Celtic Ireland's Gates of Hell
PART 1/2: CELTIC INTRO In Dante’s Inferno, our hero passes through the Gates of Hell, which bear an inscription, the final line of which is the famous phrase "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate", or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." No such ominous eloquence greets the visitor to Ireland’s Gates of Hell, two sites that have acquired legendary reputations for being entrances to the underworld. One has been shut by papal order since 1625 and the other is a fetid mud hole associated with cats. One is firmly Christian and the other purely pagan. One is now chiefly regarded as an ancient seat of royalty, the other an ancient site of strict pilgrimage.
The pagan festival of Samhain, now replaced by the Christian feast of Hallowe’en is the time at which one of these gates is said to open and evil has a free reign to lurk and snatch its victims as it sees fit before the dawn. From these portals spirits emerge from and wreak havoc. As landmarks go, having the Gates of Hell in your locality surely tops any list of undesirable adjoining properties. Neighbours from Hell how are you. We shall look at the earlier of the two sites first, a site that ironically in its heyday was regarded as the most prestigious address in ancient Connaught. It is situated near Tulsk in County Roscommon, at what is now known as Rathcroghan.
ROSCOMMON Rathcroghan was the seat of Royalty in the West of Ireland for nearly 2000 years. It is identified as the site of Cruachan, the traditional capital of the Connachta. Here, you can explore Irish history through the ages; walk the land of Celtic Warrior Queen Maeve, see where the great bulls fought their epic battle in the Cattle Raid of Cooley, follow the Druid's quest for knowledge to the sacred triple spring of healing, stand where the Gaelic Kings stood to fight invading tyranny and receive their rightful crowns. Of particular interest to us though is the famed Cave of Cats or Oweynagat, south-west of Rathcroghan Mound. It is a souterrain beneath an old road leading into a dark, narrow limestone cave. This cave was believed to be a gateway to the otherworld with many creatures emerging that generally caused havoc across the country. The name Oweynagat means "cave of the cats", which could refer to the large wild cats which the Ulster champions must fight in the tale of "Bricrius Feast".
Cruachan seems to have heavy associations with the feast of Samhain, as it was during this time that the Irish believed that the prehistoric graves from before their time opened and their gods and spirits, who dwelt inside, walked the earth. The emerging of creatures from Oweynagat would be part of this belief. A legend based on this is "The Adventures of Nera", in which the warrior of the title is challenged to tie a twig around the ankle of a condemned man on Samhain night. After agreeing to get some water for the condemned man he discovers strange houses and when he finally gets him some water at the third house, he returns him to captivity only to witness Rathcroghan's royal buildings being destroyed by the spirits. He follows the fairy host to the síd where he meets a woman who tells him that what he saw was a vision of what will happen a year from now unless his mortal comrades are warned. He leaves the síd and informs Ail ill of his vision who then has the Side destroyed.
It is unclear whether what is referred to as the síd is Oweynagat or the mound of Rathcroghan itself. However, it is from Oweynagat that various destructive creatures emerged. The Ellen Troche was a triple headed monster that went on a rampage across the country before being killed by Emerging, the father of Connell Carnac. Small red birds came from the cave withering every plant they breathed on before being hunted by the Red Branch, also herds of pigs with similar decaying powers emerged from the cave with Ail ill and Med themselves desperately trying to hunt them, but having to deal with vanishing powers and an ability to shed...