Mythology, ancient settlements, magic, folklore – Lough Gur has them all!
Almost in my backyard – about 40 minutes drive – Lough Gur is one of the most important archaeological places in Ireland, yet I had not been there in decades. On the list of special events for Heritage Week was a complimentary guided tour of the sites surrounding the lake, so what better to do on a fine Monday morning than to go and find out about this historic place?
Our first stop was at the Grange Stone Circle, – a perfect circle made of 113 standing stones and aligned to the rising sun on the summer solstice. Unfortunately it was not possible to get a single shot of the entire circle which has a diameter of some 150 feet. The circular shape is explained by the archaeological discovery of a post hole in the centre, from which the perfect circle was drawn.It is one of the most impressive stone circles in Ireland. In an adjacent field there are remains of another stone circle, but the main one is quite stunning and intriguing. Rose, our volunteer guide, tells us that locals will not enter this area after dark, although she did not say why they are fearful. Archaeologists have found some human bone fragments, and thousands of pottery shards. This has enabled them to date the structure to about 1800 B.C. The purpose of the circle is not known but it is probably ritualistic.
One particularly large stone, weighing 40 tons stands 13 feet high. It is called the Rannach Croim Duibh, named for the Celtic God, Crom Dubh, the Black Crooked One. It is said to give energy to those who rest their foreheads and the palms of their hands on it.
Our next stop was at the ‘New Church’ which in spite of its name is in ruins. It is said that Tomas OConnellan a minstrel bard, who died about 1698 is buried here in the adjoining graveyard.
The church is on the shore of the lake.
Scenically located by the shore of the Lough, at one time the church was used by the Earl of Desmond. The bored teenager (unrelated to the writer) dates from the late 20th or early 21st century and sits on a wall which was built some 4 centuries before her arrival. There are a couple of tombs inside the walls of the church as well as some graves in the churchyard.
Our next stop was the Giant’s Grave which is in fact the remains of a wedge tomb that lies on the slope of a hill, just a short walk from the New Church. This tomb is about 4,000 years old and when excavated was found to contain the remains of at least 8 adults and 4 children with further human remains discovered outside. The story is told of how an old woman lived in this tomb for several years at the time of the Famine. When she died the farmer who owned the land reputedly demolished the tomb to prevent anyone else using it as a shelter.
We processed (in our cars) in a funerial fashion, around the narrow twisting roads to Carraig Aille (Rocks on a cliff?) A stiff uphill walk with uneven ground (from where a lady had to be airlifted last year, having broken her ankle on the ascent) lead to the remains of two stone forts.(It was at this point that I regretted not testing the energy giving properties of the large stone at the Stone Circle). These circular enclosures would have been domestic in nature. Archaeological excavations revealed bronze and iron pins, metal implements, combs, jewellery and beads of amber and glass and date the site at about one thousand years ago.
There is a spectacular view of the Lough from up here, with a marshy reed filled area far below. This indicates the original level of the lake, for as part of the Poor Law Relief Schemes, the Lough was drained in Famine times by means of channels, resulting in the level being lowered by 8 feet. It is said that there were dozens of artefacts discovered at this time, but that they were carted away and dumped! Strange stories of hidden treasure protected by the remains of a sacrificed servant, yet to be discovered, abound in this place!
And so we arrive back at Lough level and get our first view of remains of lake-dwellings that date back to about 500 A.D. These dwellings, known as Crannógs, were created by laying a circle of boulders in the water, filling in the enclosure with earth , and then a hut type structure was raised on top. In the image above, the Crannóg was located on the site of the vegetation behind and to the right of the swans and dates from about 500A.D.
The design of the interpretive centre is based on what these lake-dwellings would have looked like – stone dwellings with straw roof and timber supports.
There are numerous other sites around Lough Gur that span thousands of years of civilization. Another climb, again without the much needed assistance of energy from Crom Dubh, leads us to Hangman’s Rock from where there is a great view of the loch.
The Interpretive Centre is so worth a visit, for a small admission fee. There are replicas of some of the major artefacts associated with this area, audio presentations of some of the folklore and mythology associated with the Lough, costumes for children to dress up in, an area where they can become archaeologists and discover treasures!
Lough Gur is a beautifully scenic place with delightful walks along the Lough. The feeling of tranquillity and serenity is palpable, all the more amazing when you realize that this is only 15 minutes away from Limerick City – well worth a visit, and an ideal destination for our visitors from overseas. 5,000 years of habitation just waiting to be explored!
This is a replica of the stunning bronze Lough Gur Shield – the original is in the National Museum of Ireland.
Illustrated Guide to Lough Gur Pamphlet by M.J. & C. O’Kelly
Lough Gur Heritage Centre Booklet
My thanks to Kate at the Heritage Centre for her warm welcome and for sharing her knowledge. A warm welcome is guaranteed to this jewel in our heritage crown!