Within the Hills – Ireland’s Ancient Past
Our agents travel to some pretty awesome destinations. When they return, our excitement to hear about their adventures is almost as great as their excitement is to share them. In ON LOCATION, they talk about the little nuances that make each place special. From Peru to South Africa, Switzerland, and Croatia, experience a fantastic second-hand journey and maybe take away some travel inspiration while you’re at it.
When most people think of a trip to Ireland, they imagine tapping their foot to a frantic fiddle while quaffing pints of Guinness in a cozy neighborhood pub. While I’m an enthusiastic fan of evenings spent in just that very fashion, pubs hold only the most immediate and obvious of Lady Ireland’s treasures. She loves a good time, to be sure, but she’s about far more than good stout, whiskey and trad music. For those daring enough to scale her mountains or shimmy into her dark places, a journey through Ireland is a passage back in time, between worlds, along a path winding somewhere between truth and fantasy.
So, for the more adventurous, put down your pint glass and come with me.
The devoted can climb to the summit of Croagh Patrick, a barren, scree-covered peak at the edge of Connemara, both feared and revered by ancient druids, where the patron saint of Ireland fasted for forty days and nights before casting the snakes and demons out of his adopted land (except the politicians, the locals will tell you).
The fearless can descend into the belly of the earth through Oweynagat Cave, where the festival of Samhain (Halloween) is said to have been heavily practiced. It lies deep in the heart of Rathcroghan, one of six (discovered) ancient Royal Sites and Sacred Capital of Connacht, a goldmine of ancient burials riddled with passage tombs. In medieval times, Oweynagat was monikered a passage into hell to strike fear into the hearts of the people and keep them from observing the Samhain sabbat.
The curious can venture into the temple of Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne), older than the Pyramids of Giza, built by sky-worshipping Celts whose ingenuity still addles the minds of engineers today; a faithful testament built upon the belief that every year, after the long, cold darkness of winter has been endured, the light shall return, and when it does, it shall be celebrated.
Those undaunted by Ireland’s narrow country roads will find themselves spellbound by the beauty of her undulating countryside. After a few days of winding through her curves, it’s not hard to imagine a subterranean kingdom within her large, round hills, where another race of people might reside. The Daoine Sidhe (DEE-na SHEE), or “people of the hills,” are said to be the descendants of the Tuatha de Danann (TOO-uh-huh dey DAH-nuh), the original inhabitants of Ireland. Centuries ago, the Tuatha de Danann lost a war with the Milesians, led by the great bard Amergin, who sailed to Ireland from Spain seeking revenge for his murdered kinsmen. Through artful cleverness, Amergin and his men prevailed, and, as the Tuatha de Danann agreed to do should Amergin be victorious, they retreated into the hills where they still live to this day. You may know them by other names, perhaps: fae, or fairy folk, “the good people,” or “the little people.”
Oh, come on! you say. That can’t be true!
Yet, such is Ireland’s ancient history, so deeply interwoven with myth and legend that “truth” is an elusive animal, winking in and out of view like a fox on the heath, shrouded by an ever-shifting mist.
Some swear they’ve seen these ancient people roaming their forests and glens. Perhaps their grandmother used to put out offerings for them, to keep them from causing mischief. Maybe they were told as children to give hawthorn trees and stone circles a wide berth—for the revenge for a disturbance of the Daoine Sidhe could result in anything from sleepless nights to death, depending on what sort you were dealing with.
Ireland’s loamy, endlessly re-tilled earth has been sown with seasons upon seasons of stories by countless generations of bards and troubadours. The golden harp upon her flag is
a tribute to her ancient oral traditions, valued so much, her people chose it as their national sigil. She holds long ribbons of lyrical traditions in her hands that stretch back to a time when man unfurled his history with his tongue rather than scribbling it down on the page. This heritage remains. Her sons and daughters have never lost their talent for storytelling. Wherever you go, they’re willing to stop and chat, tell you a story, listen to yours, give you advice and wish you well.
And so, in the spirit of what most tourists go to Ireland to do, I raise my glass to the mist-drenched land of Eire and her golden-tongued Celts—be they over or under the hills—may you continue to braid the truth into mystery forevermore!