History & Heritage

The Rathcroghan Complex, one of Ireland’s Celtic Royal Sites, has a long and mysterious history; filled with myths and legends, gods, ghosts and demons, and the fates of Ireland’s royalty through the ages.

Each site has seen multiple layers of use, with royal households and ceremonies always within the bounds of the Rathcroghan complex.  With over 200 known sites covering this area, a visit to ancient Cruachan gives you a lot to explore!

We see early burial and death ceremonial use, and an equality to the famous Newgrange, attested to in a poem found in one of the Irish manuscripts Lebor na Huidre, the Book of the Dun Cow.

The three Heathen Cemetaries are:

  • The cemetary of Tailtiu for choosing (Telltown, Co. Meath)
  • The cemetary of ever pure Cruachú (Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon)
  • and the cemetary of the Bruig (Newgrange, Co. Meath)

Queen Maeve

Queen Maeve (Maedbh, Madb, Maebh) and her husband, King Ailill, famously ruled Connacht from Rathcroghan during the Iron Age; this is the place where the Irish literary epic tale of the Táin Bó Cuailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley) began, and saw the final bloody battle fought between the White Bull of Connacht (Fionnbhennach) and the Brown Bull of Cooley, at Rath na dTairbhe(also known as Rathnadarv – the Fort of the Bulls).

Queen Maeve

Queen Maeve

Uaimh na gCait – Oweynagat, the Cave of the Cats

In Cruachan we find Uaimh na gCait – Oweynagat, the Cave of the Cats.  Appearing in illustrious Irish tales such as “Bricriu’s Feast”, and “the Adventures of Nera in the Otherworld”, this cave or underground fairy fort, is known as one of the most important entrances, and exits, to the Otherworld.  Christian Scribes described Oweynagat as ‘the Gates of Hell’ due to the amount of demonic and ghostly traffic that is recorded in Irish legends travelling through here.  The Cave of the Cats is especially active at Samhain (Halloween) – the Irish/Celtic New Year, a time of change, when boundaries are changeable and the Otherworld is most accessible.

Entrance to the Otherworld - Cave of the Cats

Entrance to the Otherworld – Cave of the Cats

This fairy dwelling, the Síd ar Cruachan, is also home to the Irish Celtic Goddess of Battle, witch of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, the Morrigan.  It is from this Otherworldly entrance that she drove forth on her chariot, carrying two spears to battle.

Of the many National Monuments in Rathcroghan, including Daithi’s Stone (grave marker to the last Pagan high king of Ireland), Rath Mór, and Reilg na Rí (burial place of kings), very little archaeological excavation has been done, though the team from NUI Galway Archaeology Department, headed by Professor John Waddell, has carried out extensive geophysical and survey work, which is on-going.

UNESCO World Heritage Status Nomination

The Rathcroghan Complex has been nominated to the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Status, along with the other Celtic Royal Sites such as Tara, seat of the High Kings, providing unequivocal recognition that County Roscommon contains one of the most important heritage sites in Ireland.  Cruachan Aí Heritage Centre, Tulsk, is the OPW approved interpretative and visitor centre for the Rathcroghan Complex.

More Information on the World Heritage Nomination

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value (from UNESCO website)

The ensembles of monuments of the Royal Sites are universally unique through their well-preserved cultural continuity and large-scale Iron Age complexes. The Royal Sites were sacred sites and places of royal inauguration and bear exceptional testimony to Iron Age civilisation. Historically, their roots go back to the Neolithic period and they illustrate significant stages in human history through the large array of monuments ranging from Bronze Age tumuli to Iron Age ring forts and to early Christian architecture. All of the Royal Sites form part of larger archaeological landscapes characterised by a large concentration of ritual monuments. Situated on strategic and elevated locations, the Royal Sites are organically evolved relict cultural landscapes where the pre-Christian kingship in Ireland evolved and ended. The Royal sites are directly associated with Irish mythology and traditional beliefs and continue to represent spiritual and symbolic centers of Irish culture and identity, which have influenced approaches to life in many countries of the world.

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  1. Pingback: Cult of the Morrigan: What do we know? | Banshee Arts

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