Gifts from the ‘Hell-Mouth of Ireland’ #Samhain
Updated: Feb 13, 2020
Today I met up with Treasa and a bunch of lovely ladies for a visit to Cruachan and Oweynagat. To say I was nervous is a bit of an understatement; not because I was meeting up with a group of people I didn’t know (daunting enough for someone like me), but because a) I’ve never been caving, and never wanted to, and b) you know, it’s a space which belongs to the Morrigan, and she’s definitely scary, in a wonderful and terrifying kind of way. But, Treasa invited me, and I trust her, and if you love Irish myth and ancient sites, you can’t not go. I’d avoided it long enough.
When I got up this morning and saw the sun was shining, I knew it was a day for facing fears.
We met for lunch first in the Percy French Hotel in Strokestown. I’m glad we did this, as it broke the ice, and was really fun, and also, it meant I could follow in my car behind someone who knows where they’re going, and hopefully not get lost. 😁
First we went to the main mound at Cruachan. It’s huge! And what a view! I could hear one of our group drumming as I walked up to the top. The beat carried to me faintly on the breeze, seeming to enter my bloodstream, so that I almost didn’t know if it was my pulse or my heartbeat stirring. It kind of felt magical, and right.
Here it was that Queen Medb had her great fort, and according to legend, it is from here she planned her fateful cattle raid, and it is from here that Nera chased the fairy hordes into the Otherworld one Samhain, via Oweynagat, also known as the ‘Cave of Cats’. The very cave that I, thousands of years, and Samhains, later, was about to follow him into…
There was no way I was not going in. The mouth of the cave gaped at me, and I watched in trepidation as it swallowed first Treasa, then two more of my companions, and then I plunged in. Now or never.
We had to slide in on our backsides. Within two seconds I was muddier than I can ever remember being, even as a child. What the hell, mud is good for the skin, and at my age, I need all the help I can get.
The opening to the cave is man-made, an ancient souterain, or underground passage way built during Medieval times. It has a lintel, made from a re-purposed Ogham stone, and neat dry-stone walls. Apparently, it was once covered with a mound, but this was removed in the 1930s when a road was built through it. The souterain and cave reach right under the road towards the mound at Cruachan.
Sharp turn to the left, and the man-made walls give way to damp cave walls. Down an uneven tunnel that’s only big enough to crawl through. I had no torch, but managed to pause to take a few photos. Mud is not only good for the skin, I discovered; it also helps you slide down narrow passages more easily. At this point, I felt my lungs being compressed by the narrow space, the heavy darkness, and the weight of the land pressing down from above. But there was no going back; the rest of the group were strung out behind me, and there was no way of getting past them.
Down, down, down. The passage was now tall enough to stand, but still so narrow you could only pass through it in single file. I thought of Frodo and friends, and the Mines of Moria, and tried not to think about what befell them there.
Because this cave has its own monsters, equally as terrifying. An ancient text called Cath Maige Mucrama (The Battle of Mag Mucrima) tells of a fearsome creature known as the Ellén Trechand, a three-headed creature which emerged from the cave every Samhain and laid waste to the countryside until the poet Amergin killed it. It was accompanied by a host of goblins, and a flock of monstrous copper-red birds. Also, there were giant pigs which scarred the landscape by rooting through the earth with their huge tusks. No wonder it got its other name, ‘Hell-Mouth of Ireland’.
I think I might have preferred meeting any or all of the above in a dark cave rather than the Morrigan. She is the Great Queen, the Phantom Queen of ancient Ireland, multi shapeshifter, Queen of battle and strife and death. She was present in many of the major conflicts of mythological Ireland, foretelling victories and defeat, causing rains of fire and blood to fall upon the heads of her enemies, flying as a crow or raven over the battlefield, bringing courage to her men and striking fear into the hearts of the enemies with her wild calls.
Not a woman to be taken lightly. And this was her cave, her route from the Otherworld into ours. How would she feel about our trespassing?
Nor is she the only powerful woman associated with the cave. Queen Medb was said to have been born in it. Another woman who I suspect would look at a woman like me, and find me wanting. But maybe they appreciate that women come in all shapes and sizes and temperaments. We’re not all born warriors and Queens, but we still have value. So I brazened it out.
When we had gone as deep into the cave as we could get, (a small hole at the top far end of the cave continues all the way to the Caves of Kesh in Sligo, 38kms away, according to legend) we turned the lights out. It was very dark, and very silent, save for our breathing. Occasionally, water dripped somewhere nearby, which sounded loud, and three times, strangely, I heard the distant call of some wild bird.
Treasa led us in a meditation and a few prayers. She said some things which really resonated with my own thoughts and feelings, which was nice. Then we did some toning.
O. M. G. If you’ve never tried it (I hadn’t), then you should. Maybe it was because we were deep underground in an extremely special place, but the sound reverberated off the walls and vibrated right through me. It was powerful and wonderful! You can find out what it sounds like HERE.
Even though it was pitch black, at one stage I saw lots of beautiful swirling purple-pink lights, and Treasa saw them too. And then, suddenly I felt really tense, and I heard Treasa say, “She’s here.” After a while, I got the strange feeling that someone was in front of me, looking into my face, but there was no one there. Or at least, not physically. It reminded me of inspection when I was in the Air Force, where the sergeant will get right in your face and you’re not supposed to react or even flinch. It was really uncomfortable. And then she passed by, and I relaxed. I think I passed muster. ☺
There was a good bit of chat and laughter, too. Eventually, we reluctantly realised it was time to leave. On the way out, I saw the lintel stone with the Ogham markings, ‘Fraech, son of Medb’. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a clear photo, but you can just make them out. Then, I was greeted by fresh air and a beautiful sunset. I was back on the surface again.
We stopped in Tulsk for coffee, and to try and clean off the worst of the mud. Then it was dark, and time to say goodbye to my new friends and head home.
It had been a magical day. I felt extraordinarily happy. I’m still buzzing now, as I write this. I drove home, listening to Kate Bush… how is it that so many of her lyrics seemed to relate to what I had just experienced? But the day kept on giving. The full moon hung heavy and low in the sky, like a huge disk of gold, watching me safely home. And when I arrived, the sky was clear and laden with stars. My heart was full. The day had been rich with gifts.