Gathering below the mound, the air awash with talk and laughter, while the solemn hill slept. Flames blazed below, secure and safely watched, to ensure that light and life be carried to the top of Cruachan, to blaze out this festival of fire.
They came from all around, from other lands, friends old and new, local community. Some had never set foot on the hill before, despite having lived in the landscape their whole lives. Why? This night was different, this night would wake the sleeping mound, where the secrets long buried are stirring and restless, but holding tight to the hidden mysteries. Cloaks and furs were seen, a Gaelic sword admired, colours and fabrics old and new blended seamlessly, and solid boots tied tight. Children wrapped in warmth and excitement at being up so late, at taking part in the grown-up business.
Torches high on poles lit up, warm flame carefully held aloft, smaller lights under glass for the younger ones. Through the gate and onto grass, single file procession as the drum began - a slow marching beat. Gravity easily wove with jest, children running back and forth, a glowing procession moving eastward to join with the ancient roadway leading in, and up. Through the eastern entrance, a slow ascent, and fire circle was formed atop the main mound once more.
The people called.
Calling to the island, to each province. Naming and inciting the ancient traits, the allocation giving balance to the land and to the people. Battle in the North. Prosperity in the East. Music in the South. Wisdom in the West. And the Sacred Centre shines bright. Remembering all that has been recognised, grown, protected, and gifted.
Circles encompassing all that we are, spiralled in closer. Telling the pattern what it is, marking the people’s place. This province, this fifth of our land - named, formed anew, remembered. And spiralled in closer, this county - this history that forms and binds. And spiralled in closer, this complex - these places used and re-used, offering majesty and heartland. And spiralled in closer, this community - providing support, living, working, teaching, connection, for generations stretching back unknown. And spiralled in closer. Who are you in all of this? Why are you here, atop this mound in a circle of fire? Each person a sacred centre in the midst of all of this - the ancestry, the importance, the living breathing landscape.
The people spoke.
They told their stories, of journey, of vision, of seeking, of home. They jumped the fire; for health, for happiness, for tradition, for fun. Some saw dragons, some say a phoenix rose from the flames, some perceived hope in a new generation who think and want and feel... something. The drummer continued a steady beat, a heartbeat for the night, giving voice to the silent rhythms. Torches and flames re-joined the fire as they gathered again below the mound, the air awash with talk and laughter.
The people left, and the hidden hill turned and slept.
The piece above is based on a participant’s interpretation of a seasonal community gathering, organised by Lora O'Brien, for Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, Cruachan Aí, Tulsk, Co. Roscommon. Bealtaine 2010.
The great Main Mound of the Rathcroghan complex is an impressive sight, even lacking the structures that once adorned the top, the vast surrounding enclosure, and without access to the chamber that some experts believe lies deep within the mound.
Geophysical surveys show clearly an enclosure of about 360 metres in diameter that once encircled this monument - a ditch that was about 5 metres wide. It looks like the formal approach was from the East, with a route way marked probably by a timber palisade fence leading up to the depression entrance (the depression possibly formed by a collapsed passage into a chamber beneath the hill?) that is still clearly visible as a notch in the hillside. As far as we know, this has always been a ritual or ceremonial site, not domestic or agricultural. Each successive period placed its own mark on the mound.
The mound itself is just under 90 metres in diameter, and similar timber palisade fencing would also have encircled the base. Inside, a few metres below the surface, surveys have shown that there are two stone walls, nested one inside the other, with the inside one about 22 metres across. On top, there was, at some point in history, a circular wooden structure, again with concentric walls. Circles within circles within circles.
Rathcroghan mound had many distinct layers of construction and use, and it is exceptionally difficult to separate out the features, or date them with any accuracy, at this point. Perhaps someday we'll see a full archaeological excavation into the ancestral depths, but for now, the mound holds her memories safe and secure within.
Excerpt used with permission, from "Rathcroghan, A Journey", by Lora O'Brien