Taken from Sacred Ireland by Cary Meehan
"According to Celtic tradition, this is the sacred hill of the goddess Aine and her place of power. To some people the hill itself is shaped something like a female form with three rings or barrows in her belly. The barrows represent the dwellings of the ancestors of the munster tribe, the Eoghanachta: Fer I, Eoghabhal and Eogan. In this particular context Aine is their daughter. To the Celts the cairn on the summit was her palace and the entrance to the Otherworld.
However, the cairn is Neolithic and the barrows probably Bronze Age, so this would have been a ceremonial site long before Celtic times. Aine's presence here is most likely a continuation of a much earlier sun deity tradition. By making her their daughter, and the barrows the dwelling places of their ancestors, the Eoghanachta tribe were creating a divine lineage for themselves. At certain times in the Celtic year, usually the night before the major festivals, the entrance to this Otherworld would open and human lives could be touched for good or ill by spirits or Faerie beings. This could, of course, happen at any time but the eve of
A festival such as midsummer was a particularly potent time.
As the inauguration site of the Eoghanacht kings, it was here that they came to be united with the spirit of their kingdom, Aine. While the king lived in harmony with the Otherworld, the kingdom was blessed, but when customs or taboos were broken, everyone suffered.
The following story explains how the king Ailill came to be called 'Ailill O-lom' or Ailill One Ear'. It has echoes of the inauguration rite described in the story from Lough Gur. Once again the rules are broken by human failing and not without repercussions.
The king was having a problem as, every night when he went to sleep, the grass would disappear. His Druidess, Ferchess, advised him to visit Knockainy the next Samhain Eve. He did as she suggested but fell asleep, lulled by the drowsy sound of the cows grazing on the hillside. Walking disoriented in the middle of the night, he saw a beautiful maiden coming from the cairn with her father, Eoghabhal. Forgetting all about why he had come, and overcome with lust, he raped her. She, in her outraged anger, bit off his ear and in doing so, maimed him. This meant that he could no longer, by Celtic tradition, be King (The Festival of Lughnasa)
While the king had an obligation to maintain harmony with the Otherworld, the people had responsibilities as well. Until 1879 men used to bring flaming bunches of hay or straw on poles to the summit of Knockainy on Midsummer's Eve. They would carry them clockwise round the three barrows which they called 'the Hills of the Three Ancestors'. Then they would take the brands and run around the cultivated fields and pastures in the area to bring good luck to the animals and crops. It was believed that they were emulating the fairies who also performed this rite under the direction of Aine as she impregnated the land with her solar energy once the humans had gone.
Sometimes people reported seeing her leading the human procession. She was seen on the hill as the 'cailleach' or wise woman and there are many stories of her taking human form. Those who treated her with kindness prospered."
Posted by bawn79
23rd November 2005ce