Myself and Mrs H have a fondness for a particular foothill of the Slieve Blooms, it is a peaceful place where we often chill out and only a few minutes from home. Here we bring a flask of coffee and a few nibbles, to look at the cloud formations, the effect of the ever changing light on the fields beneath us and talk. It was here some years ago on a chilly September night of the Harvest Moon, that I proposed to her. The rest is history.
In the distance a large blue hill rises skywards. Croghan Hill in Co.Offaly whose proper name is Cruachán Brí Eile, meaning mound of the 'Exalted Eile', referring to the cairn which stands at its summit. It is also thought that the name may have derived from the Old Irish croccán, a vessel or pot.
Eile was the daughter of a local king, who ruled around 100 BCE and her sister was Queen Maeve of Connacht.
Local legends have it that Brigid was born near the foot of Croghan Hill and that later as St. Brigid she visited there. There are though other places on this island that claim to be her birth place, another is on the outskirts of Dundalk.
Croghan Hill itself is an extinct volcano and it is beneath here that Brigit Begoibne had her smithy where she created beautiful cauldrons.
From Croghan Hill flow three springs which at one time fed the three sacred wells at its' base. The two wells below the southern slope were known as healing wells and boasted venerable ash trees although sadly these have long since disappeared, as have the original names of the wells.
Croghan Hill is the stump or neck of an ancient volcano active during the Carboniferous period of circa 250 million years ago. During this period activity began below the earth's crust resulting in volcanic necks rising through the Carboniferous limestone above. Croghan Hill was the main vent with other smaller hills forming nearby and as the activity subsided lava welled up filling the vents with a plug of basalt. Such plugs being much harder and more resistant to weathering than the surrounding limestone now stand out as low hills. The rock here is quite distinctive. The volcanic ash is exposed over the main hill on the southwest and eastern sides, and also on the summit, with a major deposit which is restricted to the southern half of the hill. The northern half has basalt as its dominant rock type. (Geikie, Vol. 2, 1897, PP 37-41).
Quite recently, on a warm autumn day, we took a few hours off to purposely visit Croghan Hill. It is a place that I have often driven past but never bothered to actually stop; there being a time for everything and the right time! This was one of those days neither to hot nor to cold.
Our route took us across country, passing through just one small town, to use a bridge over the Royal Canal and meander through narrow roads. Nestled at the foot of the hill and almost clinging to its' side is the village of Croghan; Where on the outskirts a fingerboard points to St. Patrick's Well. Upwards we went along a tarmac road that soon petered out to a stony, metalled surface with grass growing up the middle. Judging by the sound from underneath the car it was thoroughly swept clean of mud and I hope that was all. After about a mile we came to a wide grassy area, where a small structure with its' gable roof and stone walls left us in no doubt that this was St. Patrick's Well.