We arrived and spent one week in County Donegal and it was hard to leave. The little cottage where we were staying in was so comfortable and in the midst of pristine beaches, beautiful sunsets over the Atlantic and places with so many old stories.
We imagined this was my Cailleach cottage (this is not where we were staying! But very close by) – even at low tide, it appeared inaccessible from the beach – a small rivulet of water remained a barrier…I loved the wild isolation of it!
Geoff took to sitting out behind our cottage watching the view and the sunset.
We also went walking on a day when the weather was finer and the wind less biting. There was not a person to be seen and the beaches are truly magnificent and pristine in their wildness.
When we rather reluctantly left, after trialling seafood chowder at multiple pubs (none as good as the one at Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin so far) and discovering a new addiction to deep fried Brie (the waist line is feeling a little tight already), we set off for County Sligo. There’s many things I love about Sligo County- including that it’s W.B.Yeats country (I am a Fangirl of his) and the ancient landscapes of Carrowkeel, Carrowmore, Keash caves and on……. (there will be more about these in the next newsletter)
On our first day, we left County Sligo to visit County Roscommon and the ancient royal site of RathCroghan (Cruachan Aí). Reported to be the oldest and largest unexcavated royal site in Europe- it is the royal seat for Connacht- one of the 5 ancient regions of Ireland. Also the centre of many of the stories from Irish lore (the Ulster Cycle) and the home of Queen Medbh (Maeve)- a great warrioress according to the lore.
This is a recent painting at the Rathcroghan visitor centre which depicts Queen Medbh, the Mórrigan in her form as the hooded crow and the great bulls of the Táin Bó Cuailnge.
The site of Rathcroghan contains many ancient sites and burials (including Medbh’s- if she was real- and if she wasn’t buried in Sligo on Knocknarea- which apparently she cannot be as the timeline for the cairn on Knocknarea and Queen Medbh’s life do not match).
Oweynagat – the cave of the cats
There is also a cave (Oweynagat) which is a dwelling place of the Great Queen, the Mórrigan. I have wanted to go into Oweynagat for a very long time and this time it happened!
There are many tales in Irish lore about Oweynagat (the cave of the cats)- it’s also called “Ireland’s Gate to Hell”- but I wanted to be there for the Mórrigan.
Here is a quote from the Rathcroghan guide book:
“Oweynagat is also said to be the dwelling place of ”fit abode’ of the Mórrigan- Mór Rioghan (Great Queen/ Phantom Queen), the Battle Goddess of Ireland. She is a shape-shifter, most commonly associated with the form of the hooded crow. She features prominently in the Táin, initially by approaching Cú Chulainn in the form of a beautiful young maiden, His rejection invokes her fury and later in the tale when he is in single combat in the ford, she attacks him in the form of an eel, a wolf and a hornless red-eared heifer. She also marks his death by alighting in her crow form on the shoulders of his corpse, which signals to his enemies that it is safe to finally approach.”
Geoff claims to have claustrophobia, but decided to come with me anyway. I could hear him behind me muttering curses at me the whole way down!
Here he is at the entrance (see outside pic below). It’s incredibly muddy and rocky and you need to slide down the very narrow entrance and perhaps 10 metres after that on your backside.
The entrance to Oweynagat is below too. It has a big hawthorn over it which was comforting- very vulva like, don’t you think?
This is the inside of the cave- thin and narrow and about 7 metres high, it leads to a cervical looking entrance to a further cave, which was a stretch to far in terms of mud, slipping and climbing. With lights off, the silence and darkness is complete, but not oppressive- I’ve only been in similar darkness when deep within the earth, doing an assessment in a mine.
Here I am emerging from the cave entrance- muddy after slipping and sliding and crawling my way out over boulders and rocks, but a wonderful sensation of emerging ready for the new!
More to come about Sheela na Gig and County Sligo in the next newsletter!