not only culturally speaking, but from within the Irish community itself. We will meet a transplanted American living in County Kerry, a solitary Witch, in the heart of Ireland and a member of Teampall Na Callaighe that lives in Kells.

In the upcoming issues of Pagan Pages we will share with you the details of our Pagan pilgrimage, along with interviews from local Pagans, photos of the rituals and ceremonies we attend, as well as insights from the travelers themselves.

Journey with us as we travel across Ireland to celebrate the Celtic Festival of Beltane. Here are a few of the ancient sites and windswept landscapes we will be visiting.

The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare – (Irish – Aillte an Mhothair, lit. cliffs of the ruin) an impressive wall of rock rises to a height of almost 700 feet above the churning Atlantic Ocean. The view from Hags Head overlooks the sea, standing to greet the fierce wind.

Special Note: For any movie fans out there – The Cliffs of Moher were filmed as the “Cliffs of Insanity” in the 1987 movie, The Princess Bride.

The Burren National Park, County Clare – The word Burren derives its name from Boireann, which means ‘rocky land’ in Gaelic. This region of limestone hills contains a wealth of rare flowers and prehistoric stone monuments. The Burren is a unique botanical environment in which Mediterranean and alpine plants rare to Ireland grow side by side. Its geology, flora, fauna, caves, archaeology, and history set it apart as a place of great mystery and beauty.

The 100 square mile area boasts rivers, castles, lakes, towering cliffs, lush green valleys, barren rock mountains, and constant relics of ancient civilization; round towers, stone arches, dolmens, ancient churches and high crosses.

Within the Burren exists the Poulnabrone Dolman, one of the most dramatic stone grave markers, said to be about 4000 years ago. Like a piece of sculpture, it is one of the most photographed in the world.

Special Note: Our intrepid group of travelers will attempt to locate the Poulnabrone Dolmen. Admittedly, it has eluded this traveler in previous attempts. Apparently obvious to many a tour bus driver, this American has not yet learned the secret handshake and special password that is required to locate this structure. Well hidden from the road, it seriously needs some sort of marker, of course that would ruin the beauty of the Dolmen – sigh of angst.

Druids Stone Circle, Kenmare, County Kerry – An ancient ring of stones said to be a druidic site just outside Kenmare.

Torc Waterfall, County Kerry – Just one of many in the Killarney area and is known as the most famous. The roar of the falls can be heard as you approach, the source of the water comes from a place called the “Devil’s Punch Bowl” and falls 70 feet onto the huge boulders below.

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Torc Waterfall – County Kerry

Ogham Stones – A set of eight stones situated near the side of a road near Beaufort Village. Ogham stones are usually gravestones and bear the name of the deceased and often details of his descent.

Charleville Forest Castle, County Offaly, Tullamore – Surrounded by a 700-year old Oak forest (the oldest in Ireland), stands Charleville Castle, known for generations as one of the world’s most haunted castles.

Legend states that Charleville was built on the site of an ancient druid burial ground and it is said that Druids conducted ceremonies here. There is a grotto on the property that we’ve yet to see, hopefully some fairy rings – keeping our fingers crossed.

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500-year-old Oak Tree at Charleville Forest Castle

We have been invited to celebrate Beltaine at Charleville with a Maypole Dance, Ceremony, and the lighting of the Bale-fire with our host Mary Alagna.

Brigids Well Kildare – (Cill Dara in modern Irish originally derived from Cell Dara in Old Irish, meaning “Church of the Oak”) One of the many wells named after the Goddess Brigid also known as Saint Bridget. I’m told that at this location there are two Wells, one just off of the car park that is a Pagan site and one farther away that is a Christianized site.

Loughcrew Cairns & The Hill of the Witch (Irish – Sliabh na Cailligh) Onto the Boyne Valley in County Meath, as we step back in time to visit the passage graves of Loughcrew. We join our local guide Gemma McGowan as she takes us on a tour of Loughcrew as well as other historical sites where they celebrate the Ancient Celtic Festivals of Lughnassa and Samhain. Gemma is an Irish member of Teampall Na Callaighe.

