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Rathcroghan (Ráth Cruachan – The Fort of Cruachan), is a term which is significant on many landscapes. In terms of archaeology, Rathcroghan is a collection of 240 identified archaeological sites, contained within an area of 6.5km². These range in date from the Neolithic Period or New Stone Age, through to the late medieval period, spanning a staggering timespan of over 5,500 years.

It is the location of some 28 identified burial mounds from the Bronze and Iron Age, numerous ringforts (settlement sites) of early medieval date, standing stones, linear earthworks, stone forts, a great Iron Age ritual sanctuary, and even a Gate to Hell! In truth, an archaeologist’s dream.

However, Rathcroghan is also incredibly important from a literary point of view. It is remembered as one of the great locations of ceremonial assembly or óenach in Ireland. These fairs or assemblies took place at important points in the year, usually at the changing of the seasons, and were occasions for judgments to be passed, for kings to be crowned or inaugurated, and for great feasting and entertainments.

Ancient Ireland Roadways map
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Rathcroghan’s significance is also recorded also in the early medieval literature is as one of the three chief burial places of Ireland, the other two being at the Fair of Tailtiu and at Brú na Bóinne. Given the great number of burial mounds identified through archaeological investigation, it is no surprise that it is described as such.
In several early tales, Rathcroghan figures as a kingly settlement for the Connachta or Fír Ol nÉcmacht. The Connachta (descendants of Conn) were the ruling dynasty in the territory of Connacht from about the fifth century. This royal settlement also features very heavily in the Ulster Cycle of Tales, particularly as it is the location of the palace of the famous Iron Age Warrior Queen Medb (Maeve) of Connacht

Because of this, the central tale of the Ulster Cycle, and Ireland’s national epic, the Táin Bó Cúailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley), locates both its beginning and end here at Rathcroghan.
As we progress into the later medieval period, Rathcroghan still retains a symbolic hold over the elite of Ireland, and much evidence exists to show that it continued to be regarded as synonymous with the kingship of Connacht.
As a result, Rathcroghan can truly be described as the ancient capital of Connacht.

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Rathcroghan Timeline

Neolithic Period

3,200 BC – The earliest identifiable communities came to settle at Rathcroghan
c.3,500 BC – Charred hazel and associated Chert Bann flakes, discovered at Tulsk Fort

Bronze & Iron Age

  • 1,000 BC – 300 AD – Earthen burial mounds were constructed for the elite on the Rathcroghan plateau
  • 350 BC – 230 AD – Radiocarbon date recovered from Daithi’s Mound
  • Construction period for Rathcroghan Mound and the Mucklaghs
  • 1st century AD – Era of Queen Medb of Connacht, time of the epic TáinBóCuailnge

Early Medieval Period

  • 500 – 700 AD – Ogham inscriptions inscribed and incorporated into the cave entrance at Oweynagat
  • 783 AD & 814 AD – Promulgation of Patrick’s Law and Ciaran’s Law at Cruachain
  • 1061 AD – Ó Flaithbeartaigh, king of Iar Connacht, was beheaded and his head taken to Cruachain

Later Medieval Period

  • 1189 AD – Earliest reference to an inauguration of an O’Conor king at Carnfree
  • 1406 AD – Towerhouse castle constructed at Tulsk Fort
  • 1448 AD – Foundation of St. Patrick’s Dominican Priory, Tulsk

Early Modern Period

  • 1643 – Last recorded inauguration of an O’Conor lord
  • 1779 – Gabriel Beranger visits and paints Rathcroghan

Modern Period

  • 1864 – Samuel Ferguson explores Oweynagat
  • 1938 – Dr. Douglas Hyde, of nearby Frenchpark, inaugurated UachtaránnahÉireann
  • 1981 – Prof.John Waddell excavates Daithí’s Mound, Rathcroghan
  • 1994 – Beginning of the ArchaeoGeophysical Imaging Project at Rathcroghan
  • 1999 – Establishment of CruachanAí Heritage Centre, now Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, by Tulsk Action Group CLG