Walk ... The Hill of the Witch, Co Meath

The Irish Times Magazine - - ON THE MOVE - MICHAEL GUIL­FOYLE

De­spite the name ( or maybe be­cause of it), this high­est hill in Co Meath, is a truly en­chant­ing place, a “hid­den gem” of Ire­land’s An­cient East. I came on the au­tumn equinox when the ris­ing sun vis­its the won­der­fully scratched mo­tifs on the back- stone of the hill’s 5,000- year- old sum­mit cairn, known as Cairn T. And on this Septem­ber 21st day of show­ers and rain­bows, it did – though I per­son­ally was just too late to wit­ness that spe­cial play of sun and Ne­olithic art, sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing.

The hill’s ge­o­graph­i­cal, cul­tural, his­tor­i­cal and mytho­log­i­cal con­texts, and the at­tempts over the years to de­ci­pher pur­pose and mean­ing, are too many and var­ied to cover in an ar­ti­cle such as this. I rec­om­mend a prior visit to the friendly and knowl­edge­able peo­ple of the Me­galithic Cen­tre ( [email protected] loughcrewmega. com), just 50 me­ters from the hill’s ac­cess car park.

Here, a pe­rusal over cof­fee of “Loughcrew Cairns, Sli­abh na Caillí, A Vis­i­tor’s Guide” (¤ 10), will greatly en­rich your visit. In­deed, the cen­tre’s ex­cel­lent hos­tel and camp­site and wide range of tours and ac­tiv­i­ties may tempt you to stay – and maybe even to pay a solo visit to the hill with just stars and stones and shad­ows for com­pany.

Tech­ni­cally, the walk is easy, though the ground is steep and can be slip­pery in wet weather. Steps, flag­stones and posts guide the vis­i­tor to the pleas­ant, grassy sum­mit where in­evitably we are prompted to think about those an­ces­tors of ours, for whom this was a spe­cial place. But these were not just peo­ple of cold stones and burnt bones. They were or­di­nary peo­ple of warm hearts who lived, loved and laboured in the low­lands around and be­low where you stand. They would have fished the dis­tant lakes and rivers, hunted and gath­ered in its forests, fought off wolves, farmed some land, gos­siped and talked of the weather.

The es­sen­tially un­chang­ing Cairn T and the other “sa­cred” places of Loughcrew would have seen count­less dra­mas play out around them in the great sweep of time be­tween you and your an­ces­tors at Loughcrew. Me­mories would have be­come myths within only decades of com­ple­tion; be­lief sys­tems, peo­ple and lan­guage would have changed many times, of­ten peace­fully but some­times vi­o­lently through in­va­sion, ex­pul­sions, en­slave­ment and mas­sacres. Chiefs and shamans would have led and mis­led their peo­ple, of­ten pro­tect­ing and sus­tain­ing their peo­ple and some­times let­ting them down and ex­ploit­ing their de­pen­den­cies and de­spairs.

Map:

Pan­els in the Loughcrew Cairns car- park

Start Fin­ish:

Car- park on small road off the L2800 be­tween Kells and Old­cas­tle; ap­proach well sign- posted

Ef­fort and Suit­abil­ity: Fa­cil­i­ties and Re­fresh­ments:

car park.

The more frag­ile sig­na­tures of the lives and liveli­hoods of these or­di­nary peo­ple are lost to us. Thus, there will be no his­tory or story and few clues to guide you to­wards un­der­stand­ing the peo­ple or the many dif­fer­ent meanings they would have placed on these silent, se­cre­tive stones. Your own quiet imag­in­ings, and the con­nec­tions you make as a fel­low hu­man un­der the same sky and breath­ing the same air, will be as good as any­one’s, and will make a visit spe­cial and per­sonal.

N

■ The Hill of the Witch, in Loughcrew, Co Meath is a hid­den gem

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