Monasterboice – An interesting monastic site near Drogheda in County Meath. The impressive ruins include a large cemetery, two churches, one of the tallest round towers in Ireland and two of the tallest and best high crosses.

Looking forward to reporting back to you in June.

Sacred Sites

March, 2009

Beltane in Ireland

For this issue of Sacred Sites we begin by wishing you a Happy Beltane! This month we are in Ireland with a group of travelers exploring sacred sites. We hope you’ll journey with us in spirit as we make our way across the mystical emerald isle.

This will be an interesting opportunity to experience the difference in celebratory styles, not only culturally speaking, but from within the Irish community itself. We will meet a transplanted American living in County Kerry, a solitary Witch, in the heart of Ireland and a member of Teampall Na Callaighe that lives in Kells.

In the upcoming issues of Pagan Pages we will share with you the details of our Pagan pilgrimage, along with interviews from local Pagans, photos of the rituals and ceremonies we attend, as well as insights from the travelers themselves.

Journey with us as we travel across Ireland to celebrate the Celtic Festival of Beltane. Here are a few of the ancient sites and windswept landscapes we will be visiting.

The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare – (Irish – Aillte an Mhothair, lit. cliffs of the ruin) an impressive wall of rock rises to a height of almost 700 feet above the churning Atlantic Ocean. The view from Hags Head overlooks the sea, standing to greet the fierce wind.

Special Note: For any movie fans out there – The Cliffs of Moher were filmed as the “Cliffs of Insanity” in the 1987 movie, The Princess Bride.

The Burren National Park, County Clare – The word Burren derives its name from Boireann, which means ‘rocky land’ in Gaelic. This region of limestone hills contains a wealth of rare flowers and prehistoric stone monuments. The Burren is a unique botanical environment in which Mediterranean and alpine plants rare to Ireland grow side by side. Its geology, flora, fauna, caves, archaeology, and history set it apart as a place of great mystery and beauty.

The 100 square mile area boasts rivers, castles, lakes, towering cliffs, lush green valleys, barren rock mountains, and constant relics of ancient civilization; round towers, stone arches, dolmens, ancient churches and high crosses.

Within the Burren exists the Poulnabrone Dolman, one of the most dramatic stone grave markers, said to be about 4000 years ago. Like a piece of sculpture, it is one of the most photographed in the world.

Special Note: Our intrepid group of travelers will attempt to locate the Poulnabrone Dolmen. Admittedly, it has eluded this traveler in previous attempts. Apparently obvious to many a tour bus driver, this American has not yet learned the secret handshake and special password that is required to locate this structure. Well hidden from the road, it seriously needs some sort of marker, of course that would ruin the beauty of the Dolmen – sigh of angst.

Druids Stone Circle, Kenmare, County Kerry – An ancient ring of stones said to be a druidic site just outside Kenmare.

Torc Waterfall, County Kerry – Just one of many in the Killarney area and is known as the most famous. The roar of the falls can be heard as you approach, the source of the water comes from a place called the “Devil’s Punch Bowl” and falls 70 feet onto the huge boulders below.

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Torc Waterfall – County Kerry

Ogham Stones – A set of eight stones situated near the side of a road near Beaufort Village. Ogham stones are usually gravestones and bear the name of the deceased and often details of his descent.

Charleville Forest Castle, County Offaly, Tullamore – Surrounded by a 700-year old Oak forest (the oldest in Ireland), stands Charleville Castle, known for generations as one of the world’s most haunted castles.

Legend states that Charleville was built on the site of an ancient druid burial ground and it is said that Druids conducted ceremonies here. There is a grotto on the property that we’ve yet to see, hopefully some fairy rings – keeping our fingers crossed.

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500-year-old Oak Tree at Charleville Forest Castle

We have been invited to celebrate Beltaine at Charleville with a Maypole Dance, Ceremony, and the lighting of the Bale-fire with our host Mary Alagna.

