The Easter holidays are always a great time to do some different activities and visited some locations I had on my list for sometime.
One of these locations was Dunmore caves in the north of county Kilkenny, the caves are some of the most spectacular – located here in Ireland, with a large entrance hall and a great mix of tunnels and caverns. This time was a great visit, there have been some great guides over the years but our female guide over the weekend was clearly into the geology and environment of the area and of the caves themselves along with the Pagan and Viking (history, myths and beliefs) based around the long time use of these caverns.
One local myth in Kilkenny county revolves around the belief that there is a tunnel that goes all the way from the caves into the center of kilkenny city, possibly used for escape in times when the city was under attack. This tunnel has been searched for many times but never found, so maybe it is just a story but the search goes on.
Dunmore caves facts and History
Dunmore Cave (from Irish Dún Mór, meaning ‘great fort’) is a limestone solutional cave in Ballyfoyle, County Kilkenny, Ireland. It is formed in Lower Carboniferous (Viséan) limestone of the Clogrenan Formation. It is a show cave open to the public, particularly well known for its rich archaeological discoveries and for being the site of a Viking massacre in 928.
Dunmore Cave was designated a National Monument by the Commissioners of Public Works in 1944, but development as a show cave with visitor centre and tours didn’t begin until 1967, at the behest of respected archaeologist and spelaeologist J. C. Coleman. The cave was closed in 2000 for archaeological work and redevelopment, and reopened in 2003.
The earliest historical reference to the cave is to be found in the Triads of Ireland, dating from the 14th to the 19th century, where “Úam Chnogba, Úam Slángae and Dearc Fearna” are listed under the heading, “the three darkest places in Ireland”.The last, meaning the “Cave of the Alders,” is generally thought to be the present Dunmore Cave, while the first two translate as the caves of Knowth and Slaney. It is not known which exact system of caves/passage tombs near the river Slaney is being referred to, with the most likely, those at Baltinglass. Other sources translate the listed locations as Rath Croghan, the cave or crypt of Slane and the “Cave of the Ferns”.
In the Annals of the Four Masters, dated to the 17th century, Dearc Fearna was recorded as the site of a great Viking massacre in 928 AD:
“Godfrey Uí Ímair, with the foreigners of Ath Cliath, demolished and plundered Dearc Fearna, where one thousand persons were killed in this year as is stated in the quatrain:
Nine hundred years without sorrow, twenty-eight, it has been proved, ‘Since Christ came to our relief, to the plundering of Dearc-Fearna.”
Gofraith, ua h-Iomhair, co n-Gallaibh Atha Cliath, do thoghail & do orgain Derce Fearna,
airm in ro marbhadh míle do dhaoinibh an bhliadhain-si, amhail as-berar isin rann,
Naoi c-céd bliadhain gan doghra,
a h-ocht fichet non-dearbha,
o do-luidh Criost dár c-cobhair
co toghail Derce Ferna.
While the human remains found in the cave are thought to be victims of the Viking massacre, this has not been reliably confirmed. Many of the remains belong to women and children, and it is hypothesised that they are the bodies of people hiding in the cave who were unable to leave when the Vikings tried to smoke them out, dying from asphyxiation.
The earliest writings on the cave of an archaeological nature came from the bishop George Berkeley, whose report dated 1706 detailed a visit that he made to the cave as a boy. The essay was not published until 1871. In 1869 Arthur Wynne Foot, a physician, made an archaeological visit to the cave with Rev. James Graves and Peter Burtchaell and discovered large quantities of human remains, which they collected. In his reports, Foot meticulously documented his findings, and culled references from the writings of researchers over the preceding 120 years.
In 1999, a hoard of 43 silver and bronze items was discovered in a rocky cleft deep in the cave. Archaeologists dated this hoard, consisting of silver, ingots and conical buttons woven from fine silver, to 970 AD.
Knockroe, county Kilkenny
Kilmartin, Argyll, Scotland
A link through time
These two mystical European locations stand two hundred and fifteen miles apart, Knockroe is in county Kilkenny republic of Ireland and the other, Kilmartin is in Argyll, Scotland, about 15 miles south of Oban.
The reason I displaying these images in the same post is simply to highlight something that only occurred to me when one year I happened to visit them only weeks apart. The fact is you could view these two sites individually and study them by themselves all you like, however you would be missing something very important!
