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.
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.