Brigids Well Kildare – (Cill Dara in modern Irish originally derived from Cell Dara in Old Irish, meaning “Church of the Oak”) One of the many wells named after the Goddess Brigid also known as Saint Bridget. I’m told that at this location there are two Wells, one just off of the car park that is a Pagan site and one farther away that is a Christianized site.

Loughcrew Cairns & The Hill of the Witch (Irish – Sliabh na Cailligh) Onto the Boyne Valley in County Meath, as we step back in time to visit the passage graves of Loughcrew. We join our local guide Gemma McGowan as she takes us on a tour of Loughcrew as well as other historical sites where they celebrate the Ancient Celtic Festivals of Lughnassa and Samhain. Gemma is an Irish member of Teampall Na Callaighe.

Monasterboice – An interesting monastic site near Drogheda in County Meath. The impressive ruins include a large cemetery, two churches, one of the tallest round towers in Ireland and two of the tallest and best high crosses.

Looking forward to reporting back to you in June.

Brightest of Blessings

Sacred Sites

March, 2009

Hill of Tara – County Meath, Ireland

The Hill of Tara was the Coronation place of Ireland’s kings, and is one of Ireland’s most famous sites. An ancient seat of power, more than 140 kings are said to have reigned there. It was the sacred place of dwelling for the gods, and was the entrance to the Otherworld.

This was where Ireland stood its ground and ruled for hundreds of years, and where today it remains a spiritual center for those in Ireland, with pilgrimages taking place on special Pagan and Christian holidays.

The Hill of Tara known as Teamhair Na Rí, “Hill of the Kings” forms an archaeological complex that runs between Navan and Dunshaughlin. Located near the River Boyne, in County Meath.

Rich in history, its neighboring sites are scattered about the landscape, and on a clear day it is claimed that half the counties of Ireland can be seen from atop Tara. To the west are the hills at Loughcrew, in the distance to the northwest is Newgrange and further to the north is the Hill of Slane.

An aerial view provides a stunning display of just how large a complex this is. With over 30 monuments visible at Tara, there are as many more beneath the surface. Although no buildings survive there are a number of large earthworks still remaining on the hill. The most prominent earthworks within are the two linked enclosures, to the East is Cormacs House and to the West is The Royal Seat.

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Aerial view of the hill of Tara and surrounding region
Image provided by Mythical Ireland

Tara boasts many points of interest in the form of Hill Forts and Raths (ring forts consisting mainly of a ditch and an earth wall). Some of these are named after prominent figures in Ireland Mythology. Rath Maeve is named after the legendary goddess-queen Maeve or Medbh. Ráith Laoghaire (King Laoghaire’s Fort) is a Ring Fort where it is said that the King was buried in an upright position in order to watch for any invading armies.

Other sites include the stone of Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny, and a long rectangular area with banks on either side is known as the Banquet Hall (Teach Miodhchuarta). Some believe that this was used as a ceremonial avenue or cursus monument approaching the site.

Only two monuments have been excavated at Tara, the first is The Rath of the Synods (Rath na Seanadh). The Rath is a very elaborate structure with four concentric banks and ditches and is built around an earlier burial mound known as the King’s Chair. The second monument excavated in the 1950’s is the “Mound of the Hostages”.

The Mound of the Hostages

The Mound of the Hostages (Dumha na nGiall) is a Stone Age passage-tomb, dating to between 2500 B.C. and 3000 B.C. The length of the passage in the tomb is quite short and is subdivided into three compartments each containing evidence of at least 200 individual cremations.

The tomb, which is the oldest monument at the Hill of Tara, is just one part of a large grouping of monuments. The tomb gets its name from the custom of Irish kings taking important people hostage, one of these kings was known as Niall of the Nine Hostages who had taken hostages from all of the provinces of Ireland and from other countries.

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The Mound of the Hostages, in 2003 a small wooden fence had been built around it.


Lia Fail – The Stone of Destiny

In the center of the Royal Seat stands a stone, which is believed to be the Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny also known as the Coronation Stone. The stone originally stood in the Northern part of the enclosure near the Mound of the Hostages.

