Open spaces. Wide, wide open. No cover, shelter, no protection. The breeze rifled through her hair, shifting the cloak about her wasted form. Pulling the heavy garment closer, she turned to watch the digging of the trench.
As the earth was lifted out from below, they turned and piled it onto the bank above. Double protection in one movement. Economy, practicality. Excellent. Satisfied, she turned to the centre, to her home.
The three greatest households of Ireland they called us once: the household of Tara, the household of Cashel, and the household of Cruachan. That had changed when the enemy came - bringing terror, consistently uprooting, burning, taking their fill. For so long now her people had shivered in their shelters, underground, feeling their way outside by darkness. She grew to womanhood in the shadow of slavery, afraid and weak. But not anymore.
It took 700 mansfeet to step across from bank to bank inside the outer ring. It was only built smaller than the ritual mound she looked at over and across the Slighe Easail route way, because the Elders had told her it must be so. She wanted it bigger, better, stronger than any - she wanted the most impressive household in the land. And the safest.
Nobody lived in the ghost henge on top of Cruachan, the roadway lay empty and the fires stayed cold. Nobody cared for the old ways, the cry of the sacrifice had long been silent and the old Ones grew older in their schools. That place was no competition.
Women came round with food and strong drink for the men digging in the trenches. Not much, not enough. But soon that would change. Fortification building on the outer enclosure would begin soon enough, and then, then her people would be safe.
Many would make a case for Rathmore, or Rath Mór (the great fort) being the site of Cruachan's ancient royal residence. Many more would argue against this theory. We do know for sure at least that it was an important or high status residence, at some point in Medieval times. Not a lot to go on, it's true, but better than nothing. It is well protected, on a clearly elevated location, and stands beside an ancient route way (that is now the modern route way of the N5).
When I came first to the area, and my family travelled out to get 'the lay of the land', and this is the first Roscommon site that I set foot on. I formally introduced myself, and my family, to Rathcroghan at this site, and it has remained important to me ever since. It might be the fabled 'Palace at Cruachan', or it may not. In a Cattle Raid tale (there were quite a few of them, it was a popular past-time) called Táin Bo Fraích, this is written of the Royal Palace:
"This was the arrangement of the house: seven partitions in it, seven beds from the fire to the wall in the house all around. There was a fronting of bronze on each bed, carved red yew all covered with fair varied ornament. Three rods of bronze at the step of each bed. Seven rods of copper from the centre of the floor to the ridge-pole of the house. The house was built of pine. A roof of slates was on it outside. There were sixteen windows in it, and a shutter of copper for each of them ..." (Byrne and Dillon 1937)
Sounds great, doesn't it? Very fancy, altogether. Is it just that - Medieval, or later, romanticised fancy?
John Waddell describes Rathmore as a "prominent earthwork surrounded by a substantial rock-cut ditch with a raised area, enclosed by a stone built bank. It is a good example of a raised ring-fort..." (Heritage Guide #44). Archaeological surveys have found that three round buildings stood on top, in a north-south orientation. We don't know whether they were there simultaneously or not, but a large round building in the centre of the fort would have made a fine feasting hall, within sight of the main ceremonial mound of Rathcroghan.
From recent studies, it looks like this ringfort was further protected, and glorified, by a large surrounding enclosure. A fit palace for the Royalty of Rathcroghan, and perhaps even Queen Maeve herself.
Excerpt used with permission, from "Rathcroghan, A Journey", by Lora O'Brien