This ancient Irish landscape boasts hundreds of legendary ruins.
Rathcroghan, or Cruachan Aí, is an archaeologist’s dream. Found
in the center of County Roscommon, it contains about 240 identified
archaeological sites packed within an area of about 2.5 square miles.
This landscape confidently bears witness to nearly 5,500 years of
continuous settlement. The earliest known monument is a small court tomb
from the early Neolithic Period. Bronze and Iron Age burial mounds dot
the earth. You’ll also find traces of massive feats of late Iron Age
architecture such as the Rathcroghan Mound and the Mucklaghs earthworks
as well as early historic settlement sites and religious foundations.
The later medieval period sees Rathcroghan divided into a large matrix
of field systems, evidence of the pastoral farming practice common to
this region from prehistory up to the present day.
This area, perhaps unsurprisingly, is also one of the key theaters of Ireland’s
impressive collection of intoxicating mythology and literature. It
boasts the mythological gateway into the Irish Otherworld: the cave of
Oweynagat. Uaimh na gCat (Gaelic for “Cave of the Cats”) is the
origin place of the pre-Christian seasonal celebration of Samhain, the
Celtic precursor to modern Halloween.
Rathcroghan is the starting point for a whole series of Iron Age heroic cattle raiding tales, known as na Tána. Indeed, the central tale of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, an Táin Bó Cúailnge,
Ireland’s greatest epic, rises out of Rathcroghan, at the behest of the
famous Iron Age Warrior Queen Medb (Maeve) of Connacht. Medb is a vital
part of this landscape, and of the West more generally, and her capitol
and palace are reputed to be located on the Rathcroghan landscape.
These stories record the deeds of Ireland’s heroes, such as Cú Chulainn,
Fráoch, the Morrigan, Conor Mac Nessa, Ferdia, and Medb herself.
Many of these archaeological sites retain links to these heroic tales through their names, among them Reilig na Rí (the Cemetery of Kings), Caiseal Mhanannán (the stone fort of Manannán mac Lír, god of the sea), Rath na dtarbh
(the fort of the bulls), Daithí’s Stone, and more. Hearing these
stories, told on this earthen canvas, is the perfect way to understand
the previous generations who walked this sacred landscape.
Clancy's comment: I'd love to spend hours in those fields with a metal detector.