According to legend, the stone was brought to Ireland by the mythical race of people known as the Tuatha De Danaan and the legend states that when the true king of Ireland stood on the stone, it would do any of the following:

* The stone was said to sing when the proper king of Ireland was crowned.
* The stone would scream when a series of challenges were met by the King.
* The stone would roar three times if the chosen one were a true King.
* On the inauguration of a worthy High King the stone would roar its approval.
* When the proper King touched the stone, it would let out a screech that could be heard all over Ireland.

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Standing with Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny, Hill of Tara – County Meath, Ireland

Atlantis and the Lost Ark of the Covenant?

Throughout the years there have been some amazing claims made of the land at the Hill of Tara and about Ireland itself. Early in the 20th century, a group of British Israelites partly destroyed the land while searching for the Ark of the Covenant. They came to Tara convinced that the Ark was buried on the famous hill. They dug the Mound of the Synods, but all they found were Roman coins.

As recently as 2004, a new theory suggests that Tara was the ancient capital of the lost kingdom of Atlantis, and that the mythical land of Atlantis was Ireland.

Visiting the Hill of Tara

Standing on the Hill of Tara, you will notice its undulating hills and valleys on the surface of the land. You will not find towering monuments, or large museums, but you will find an incredible landscape as unique to the area as the people who inhabited it.

Visitors can be dismissive of the site, if they haven’t had the benefit of an aerial view of Tara beforehand. I’ve heard there is an excellent audio-visual presentation in the Visitor Center, which will help you to put this site into perspective so you’ll have a better idea of what you’re viewing.

The Visitor Center is located in a church on the property surrounded by a cemetery. The official opening times are Mid May – Mid September 10:00 to 18:00. These hours are for the Center only but visitors may still enter the Hill of Tara by walking around the wall of the cemetery and out onto the hill.

NOTE: Having only visited Tara in February and November, I have to tell you that it’s never been open when we’ve arrived. Fortunately, we found a short cut onto the hill by closely watching the other local visitors.

If you would like to get into the courtyard of the church and take a walk through the cemetery you may do so by walking to the far end of the parking area and entering through a gate. As you walk up the hill towards the church gates (which will be closed) you will notice there is a narrow break in the stone wall to the right of the gates and you can enter through that opening into the cemetery. Here is a link to a short video that shows this entrance and worn path that leads to a narrow break in the rock wall that borders the cemetery.

http://www.lookaroundireland.com/celticinteractive/tara.htm

You may also enter the Hill of Tara through the cemetery by walking to the far back wall where there is another gate that will lead you out onto the hill. I believe this short cut to the Hill is much easier than walking around the cemetery as you have to take your chances with a potentially rain dampened grassy incline.

For visitors with mobility issues, navigating this Sacred Site can be difficult. The ground is uneven; many areas are hilly due to the landscape itself being comprised of concentric rings. There are no proper paths and visitors will have to negotiate banks and ditches, often in inclement weather. There will also be sheep and with sheep, come sheep droppings. It’s a great day to wear your hiking boots.

Weather can be unpredictable, forget the umbrella and leave it in the car; it will be completely useless on a windy day at Tara. Opt for a hat or earmuffs, the wind can be deafening on the Hill. I’ve often wondered if the ancient people mistook the roaring of the Stone of Destiny, for the roaring of the wind in their ears.

Located off the M3 Motorway. Watch closely for signs, as of the last visit it was not well signposted and there is road construction, which can be confusing to the first time visitor. Here is the equivalent of map quest for Ireland.

http://www.aaireland.ie/routes/

The Hill of Tara was included in the Worlds Monuments Fund’s 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world.

