Rathcroghan, Cruachan Aí, is known as the Ancient Capital of Connacht, where the festival of Samhain (Halloween) is said to originate. This majestic landscape is the oldest and largest unexcavated Royal Site in Europe.
The Rathcroghan landscape boasts over 240 identified archaeological sites, spanning a staggering period of over 5,500 years of human history. It is the location of numerous prehistoric burial mounds from the Bronze and Iron Age, ringforts (settlement sites) of early medieval date, standing stones, linear earthworks, stone forts, a great Iron Age ritual sanctuary, and even a Gate to Hell! In truth, an archaeologist’s dream.
This area, perhaps unsurprisingly, is also one of the key theaters of Ireland’s impressive collection of intoxicating mythology and literature. It boasts the mythological gateway into the Irish Otherworld: the cave of Oweynagat. Uaimh na gCat (Gaelic for “Cave of the Cats”) is the origin place of the pre-Christian seasonal celebration of Samhain, the Celtic precursor to modern Halloween.
Rathcroghan is the starting point for a whole series of Iron Age heroic cattle raiding tales, known as na Tána. Indeed, the central tale of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, an Táin Bó Cúailnge, Ireland’s greatest epic, rises out of Rathcroghan, at the behest of the famous Iron Age Warrior Queen Medb (Maeve) of Connacht. Medb is a vital part of this landscape, and of the West more generally, and her capitol and palace are reputed to be located on the Rathcroghan landscape. These stories record the deeds of Ireland’s heroes, such as Cú Chulainn, Fráoch, the Morrigan, Conor Mac Nessa, Ferdia, and Medb herself.
Many of these archaeological sites retain links to these heroic tales through their names, among them Reilig na Rí (the Cemetery of Kings), Caiseal Mhanannán (the stone fort of Manannán mac Lír, god of the sea), Rath na dtarbh(the fort of the bulls), Daithí’s Stone, and more. Hearing these stories, told on this earthen canvas, is the perfect way to understand the previous generations who walked this sacred landscape.