If you enjoy the experience of visiting sacred sites, Uisneach (pronounced ish-neck) is one you should not miss. It has all the magic and myth of places like Tara and Newgrange, but it’s off the tourist trail, so you can enjoy a heartwarming trek with a small group. It is in the process of becoming a UNESCO site, so this may not last. The space has a warm and friendly energy, and is staffed by just two (at least the day I went). Justin met me and invited me into the Visitor’s Centre for tea and biscuits. He is an archaeology expert and knows much about this site and others like it in Ireland. He also provided tea and biscuits after the two-hour tour and people had opportunities to converse and ask questions. (The tour begins at 1pm daily–closed Monday and Tuesday.)
Marty was our wonderful storyteller. Here he is explaining how this 10,000-year-old glacial rock is actually the bellybutton of Ireland.
The two-hour tour involves walking (some up) around the hills and pasture lands. We were several families from Europe and North America and the kids kept us entertained by asking the coolest questions. Marty didn’t miss a beat but incorporated their queries into his stories. (Unicorns even made it into the story). He told us tales of the Tuatha De Danaans and their battle with the Fomorians, and the triumph of the bright and shining Sun God, Lugh, who is said to have met his mortal end here in the pool.
This place is Druid HQ so many pagan groups come here for rituals. Local artists have carved the faces of the gods, Lugh and Eriu (Erin=Ireland). Every May 1 on Bealtaine (Be-al-tin-a) Uisneach hosts a Fire Festival that looks amazing. This is now on my list. You can watch a video here.
One of my favourite stories was about the souterrains used by Iron Age people. A souterrain is a cave structure dug out beneath the ground. Marty gave us a slapstick retelling of his experience crawling down a channel into a souterrain that was as black as night. After getting over his initial terror, he fell asleep in the womb of the mother earth. The hidden entrances were marked by rocks. If another tribe invaded to steal your cattle (cattle were highly valued as status and currency) the tribe would hide them along with their women and children below ground in these darkened caves where they would be protected. This gorgeous Angus bull would have been a prize, I’m sure.
To take a tribe’s women and children diminished their tribe and strengthened yours. Slaves were always needed in this hierarchical culture.
It reminded me of a story I heard many years ago on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. The Coast Salish people did something similar when the Haida came down the coast in their war canoes hunting slaves. On top of Mount Daniel (in Pender Harbour) is a beautiful space with a fresh water lake. The women and children would be moved up the mountain where they would be safe and protected from the Haida. I like this idea and wonder how we protect our women and children now?
The same 10,000 year old glacial map depicts a map of Ireland from this angle. You can see the four provinces: Connacht in the west, Ulster in the north, Leinster in the east, and Munster in the south. Mide was in the middle where we stood at Uisneach. In ancient times, ceremonial centres were located like spokes around Uisneach and were joined by log roads over which horses, chariots, wagons, people, and food moved. (This brings to mind that image of Gandolph pulling into the Shire with his wagon full of fireworks.) Marty says that each Sabbat festival was celebrated in a different location. This is fascinating sacred geography and it can still be done.
On Winter Solstice, the sun is aligned with the passage tomb at Newgrange. You need to win a lottery to get inside, but it’s worth a try. You can always just camp out on the grass and soak up the magic.
The Spring and Fall Equinoxes are aligned at the ceremonial complex at Loughcrew.
Bealtaine was celebrated at Uisneach.
Carrowkeel in Co. Sligo aligns with Summer Solstice.
The Mound of the Hostages at the Hill of Tara is aligned with the sun at Samhain (sow-in)
To celebrate the turning of the wheel of the year and the passing of the sun through its annual phases brought stability to an agrarian world that depended on the weather for survival. In fact, in times of weather upheaval, whole tribes could be wiped out or have to relocate. This is something to think about given our current predicament.
Blessings from the Faerie Tree at Uineach!