Tag Archives: Crom Dubh

Postcards from the Wild Atlantic Way: Kilalla to Downpatrick Head

Making my way for the first time ever along the beautiful north Mayo coastline I had many ‘wow’ moments as I turned corners to meet with spectacular views. This part of Mayo is one surprise after another and was an eagerly awaited part of my 3,000 kilometer trip along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

My first stop was at Killala, a picturesque little village with a 12th Century Round Tower that vies with the nearby 16th Century Church and steeple.

Killala Round tower and church

Killala Round tower and church

The scenic little harbor looks across at the sandy shore of Bartragh Island once owned (and possibly still owned) by premier golfer Nick Faldo who had plans to make a championship standard links there.

Killala is a popular tourist destination, with many attractions such as pristine beaches, walks, fishing, historic sites and archaeology and the bay itself is a treasure trove for birders with many unusual species to be seen here.

Further along the coast is the breathtakingly magnificent Lacken Strand – a huge expanse of sand sheltered by high sand dunes. The Lacken Salt Marsh is a protected area of special conservation  and the tidal bay again hosts many wading birds. It was near here on August 22, 1798 that General Humbert landed at Kilcummin Harbour with over a thousand French troops, in support of the United Irishmen Rebellion against the British.

One of the most remarkable features between the road and the sea just beyond Lacken Strand on the minor coast road, is the prevalence of long narrow strips of land running towards the coast. The Rundale System of farming predates the Famine in Ireland and was a method of land management determined by land quality, that was shared out and rotated among many families. The parallel lines of these fields can be clearly seen on the map above by enlarging it slightly. Just a short drive along the coast I arrived at the excellent B & B accommodation (Creevagh Heights B & B ) overlooking the Atlantic Ocean which I had selected for its proximity to Downpatrick Head.

I first heard of Downpatrick Head during one of our Atlantic Storms when photographs of huge waves breaking over it made the news. (See here for Irish Independent News). It was late evening when I arrived in the area but as the weather forecast was poor for the following day, I decided to go and have a look around. There was a lack of ‘wild’ on my entire trip along the Wild Atlantic Way as there was hardly a breeze, so I saw none of the spectacular wind-driven seascapes that I love so much. As it turned out, the rugged beauty of this particular spot was best enjoyed in calm conditions given that I was alone when exploring a hazardous landscape. The sign at the entrance to the head announced that the site was unsuitable for children and that dogs should be kept on leads! I couldn’t help wondering why there would be such signs, but very soon I was to find out that it was indeed good advice!

 

I was pleased to note that there was some fencing on the site and that some wire mesh had been inserted on the ground –  I presumed this was to prevent walkers slipping on wet grass. As I stood on it I  became aware of noise beneath my feet and on looking down I was horrified to find myself looking into a dark chasm with a heaving mass of water. I was standing on top of a blow-hole!

This site is a lesson in coastal erosion. The cliff tops look soft and crumbling and the blowholes are testament to the fact that waves cause caves to penetrate the cliff and the tops eventually collapse. There was a constant sound here that can only have come from the waves rumbling beneath the land I was walking on, which gave me a definite uneasy feeling. I walked on up the hill towards a large grassy mound, and what looked to me like a possible hill fort, but when I  arrived there I was astonished to find that the mound of earth is a man-made raised walkway that surrounds a vast blowhole known as  Poll a Sean Tine ( Hole of the old fire or old wave).

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The cavernous hole has been made accessible to the public by the installation of a protective steel fence and reinforced plate-glass. It must be some spectacle to be here when the thunderous waves are throwing vast plumes of spray high into the air.

There is tragic history here too. When the 1798 Rebellion failed, English troops were rounding up rebels and their French helpers. Locals descended into the hole with ropes and hid on ledges below. The Redcoats however stayed in the area for longer than expected, the weather changed, a storm blew up and many were drowned.

All calm at Poll a sean Tine

All calm at Poll a Sean Tine

The name Downpatrick Head derives from Saint Patrick  of course. There are ruins of a 5th century monastery here, with the ruins adorned (spoiled) by a statue of St Patrick. It seems that the usual and only acceptable representation of the Saint is sporting 17th Century ecclesiastical garb.

St Patrick in 17th Century garb at his 5th Century Church

St Patrick in 17th Century garb at his 5th Century Church

This area was an area of significance long before the arrival of Christianity as the ancient landscape predates Patrick. Legend has it that Crom Dubh, a pagan god, occupied this area and St Patrick came to confront him. Crom Dubh tried to throw Patrick into the ‘eternal fire’ but Patrick drew a cross on a stone and threw it into the fire which collapsed into the sea thus creating Poll a Sean Tine. Crom Dubh retreated to his fort but Patrick  hit the ground with his crozier and created Dun Briste or Broken Fort, a sea stack that stands about 100 metres from land. It’s a great story and possibly the first recorded ‘belt of a crozier’ by an Irish bishop!

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Dun Briste or Broken Fort is a sea stack that has been separated from land by wave erosion. There are remains of two dwellings and farm walls apparently still to be seen on the stack.

The effect of erosion is plain to see here with the soft top soil falling away. Up here there are no protective fences, so great care is required. It is a good demonstration of the danger of venturing too close to the edge!

But the discoveries continue.

There is a Lookout Post here, one of many around the coast of Ireland dating from about 1939. At these lookout posts in 1942-43, ground markers were etched out spelling EIRE and with a number  – this one is 64 – to alert  aircraft to the fact that they were now over neutral Ireland. These markers are now being restored at many of the 82 locations around the coast. This one at Downpatrick Head was recently restored.

As darkness was falling I made my way back to the carpark, over the fascinating tufted surface of seapinks and wondered what it would be like to return to this fascinating and special place on a good windy day. Downpatrick Head is a ‘signature’ point on the Wild Atlantic Way and was one of the highlights of my entire trip. I will be back!

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A soft tufted carpet of sea pinks

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Heritage Week: The magic and mystery of Lough Gur

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?

DSCF1644Our 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.DSCF1653It 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.

DSCF1647One 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.

DSCF1657 (2)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.

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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.

DSCF1679Our 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.

DSCF1685 (2)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!

DSCF1697 (2)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.

DSCF1716The 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.

DSCF1703The 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.

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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!

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Filed under Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Irish Traditions