The people’s who created these sites shared the same time period and clearly the same beliefs and culture. They lived in Europe both in Ireland and Scotland located in the Geographical British Isles; however some 5500 years ago they knew nothing of recent nations and nationalism , of national borders or even the concept of a European nation.
Both monuments are passage tombs, placed for their dead to be remembered, they both also contain elements for marking the passing of the year and its seasons, by measuring the movement of the sun and the moon.
The structures in these places along with the cultural function they served is identical, to me this shows that these people traveled the seas and not only shared goods and beliefs they in fact where the same peoples. They did not just get on with each other through trade they were each other as brother and sister, mother and father, family and friends.
When they knew nothing of modern boundaries and divisions, what else could they be?
These same people who traveled from one place to another in order to expand their options and abilities did not in any shape or form see themselves as English or Scottish or Irish they were family to each other and nothing more or less!
Easter in Ireland is clearly these days viewed as a religious time in the sense of modern Christianity, however Easter or Ēostre, as a festival has been celebrated for many thousands of years before our current state accepted beliefs….
During last weekend we visited the hill of Tara one of Europe’s and Ireland’s oldest pagan monuments, It was a great time of the year to visit as the air was full of springtime with a feeling that summer was only just around the corner,warm days and long evenings. This is the exact feeling that surrounds the beliefs of the people who made this place so Sacred to their Pagan beliefs in the elements of nature and the seasons. I am never sure if these belief’s can fully be called a religion in modern terms, feeling that they were more a philosophy towards the world that they lived in and cared for very much!
here is a little about the long history of the hill of Tara:
Teamhair is the ancient name given the Hill of Tara. One of the most religious and revered sites in all of Ireland, it was from this hill that the Ard Rí, the High Kings of Ireland, ruled the land. The place was sometimes called Druim Caín (the beautiful ridge) or Druim na Descan (the ridge of the outlook). When walking the path that leads to the top of the hill today, one can easily appreciate why. The long gradual slope eventually flattens at the top for an amazing view of the broad plains in the Boyne and Blackwater valleys below. All that remains of the complex is a series of grass-covered mounds and earthworks that say little about the 5,000 years of habitation this hill has seen.
Most historians, including Biblical scholars, agree that Easter was originally a pagan festival. According to the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary says: “The word Easter is of Saxon origin, Eastra, the goddess of spring, in whose honour sacrifices were offered about Passover time each year. By the eighth century Anglo–Saxons had adopted the name to designate the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.” However, even among those who maintain that Easter has pagan roots, there is some disagreement over which pagan tradition the festival emerged from. Here we will explore some of those perspectives.
Resurrection as a symbol of rebirth
One theory that has been put forward is that the Easter story of crucifixion and resurrection is symbolic of rebirth and renewal and retells the cycle of the seasons, the death and return of the sun.
Hill of Tara Gallery
What is an Altar ?
I have visited an old church yard at Castlemorris, county Kilkenny for many years, its a fascinating location. Its the Altar that sits within the old church and castle that’s just drawing me back everytime.
It sits below an old chapel window and the light from the doorway highlights it even on a very wet day, the old chapel is still roofed but the water gets through the stone and drips onto the floor of the chapel.
This Alter has started me wondering about the history of such constructions and what they have been used for over time.
Today in Christian times we think of an Altar as a place that a priest stands and performs a service for anyone who is in attendance, this however has not always been the case.
An Altar in Pagan and pre-Christian times was a place of personal worship they could be in any location but a place of spiritual meaning was common, in the woods and at a river or spring a place that meant something to the community, A pagan believer could and did have Personal Alters in their own homes.
Personally I feel that the Altar is the key to Pagan beliefs, they are places of personal dedication and an indication as to where we find ourselves as Humans.
At an Altar you usually leave an item of dedication, food, something you have made, an item that means something too you personally and that you are willing to spiritually hand over too forces that you both respect and/or rely upon for your very existence.
I feel that this alone contains a truth about our spiritual beliefs, we worship the elements the seasons , Nature because we live in it , we rely upon it and we feel the need to in some form get closer to it by forming a spiritual connection. Then to worship the elements that give us our existence and lives.
This is the function of an Altar, or at least the function of human spirituality relating to it for many thousands of years. Many feel that the Altar is the centre piece of this worship of the forces that we exist in.
Forces that for many thousands of years mankind has noted yet not understood, The season and the growth of food. In the winter its shortage, Storms, Other Animals that we live with and in many cases in the past and even today could pray on us.
Sometimes, simply leaving out food in the hope that they did not was a form of dedication.