Tuesday, 17 January 2017

CROGHAN HILL - CRAUCHÁN BRI ÉILE / Revisited


Our tours of interesting places begins again. On a reasonably mild January Sunday, we took the narrow roads of a neighbouring county to make our first excursion of 2017 and to revisit Croghan Hill, in Co.Offaly. This was not our first visit though this time we were better prepared, having done some research in books and maps beforehand.

Croghan Hill is one of several hills that sit very prominently on the skyline when viewed from the eastern edge of the Slieve Blooms; I recall being on a high field of friends’ farm one Bealtine night, watching from our own bonfire, the fires burning on Croghan, Tara and Uisneach. It gave me great joy to know that beyond the flames by which we stood many others were also celebrating the ancient festival.

A vertical shaft of light emerging from Croghan Hill.

Croghan Hill or Crauchán Éile, sometimes Crauchán Brí Éile, is the remains of an extinct volcano. It stands 234 metres high including a Bronze Age mound, named Bri Éile, on its summit. According to mythology it is the burial place of an important woman, Brí Éile. 
Brí is a title meaning ‘exalted or honoured’ one and Éile is her actual name. 
Croghan/Crauchán : means a prominent hill.



Three quarters of the hill encircled by
narrow country roads.
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On its southeast side of the hill is an enclosed graveyard which marks the spot of the 5th century early Christian church associated with Bishop Mac Caille and as a sacred mountain, it was one of the first places in Ireland to be Christianised. Bishop Mac Cailles’ mother was said to be St Darerca, sister of St Patrick. Mac Cailles’ Church has a strong association with St. Bridget, who was born near Croghan Hill and received her veil from St.Mac Caille. 
It is not known when the Church was abandoned but the stones used to build it, were later utilised for the wall around the graveyard which continued the religious significance of the hill.

One can but speculate that the name of the mythological woman Bri Éile was carried on through the centuries and transposed to the famous Ely O’Carroll's.

The family of O’Carroll, according to the Irish antiquaries, are descended from Kean, the third son of Olioll Olum, King of Munster. 
Teige, the eldest son of Kean, was a distinguished warrior, who by killing in battle his three rivals, procured for Cormac Mac Art, King of Ulster, the Monarchy of Ireland. 
Teige had two sons, Conla and Cormac Galeng. 

Conla, the eldest son, later possessed lands called Duthec Éile, 'Estate of Éile', from Éile Ridheargs, of which his descendants were Kings, Chief of the O’Carroll [Irish: Cearbhuill], the 12th in descent gave the name Éile to the Sept of the O’Carrolls.

Most of the territory of South Offaly was once known as Ely O Carroll or Éile Ui Ceairbhuill. The O’Carrolls intermarried with other powerful chieftain families but in the 16th century internal family feuds and in-fighting with other Irish septs put the associations under pressure to maintain their power which they lost in the 17th century. Birr Castle was once one of their strongholds.


In the townland of Old Croghan, half a mile from the hill, stands a Castle and Church both in ruins. 
These buildings may have been built after Mac Cailles’ Church on the hill fell to ruin for it is sited near to the the ruins of O’Conor Faly’s Castle. 

What seems quite incongruous to me is just how close the farm buildings were erected to an historic site.



25 comments:

  1. It's very beautiful and even on a dull day the views look like they go on for miles

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    1. Thank you for the appreciation Simon :-)

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  2. So interesting, thanks for taking me on the journey. Had no idea Ireland once had volcanoes.

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    1. Yes, we have had lots of them but not for several thousand years - thank goodness :)

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  3. One of the things I love about Ireland is that there is history to be found in almost every stone.

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    1. You are correct Weaver there are historic time lines almost everywhere on this island.

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  4. Perhaps the farm buildings were originally part of the castle community, they may have evolved from much older dwellings.

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    1. Not those particular buildings Sue however there was a small settlement on that site.

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  5. Those places you take us to have such a serene and beautiful sense of solitude, like abandoned sanctuaries. The scenery is lovely, Mel, and your pictures and knowledge makes a great combination!

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    1. Many thanks for your awareness FT and although you do not see any people in the photos, I can assure you that those places are frequently visited throughout the year.

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    2. Oh I have no doubts about that and I would visit myself if I had the opportunity, some day I probably will!!

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  6. Beautiful photo with the shaft of light. So many ancient sites and history. Ireland is surely magical!

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  7. Hi Mel - I think Michael Portillo has just travelled there in one of his train trips ... I don't know whether you get them in Eire ... again I'm hamstrung for too many brains at the moment - so glossed the rail trip over, and your revisit here ... but one day when the malingering travails in my life are over and I have time - I'd love to do a proper visit ... looks glorious - cheers Hilary

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  8. Hello Hilary good to hear from you and as nice as it is to receive one of your generous comments. I have to say that I very much doubt that Michael Portillo travelled by rail to Croghan Hill, not with the nearest railhead being 20km away to the south west. There are though quite a few other places called Croghan in Ireland, for the word actually means 'prominent hill'.
    Yes do come over and make a proper holiday of your visit to this wonderfully history strewn island and have fun :-)

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  9. Mel, I always wonder when i see pictures of this part of the world of the lack of forests. and the amazing spread of fields .. Is there not many forests left?

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  10. Hello Gwen! Thank you for your question.
    Ireland was largely deforested in the 17th century when wood was required for the British Navy, to such a degree that very few of the ancient oak forests now remain. What we have instead are large tracts of Sitka Spruce which is very uninteresting to look at and I rarely photograph them.

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    1. That is interesting Mel. Was there no replanting of mixed foreatation?

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    2. In recent years, say from eighteen years ago to present time a token effort has been made to plant about five percent of each new forest with indigenous trees and ninty-five percent Sitka and there is not nearly enough of the Irish trees planted. There are though a few small private woodlands that have been planted with a single species.
      With no real vision or encouragement to recover that which was lost and is still missing from the the Irish tree scene.

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  11. Thanks for that Mel. something to think about

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  12. Another fascinating place. And, everything's relative. When I was at university (in northwestern New York State), I lived across the street from a "really, old, old cemetery." It dated back to just before the 19th century!

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    1. Ha' ha' ha' Mitch that cemetery and the house that we live in share the same century too :-)

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  13. So interesting, Mel. What a special country Ireland is. So rich in history and legend. The photos are lovely. Beautiful scenery and I too find it interesting that the farm was bult so close to the ruins...I wonder whethere there is a significance to that?

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    1. You know Val I can only think that it was contempt for ancient Ireland that placed the farm buildings so close to the ruins, there are even today people who would and do occasionally destroy artefacts on their land in the false belief that they are worthless !

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