Resources:

Hill of Tara Web sites:

http://www.knowth.com/tara.htm

www.answers.com/topic/hill-of-tara

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill_of_Tara

www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/tara/

http://www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/tara/taramap.html

http://www.lookaroundireland.com/celticinteractive/tara.htm

http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art5375.asp

Ancient Echos, Sacred Sites and Windswept Landscapes- Ireland Tour

February, 2009

Join our small group as we travel from Shannon to Dublin through the mystical heart of Ireland. Meet local Pagans/Wiccans and join in the Celtic Festival of Beltaine. Visit The Cliffs of Moher, The Burren and Brigid’s Well. Tour the Ring of Kerry and visit ancient ruins. Spend Beltaine at Charleville Castle with a maypole dance and ritual. Spend time in Historic Dublin and enjoy a Traditional Irish House Party with dinner and a show. Step back in time as we visit the neolitic sites of Newgrange and Knowth. Then join our local guide Gemma McGowan as she takes us on a tour of Loughcrew and other historical sites where they celebrate the Ancient Celtic Festivals of Lughnassa and Samhain.

Contact Rebecca at (877) 234-7578 or visit www.kindredspiritstours.com

Itinerary for Ireland – April 27th – May 6th

Monday, April 27th – Depart Chicago O’Hare (ORD) International Terminal, US for Shannon Ireland (EI), passport required. Overnight Flight.

Tuesday, April 28th– Arrive Shannon, Collect our transportation and head towards County Clare to Brigids Well and the Cliffs of Moher. Spend the night in Doolin and listen to a live Trad Irish music session at McDermott’s.

Overnight stay at Doolin Lodge – Includes Breakfast

Wednesday, April 29th– Take a cruise and view the Cliffs of Moher from where the Cliffs meet the sea. Visit the Burren and Aillwee Cave for the Bird of Prey show. Head towards Killarney to meet our local Guide Jackie Corcoran.

Overnight at the Lake Hotel, Killarney – Includes Breakfast

Thursday, April 30th- Jackie Corcoran takes us on a day tour of the Ring of Kerry. Finish the day with a sunset ceremony on Inch Beach.

Overnight at the Lake Hotel, Killarney – Includes Breakfast

Friday, May 1st – Following a Trad Irish Breakfast from 8am – 11:00am Depart Killarney for Tour of Charleville Castle where we will celebrate the ancient Celtic Festival of Beltaine at the Castle.

Overnight at Grennan’s Country House – County Offaly – Includes Breakfast

Saturday, May 2nd – Head for Dublin, but first a stop at Brigids Well in Kildare. Arrive for our Historical Walking tour and finish the evening with a Traditional Irish House Party – Dinner and Show.

Overnight at the Trinity Capital Hotel, Dublin – Includes Breakfast

Sunday May 3rd – Take the Dublin Hop on Hop off Bus Tour. It stops at over 15 sites of interest in the city. Visit St. Michen’s Church for an unusual tour.

Overnight at the Trinity Capital Hotel, Dublin – Includes Breakfast

Monday, May 4th– Start the day with a full Irish Breakfast and then head to the hills north of Dublin near Drogheda for a tour of Newgrange and Knowth, a neolithic passage tomb dating from 3000 BC. Time permitting we will visit Monasterboice and The Hill of Tara. Meet our Host Gemma McGowan for dinner and Trad music.

Overnight at the White Gables Bed & Breakfast, Kells, Co Meath

Tuesday, May 5th – Our Local Guide Gemma McGowan takes us on a tour of Loughcrew and other historical sites where they celebrate the Ancient Celtic Festivals of Lughnassa and Samhain.

Overnight at the White Gables Bed & Breakfast, Kells, Co Meath

Wednesday, May 6th – Depart Dublin for US.

Sacred Sites

February, 2009

Knowth, County Meath, Ireland – Passage Portal Tomb

This month we travel to Knowth, a Neolithic passage tomb that is part of the Brú na Bóinne complex in County Meath, Ireland. While Newgrange is by far the most famous of the three Boyne Valley passage-tombs (Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth), it is probably Knowths astonishing quantity of art, which makes it more impressive than Newgrange. Knowth contains one quarter of all known megalithic art in Europe and is by far the most significant find in terms of art, scale and history.

