Rathcroghan is mentioned in ancient mythology of prehistoric Ireland as well as in various historical documents dating back as far as the year 1,000. It is described as the royal centre of the West. Every one of Ireland’s four provinces had such a royal centre in ancient times. Everyone knows about Tara in County Meath, but this lesser known site is actually much bigger and much more complex.
These royal centres served as places for gatherings and
rituals. In ancient Ireland, these were organised around the Celitic
'quarter days' which were the main festivals of the Celtic year.
Rathcroghan is called a ‘Seat of Kings’, but little points
to these mounds that would have held tall wooden enclosures around them, having
been actual places of residence. Archaeologists believe that this was largely a
ceremonial centre where ancient rites such as the inauguration of kings,
Find tourist information on the site here.
There are remains of processional routes (for example the so called ‘Mucklaghs’, which nowadays are no more than deep trenches left in the landscape leading in directions which were important in the ancient world such as East and West, here pictured in an aerial view seen above) These point to ritual significance of the site. There is proof of some burials, too. Legend has it that the ancient kings of the Connachta tribe who ruled the West were buried here. These ancient kings and their druids walked these fields and made history here.
There are monuments here of every era starting from the Neolithic period, followed by bronze and iron age sites which are the most plentiful. There are some early Christian sites, too. Sometimes a site was extended or improved during the next era indicating that it was still in use. But often, sites were abandoned and the next generation was built elsewhere in this landscape of 200 plus monuments. It would then be separated from sites of the previous period by a good distance. This ‘exclusion zone’ around sites is one of the reasons why this complex is so spread out. It tells us that these were indeed sacred sites, still respected by the next generation or culture that came along, and left well alone.
Although some of the monuments have been excavated or surveyed, the findings remain somewhat vague, although there is no doubt judging by their size and amount here, that this was indeed an important place.
information here about Rathcroghan, find out how to get there and see our
opinion and special tips.
Read about other ancient sites:
Newgrange facts and features, Carrowkeel and Carrowmore in
Rathcroghan mound seen below is accessible from a car park located 4km on the Westport side of Tulsk. Climb to the top of the hill. Find the ‘dents’ in the hillside, these are the ancient processional routes. Imagine the place as it would have been, with seven rings of tall wooden palisades!
Appreciate the great view from up here. The ancient people
of Ireland used to build high up. One of the reasons for this would have been
to see the sky. Most of the country was forested.
On good days, you can see Croagh Patrick from here,
the holy mountain near Westport. It was a ceremonial place in the old days,
too, as archaeological findings of ancient huts on the mountain have shown.
There might have been a direct connection between the two places. Maybe
processions started here and led to Croagh Patrick?
There might be a passage grave inside the mound, but so far,
there has been no excavation.
Two gigantic rocks accessible from the same car park, the first one long and flat which probably used to stand upright originally, and the second one being a large boulder. These might have been the first monuments here from the early neolithic. See Misgaun Medb on the photo below.
Rathbeg is a ring barrow burial mound. See it on the picture below and note the wavy outline of the top which is raised in the middle. This raised bit, a high platform, points towards ritual useage.
You can see Rathbeg from Rathcroghan Mound. For closer access, drive another bit further towards Westport and park at the school.
Rathmore is one of the few places here that were residences. It is believed to have been a ring fort of a high status family. This would have been during the iron age or even later. There is no public access her, but you can see it from the roadside. Again, park at the school.
Rathnadarve looks more impressive in reaility than on my
wide angle lens picture above. It is a ring fort with multiple layers of
banks and ditches.
If you turn left at the school (looking towards Westport)
and follow the road for a half a mile or so, you will soon see another ring
fort on your right. Again, there is no public access, but it is right next to
the road and you can see it well. Rathnadarve has a connection to mythology. It
is mentioned in the Táin as the place where two mythical bulls
started their fight. To put the story in context, cattle were very
important in ancient Ireland. Dairy was a much valued and needed part of the
diet, and cattle were used as a form of currency. This continued into early
Christian and medieval times and is then reflected in Saint’s legends, for
example Saint Brigid’s
legends, and legends about Saint Ciaran
who founded Clonmacnoise.
On the photos above and below you can see Owennagat or Oweynagat cave, with the Ogham inscription in the lintel at the top of the picture. It says 'Freac, son of Maeve'. There is another inscription which can not be fully deciphered. Probably these were standing stones originally, grave markers, that were later 'appropriated' and included in the construction of this man made souterrain which leads into the cave. See the entrance to the cave below.
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Many thanks, Regards, Colm and Susanna
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