From walking on Sliabh an Iarainn I discovered what must be one of the most spectacular and mysterious looking mass rocks in the country, if that is what it always was. In Ireland during the 1600’s the Penal Laws outlawed the practice of the Roman Catholic religion so priests would hold secret masses in the open air in out of the way places such as this. This one is quite epic and elaborate, with very theatrical and carefully placed stone steps rising to an altar very dramatically set between the cliff of the mountain itself and a massive outcrop. It is not mentioned in any guide books to my knowledge (although it does lie just off a marked walking trail) and the few people I know who have stumbled across it are very surprised to find it there. When they (like myself) have tried to find out more of its history though, they have found nothing of any significance. I’ve heard it still is or used to be the location for an annual outdoor local mass but I just wonder if that was always its original purpose. Perhaps it had a use before this and may have gone unnoticed by archeologists and historians to date.
There is no marker on the site to tell you what it is and what may have been used as an altar (stone with wooden legs) does not look original to me and seems fragile and out of proportion with just a few rusting copper coins lying there today. Perhaps it was used for something at an earlier date and converted to use as a mass rock? Only a very small percentage of the thousands of crannogs (small manmade defensive islands) on Ireland’s lakes and rivers have been examined in any detail and even huge cairns, such as the one nearby at Knocknarea, Co. Sligo (said to be the burial place of Queen Medb) have yet to be explored. There are still many unsolved mysteries surrounding the structures of the past we encounter and see everyday and even when we do excavate we can only speculate and never truly know for sure what they were used for. This lonely site in Co. Leitrim is a very good example of that and well worth seeking out to wonder at. (Stephen Rennicks)