Surrounded by 17-18 satellite mounds, Knowth, also known as the Great Mound, is itself decorated with 127 Kerbstones. Interestingly, some of the Kerbstones have carvings on the backs of the stones, this has become known as hidden art.  Perhaps the decoration facing inward held special meaning to these ancient people or due to the difficulty in finding, hauling and etching the stones it made more sense to re-use them.

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A path that winds between the mounds at Knowth, October 2008

Excavations

A brief excavation of the site was carried out in 1941, but full-scale excavations began on the site in 1962 and were undertaken by Professor George Eogan of the University of Dublin College.  When the excavations began, very little was known about the full extent of the site. The entrances to the western and eastern passages were discovered in 1967 and 1968 respectively and slowly the layers of activity at the site of Knowth were uncovered.

Passages

Dating from about 3000 BC, the portal tomb has two passages one eastern and another western. The western passage is significantly shorter then the eastern and neither connect, but the eastern passage ends in a cruciform shape, much like it’s neighbor Newgrange. Upon entering the great mound and you can see down the eastern passage from inside the tomb. There are three recesses that held basin stones into which the cremated remains of the dead were placed. Both passages are lined with decoratively carved stones known as orthostats.

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Looking down the eastern passage of the Great Mound at Knowth

Visitors to Knowth cannot currently enter either passage due to safety reasons, but can enter a chamber created by archaeologists just south of the eastern passage. Visitors are able to see down the eastern passage, but do not see the interior of the chambers.

Megalithic and ifacts

Many significant artifacts have been found over the 40 years of excavations at Knowth. Found in the right hand recess of the Eastern passage was a giant basin, also known as Dagda’s cauldron, the passage also contained a beautifully engraved mace head carved from flint. In the Western passage a small stone phallus was found (and no, I don’t have a picture of the phallus – sorry). The artifacts are currently on display in the National Museum of Ireland.

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Over 200 decorated stones were found during excavations at Knowth.

Solar or Lunar Alignment

Over the years many theories on the astronomical alignments at Knowth have been investigated. It has been thought to align with the equinoxes, and later it was believed to have a lunar alignment. Its sister site at Newgrange aligns with the sunrise at the Winter Solstice so it seems likely that the passages were intended to align in some way.

Regardless, the alignment at Knowth does not occur today. This is due to the passages either being destroyed by those who settled the land or the passages were incorporated into souterrains (man made tunnels).

The Woodhenge

Just east of the eastern passage is a timber circle or “woodhenge” that was constructed between 2800 and 2500 BC. Using the post-holes that were discovered fairly recently, archaeologists have reconstructed the woodhenge to show what it would have looked like then.

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A reconstruction of the Woodhenge

Evidence of the late Neolithic and Bronze Age is suggested by the presence of grooved ware found near the timber circle, (Woodhenge). Grooved ware is a type of earthen pot that has been found at Henge and burial sites.

Archeological evidence suggests that Woodhenge was used as a ritual or sacred area after the Great Mound had already fallen into disuse. A large number of votive offerings have been found in and around the immediate areas of the timbers that formed the circle.

Visiting Knowth

There is no direct access to the Knowth site, access is by guided tour from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre located close to the village of Donore on the south bank of the river Boyne. Guided Tours of Knowth are from April to October, the last tour is 90 minutes before closing time of the Visitor Centre.

It is highly recommended that you tour both Knowth and Newgrange; the combined tour is about 3 hours, with the tour of Knowth lasting about 45 minutes. There is time at the end (about 15 minutes) where you can wander on your own and if you wish, you can climb to the top of the Great Mound where there are amazing views of the Boyne Valley and surrounding countryside.

In between the tours take the time to visit the permanent exhibitions of artifacts on display. All of the artifacts are replicas; the originals are now in the National Museum of Ireland.

Knowth and the other megalithic sites of the Boyne Valley were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993.

Resources:

www.knowth.com

http://www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/knowth/equinoxwest.html

http://www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/knowth/index.html

http://www.megalithicireland.com/Knowth.htm