• Ali Isaac

Inside the ‘Hell-Mouth’ of Ireland (video)

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

I nearly didn’t go. I had a handful of essays on the go for uni at the time, but it was Samhain, and Treasa had been kind enough to invite me a second time, and I couldn’t believe it was already a year since the last time I was there. That was a euphoric experience, and I wondered, how would it be second time around, now that I knew what to expect.

Sliding into the mouth of Oweynagat.
Sliding into the mouth of Oweynagat.

Oweynagat is an incredibly female site, in its physicality, its mythology, and in its energy, something I was immediately struck by on my first visit, and so it felt right that this was a women-only experience. Queen Medb was born in its dark depths, and the Morrigan is said to use the cave as a conduit between this realm and the Otherworld.

This is how Queen Medb describes the cave in her story from my latest book, Mavourneen:

“There is a cave at Cruachan. Its small dark mouth yawns at your feet beneath a shroud of hawthorn bushes, and is never lit up by the sun. You can slide your way in, if you dare. The only way is supine on your belly, sinuous as a snake in the thick blackness, or on your back, enclosed so closely that the rock wall brushes your skin as you pass, the weight of the earth pressing on your consciousness, on your lungs, filling you with the fear of rockfalls, of demonic creatures which burst through from the Otherworld, of the terrible Goddess of strife and death we call the Morrigan, of the dread that once inside, you will become trapped, unable to ever return to the surface.

"Your heart begins to race, and you pant for breath, lungs squeezed flat in your chest. This is a potent place; a deep, dark cleft in the earth which men fear, a place associated with powerful women, sacred women, sorcerous women, women who command all the skills and strengths which men feel should belong to men alone, alongside the dark, disturbing female magic they cannot comprehend. That is why they call it ‘the Hell–Mouth of Eire’. They fear to penetrate it, they fear what is born out of it.

"But when you, the brave feminine, have traversed its uterine passage, have felt the energy pulsing in cold moist, glistening, flesh–coloured stone, have slid through the glutinous membrane of mud which lines the inner, womb–like cavity, have listened to the earth breathe around and beneath and above you; when you leave, then you will feel reborn. And you will know me, for I am Medb, and this cave is where my mother, Cruachú Crobh-Dearg, lowly handmaid to Étain, squatted to bring me forth into the world.”

And if you think that sounds dramatic, know that is exactly how it feels, how it looks. The mud that coats you as you leave is like the blood of birth. The experience changes you. Perhaps that is the same of all deep, dark places. I don’t know. But there is something special about Oweynagat, something addictive, a braving of one’s fears perhaps, or the communion with something not quite of this world, made all the more special by sharing it with this unique group of strong, spiritual women. I think, I hope the Great Queen approves.

I would like to thank Treasa for inviting me on this special journey once again, and I’m looking forward to next year’s adventure already. Treasa operates the Full Moon Walking Tour of the Hill of Tara, Spiritual Tours of the Hill of Uisneach, and private guided tours of Loughcrew, and Glendalough. You can find out more on her Facebook page, Sacred Sites of Ireland.

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