• Ali Isaac

mullagh hill | saints, scenery, & sonnets

view from the top of mullagh hill

Mullagh is a small village in Co Cavan some fifteen minutes drive from my house. The Hill itself rises 684 feet above the  lake at its base. Interestingly, its name in Irish is An Mullach Laoighill, meaning ‘the mound of Laoighill’, but whether this refers to the hill, or something man-made which might once have topped the summit, I don’t know.

There are some rather large chunks of rock up there, though, but my untrained eye cannot distinguish between that which has been shaped by nature, and that which has been carved by the tools of ancient man. However, it seems that Ordnance Survey engineers in 1913 claimed to have located a mound with a grave somewhere on the hill. Soon after this announcement, the tomb was found opened and raided, but by whom, and what they discovered, remains a secret to this day.

It’s a short but very steep walk to the top of Mullagh Hill. It's well worth it, though. There is an uninterrupted 360* view from the top, which on a clear day, takes in the vast Neolithic mound complex of Loughcrew in the distance, and the tower at Kells, which incidentally, is also the site of an ancient hill fort. Birds of prey call to each other as they fly overhead, and the lake below glistens in the sunlight.

Mullagh is most famous for its associations with St Kilian, who was born there in 640AD. He died in Bavaria in 689 AD. Kilian’s story is an interesting one; noble by birth, he went on to complete his education in Cork and Kerry. From there he travelled to Rome to meet the Pope, before finally settling in the German town of Wurzberg, where the Duke Gozbert and his people were still pagan.

Failing to convert the Duke’s wife, Geilana, Kilian informed the Duke that he had acted against scripture by marrying his own brother’s widow. Enraged by his badmouthing her marriage, Geilana sent soldiers after Killian, and had him beheaded on the spot as he preached in the town square, along with two of his colleagues.

Wurzberg Cathedral was later built on the very spot where they were said to have met their deaths, and their remains dug up and placed in a crypt. Bizarrely, their skulls were inlaid with precious jewels and currently reside in a glass case which is still paraded around the streets of Wurzberg on Kilian’s feast day, July 8th.

The jewel encrusted skulls of St Killian and his friends in their glass case

Mullagh is a lovely rural Cavan town, and has both a Catholic and a Protestant church. In the grounds of the latter, the remains of an older church can still be seen, with its accompanying graveyard. It is named the Teampall Cheallaigh, after St. Kilian, and dates to the fourteenth century. It is a very picturesque and peaceful site, located on the edge of town close to the lake.

I then paid a visit to Saint Kilian's holy well, which is a couple of kms down the road towards the town of Virginia. The site is well maintained, but I was disappointed to see the well contained only a little brown sludge in the bottom and a pile of leaves. There was a lovely statue of the man himself, though, and someone had left some beads, and an offering of what looked like seeds, or berries.

But what draws me to Mullagh Hill above and beyond the solitude, the serenity, and the scenery, is poetry. As you climb, there are signs on the fence with excerpts from poems written by local poets.

The hedge has grown so tall now, that many of the poems are obscured; I scratched my hands to ribbons on the hawthorn trying to get photos. The poems are numbered, but some appear to be missing. However, there is something lovely about walking, being in nature, and contemplating poetry.

Resting at the top, absorbing the panorama before you while the heady scent of yellow gorse washes over you, gives you the chance to reflect on the words you have read on the way up. Going back down gives you the chance to read them all again. It makes for a truly unique experience.

Here are a selection. I hope you enjoy them.


Oh Mullagh House, sweet ancient dome

Thy glory dead & o'er

The great O'Reilly lost a home

To call it home no more

Oh blighted is thy former fame

Thy occupants are strange

The midnight spirits of the name

Must see and feel the change.

(From Patriot Chief by Bernard Nulty 1865

R. O'Reilly wrote the poem.)


I am a stream as old as time

From Mullagh’s wave I take my rise

I gurgle on with busy chime

And sparkle like a lover’s eyes.

(From The Old Mill Stream – Robert O’Reilly)


The summer sun was sinking

The zephyr's breath was still

No ripple broke the silver on the lakes pellucid crest.

And nature seemed indulging in a holiday of rest.

(From Rockford's Tale - Bernard Nulty 1865)


No ripple breaks upon the breast

Of Mullagh's silver lake

Save what the wild ducks...

Around the...

There's a silence in the valley

Save ... the cattle low -

Not thus I found your shore

Some twenty years ago.

(From Twenty Years Ago - Bernard Nulty 1865)


The summer sun descending

Was glinting through the trees

And cowslip stems were bending

In the softly sighing breeze

The songbird's carol sounded

Upon the balmy air

When the haughty Lord of Mullagh

Sought the valley green and fair.

(From Lady Sanderson's Order

- Bernard Nulty 1865)


Home again in Noble Breffni

Filled with yearning of the past

Stood I on the Mullagh Mountain

As the sun's last line was cast

And I thought upon the evenings

Far away in Germany

When my ears drank in the story

That the wood man told to me.

(From A Lay of Early Missionary Days

John - Keegan (Leo) Casey 1866)


Old Mullagh hill of the craggy braes

Is clothed with fern and fir

And looks as young as in olden days

But it never seems to stir.

It is all the same in a thousand years

The lake looks calm and mild

Whilst steering up the old mill-stream

By the church yard drear and wild.

(From Mullagh Hill – Robert O’Reilly)


Our grief recording memory

I'll take a sad survey

Of eighteen hundred twenty three

And August Lady Day.

(From "Elegy" - Annie O'Reilly 1902)


I am a stream as old as time

From Mullagh’s wave I take my rise

I gurgle on with busy chime

And sparkle like a lover’s eyes.

(From The Old Mill Stream – Robert O’Reilly)

  Glorious 360 degree view from the summit of Mullagh Hill