|I arrived at the car parking spot at the southern foot of the Hill of Uisneach, not really knowing what to expect, wondering about access and trespass and all that. There's an official sign outside the entrance that lists some of the monuments on the hill. Past this and at the farm gate entrance is another sign saying that Uisneach is a working farm and that permission to enter the site may be gained by ringing 087 2576434. Please respect these wishes.
I called the number and got through to a voicemail, left a message about my intentions and headed in and up. Immediately in front of you as you ascend is an ancient trackway – to the left is the modern path/track – guess which one I took. Some way up this my phone rang – it was David Clarke, the landowner. I explained to him my interest and he readily gave me permission. I continued on my way, heading for what is marked on the OS map as two side-by-side raths, one of which I had read has a souterrain. The two raths are in fact conjoined, part of an intriguing, complex habitation and multi-period site. I have just today got a plan of the site from when McAllister and Praeger excavated the place back in the twenties. I will attempt to describe this site in its own individual fieldnotes, but this first time here I had only a cursory scout around the place. As I rooted around I spotted a 4 by 4 arrive over by a yurt-like structure and thought I'd better go over and introduce myself.
The driver was the landowner, the aforementioned David Clarke. After the usual pleasantries he showed me some of the monuments. He also gave me a flyer from last year's Festival of the Fires (cancelled this year to allow the farm and the archaeology to 'recover'). The flyer has a description and some folklore of some of the sites and a handy map with all the main monuments on it and a suggested walking tour. Before setting off on this i checked out some of the remaining artworks about the site. The Button Factory stage still stands but is showing signs of dilapidation – hilltop weather not being conducive to wooden structures.
I started my tour proper just by Lugh's Lough, so-called as legend has it this is where the harvest God Lugh (Lunasa) was drowned, before being interred in Lugh's tumulus, a barrow to the north-east. David said that the whole tour would take about an hour and a half. I guess that's for people with half an interest – I would suggest half a day at least to TMAers.
Just west of the lake are the remains of a cashel/dun. It's very overgrown back there, but the walls reminded me of the Clare cashels. Further west of here is the highest point of the hill with its cairn, unfortunately named St. Patrick's Bed. It's ruined and has a trig point plonked in its centre (ho hum). You can see landmarks in 22 of the counties of Ireland from here, allegedly.
South-west through two fields is the Cat Stone, Aill na Mireann (The Stone of Divisions). This is a huge crumbling glacial erratic, enclosed in its own henge. There is some doubt as to which came first, the stone or the henge – I haven't seen any excavation notes anywhere, but I seriously doubt that the stone was moved by anybody/thing but a glacier. This is the sacred omphalus of Ireland, the centre of the kingdom of Eriu, the heart of the mythical fifth province of Mide. Descending through the thorn trees in the field with their rag offerings towards the stone, the heavens opened up. I was able to shelter and remain completely dry in the hollow of the crumbling stone. I felt cocooned here, unfazed by the weather and utterly blissful. This is a special place.
As with all the monuments, I wished i could have stayed a bit longer, but there was still so much to see and I had to be in a friend's near here for dinner in a couple of hours.
I moved on over to Finnleascach's well, a natural spring at the base of another rath. I took a sup here, thirsty despite the rain. This is said to have once been enclosed by its own earthen bank. The water was steadily trickling, but given that I was on a working farm with plenty of livestock, I was a little unsure of it. The rath has quite a large, prostrate stone in its flattened interior. I believe that this may once have stood.
I moved on again, back up to what is described as the 'ancient palace', the conjoined ringforts. I scouted around there some more and then headed up the field to see if I could get a better view of it from higher ground. No such luck, but there was still Lugh's tumulus, over the wall in the next field. This is marked as a barrow, but it doesn't have any external ring or fosse. It rises to over 2 metres high, and the views to the east are extensive.
I was on the last leg of my visit to Uisneach and at this stage I didn't want to leave. I'm not a great vibes person, nor do I go in for the legendary stuff too much (though this is changing the more I find out). Uisneach still has me in its grip 5 days later. I can say that I was blown away by the place, but I can't tell you exactly why. None of the monuments, bar Aill na Mireann, are all that spectacular. Yet, the feeling remains that this is a special place, far more powerful and interesting than the more famous Tara.
David Clarke seems to understand what is in his care and is not ashamed to exploit it commercially – see the link to the Festival of the Fires website – but I got the sense from him that he's one of us, maybe not a TMAer, but someone who cares about these heritage sites and wants other people to care about them too.
Posted by ryaner
28th June 2013ce
Edited 14th August 2013ce