I was ten years of age when I first read this epic story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland by Lady Gregory. It hooked me on Irish mythology and I still have my copy today. Funny the things you remember from childhood.
It’s been on my mind for some time to tie a trip north for a match with a climb up Slieve Gullion in South Armagh. Last week I managed both – I climbed Slieve Gullion on Sunday morning before heading into nearby Newry to see an epic encounter between the Gods & Fighting Men of Down and Monaghan club football clash in the Ulster Club SFC semi final!
The more I walk and cycle on this Emerald Isle the more I feel a close connection with the history, legends and culture of this great land. The beautiful thing about slow travel is you get to see over every ditch and through every hole in a stone wall. There is something of interest in every field in Ireland! Being curious brings great reward!
Topiscope – places you can see on a clear day – it was raining when I was there so the views were limited!
Long before Fionn however was another great warrior – Cúchulainn who was part of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. He is forever associated with the mountain as it is here he received his name and where he spent his childhood as Setanta. Conchobhar Mac Neasa, King of Ulster, was invited to a feast at the house of a local metalsmith Cualainn, after whom the mountain is named. The King was so enthralled watching the young Setanta hurling that he invited him into the feast. Before he arrives into the feast He is attacked by the King’s ferocious hound but Setanta killed him by hurling the sliotar down his throat! The King was devastated at the loss of the hound so Setanta took his place and earned the title Cú Chulain, the hound of Cualainn. Not men but Giants!
One of the stories in Book IV of Gods & Fighting Men, Huntings and Enchantments, relates the story of the Hunt of Slieve Cuilinn. Fionn Mac Cumhaill was hunting deer on the plains of Allen (Kildare) with his dogs, Bran and Sceolan , who got lost in the chase. He searched everywhere and ended up looking for them on the side of Slieve Gullion, where he met a beautiful woman keening beside the lake on top of the mountain. She begged him to find her lost ring at the bottom of the lake and being the Super Hero he was, he dived in, swam around it three times and found the ring! No sooner had he given it to her but didn’t she change into a witch and changed Fionn into an old man. Talk about gratitude! Cut a long story short but he finally got a cure in the passage tomb on top of Slieve Gullion, called the Cailleach Beara’s house. The Lake was called Loch Doghra, the Lake of Sorrow. Not sure if that name appears on modern maps though!
It’s only a short walk to the summit but a difficult one in wet conditions. The flag stones are slippy and the path steep. It was raining quite strong when I hiked it but occasionally the mist would clear and the views were spectacular. Had a great chat with a man from Mullaghbawn about our epic battle in the All Ireland Club semi final back in February 1996.
It was time to head to Páirc Esler for the clash of the Titans. Kilcoo v Scotstown. What an epic battle that Cúchulainn himself would have enjoyed. Heroic performances on both sides, capped with three incredible long range Scotstown points to win by the narrowest of margins!
This weekend I managed to pack in another trip to Newry for Steven Poacher’s hugely successful coaching day on Saturday and a trip to Westmeath today, Sunday, to climb the highest point in the Lake county before heading into Cusack Park for another cracking club championship game. Naas and St Lomans played out a great 90 minutes of football in Cusack Park, with Nass running out deserving winners and qualifying to meet Kilmacud Crokes in a repeat of the Final of two years ago. I had an early start this morning as I had to head past Mullingar and north through Castlepollard to reach Mullaghmeen Forest Park and the highest point in County Westmeath at 258 metres. This is the lowest county high point but a fairly tough little summit with an average 10% gradient for the last four hundred metres.
The highest point is located in the largest planted beech forest in Europe – almost 1,000 acres of forestry. A pity it wasn’t a few weeks ago as the colours would have been stunning. Unfortunately it was another day of heavy showers and the top was shrouded in a low lying cloud. There are a range of walking routes through the woods of beech, noble fir, Scots pine and sitka spruce.
There were great views of Lough Sheelin on Cavan as I approached he park but the views from the top were blocked by cloud and trees. I took the ‘blue route’ as that takes you up to the summit. Passed by an old Booley hut on the way down; this would have been used a shelter during summer grazing in years of yore and there are relics of famine walls built around old fields. Not to mention a few Turloughs too! (A turlough is a temporary or disappearing lakes!).
Heading home from Mullingar, I took the back road towards Rhode with the intention of paying a visit to the Profundis Stone, which I had often seen signposted but never got to before. I’m glad I did as it is the only one left in Ireland. A Profundis Stone was a resting stone, a local tradition of stopping a funeral procession and reciting the “De Profundis” – Psalm 30. It is shaped like a coffin and here is a graveyard behind a locked gate on the opposite side of the road.
Well that was the last stop on another interesting ramble. I have it in my head to climb the highest point in each county over the next while. I have 12 completed already over the years so I will keep posting as I get around to the rest!