The Warrior

Lough Nabellbeg, tucked in close to the eastern base of Sliabh an Iarainn, is said to be where the Tuatha DeDanaan were based for a time when they landed on the mountain in a cloud. It is a small lake but the only one nearby and an obvious source of fresh water and location for a temporary camp with good observation and maybe even some fishing. While here they are said to have mined and used the iron they found to make weapons to conquer the Fir Bolg. Of course this is all considered a myth today but a local saying persists that the lake has had a warrior guardian since that time. He is outlined on the cliff directly above the lake which was carved by them before they left, to mark the spot and protect it in the future. The Tuatha DeDanaan themselves became what we think of as fairies and are thought to live underground.

I wanted to follow up this story for the Guide and went looking for the lake and warrior and to my surprise found both. As I climbed down the very steep slope towards the lake I literally came face to face with an unmistakable outline of what could be a warriors face. Whether it was shaped by anyone or not I don’t know but it could also be natural. The lake and the very rarely visited landscape on this side of the mountain is not on a walking trail or in the official guide maps but possesses a real rugged beauty and is well worth a visit. It’s a place that deserves to be discovered by locals and tourists alike. (Stephen Rennicks)

Location on map

A postcard and print of the below image can be purchased at this link.

Mass Rock?

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)

Location on map

Tuatha De Danaan prophecy

A friend of mine who knows about comics and ancient Irish legends brought a yet to be fulfilled prophecy from the mythological cycle of ancient Irish legends to my attention. It references a time when the Tuatha DeDanaan (who may have existed during the Bronze age) have been beaten by the Gaels and Milesians (our ancestors). After this they never actually left Ireland but are said to have gone underground and became known as fairies and the like as we gradually forgot about their reality. I found a good link about their connection with Co. Leitrim here.

The prophecy states that one day they will have to return to awaken the inhabitants of the country from an enchanted sleep of forgetfulness. It is said to be a time when symbols will be more real than the things they represent, when people no longer have thoughts of their own and their minds are stronger than their instincts. In parallel to this we would have become so materialistic that we would gradually be destroying the environment in which we live in our hunger for power, money and resources. This was even the premise of a short lived series of stories in Thor (1986)by Marvel Comics which actually featured the Tuatha DeDanaan as the main characters, see image and this link for more details.

My friend feels that the current threat of hydraulic fracturing for gas in deep shale rock in Ireland may be the time for the Tuatha DeDanaan to somehow re-enter our consciousness so we can unite with them in solidarity to stop the destruction of both of our environments. Sliabh an Iarainn is the place where the Tuatha DeDanaan landed when they first arrived in ancient pre-history Ireland and Co. Leitrim is identified in the prophecy as the location for this awakening to begin. Sadly Co. Leitrim is also the main proposed centre for the shale gas industry to establish itself quietly before it spreads to other parts of the country. Perhaps a comic story could even spring from this idea too? (Stephen Rennicks)

French Wizards

While researching for the Guide I read in Ballinagleara and Inisgmagrath: The History and Traditions of Two Leitrim Parishes, of a French mining company that came to Sliabh an Iarainn (The Iron Mountain) in 1930. According to the book they had some financial backing from the State to prospect for iron deposits there in the hope of opening a mine and drilled boreholes at two locations (northern Slievenakilla and southern Stradrina).

There used to be a thriving iron industry in the region possibly from the Iron-age until the 1800’s with one furnace in Drumshanbo at what is still today known as Furnace Hill as well as one in Creevelea near Dromahair. Iron from Leitrim is known to have been used for the entrance canopy of Foyle’s Hotel in Clifden, Co. Galway as well as Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge. I spoke to a local historian about it and they knew the story behind the 1930 drilling and once I heard it knew the account belonged in the Guide.

He remembered his father telling him about the excitement at the time and promise of jobs and of the day the drilling rig appeared in Dowra from the boat in Belfast with its Welsh crew to begin its long slow journey along the same famine road which still stretches across the mountain today. The French representatives of the company who arrived soon after had quite good English but what they asked the locals about was more concerned with mythical stories of the Tuatha DeDanaan (who are said to have landed on the mountain in a cloud) and other legends to do with the mountain than likely places with iron deposits. They appeared to select their two drilling sites based on this mythical information but had, according to them, already been there before on a research trip.

On the day the drilling commenced they raised a few more eyebrows (including the local Roman Catholic parish priest) when they did a quasi religious ceremony complete with robes, much to the amusement of the rig crew and the curious locals that were expectantly watching. Then when the first core samples were retrieved it’s said they treated them with something more akin to sacred reverence rather than objective scientific appraisal. Since there was no on-site laboratory or even a geologist employed the crew had long suspected all was not what it seemed about the company they were working for but as long as they were being paid they weren’t too worried. However they did express these doubts privately to locals who they warned not to get their hopes up about a mine opening there anytime soon. After just a fortnight of activity with a number of test-cores from various depths also retrieved from the second site, the rig left the mountain and so did the French, never to return or be heard from again.

I was then told what his father had told him; that people of the time gradually came to feel that something else more intangible had also been taken from the mountain and the land around them since that time, which had also never returned. They began to realize that something eternal and of greater value than rock samples had been allowed to be snatched away from them for nothing. After a year this strange feeling persisted until the same parish priest who had un-approvingly witnessed the previous ceremony announced a special mass to be held on the mountain close to the two sites. During it he is said to have turned a blind eye to people who brought certain objects from an earlier, more pagan, time to be left as an offering to the scarred earth in the hope of healing the mountain. Whether it worked or not we don’t know but most of the people felt more reassured at least.

I realised this story could be seen to tie-in with the little known fact that mysterious rock core samples were found both in Hitler’s Berlin bunker and in the ruins of his Wolf’s Lair headquarters at the end of World War II. They were finally tested in the 1980’s and were thought most likely to be of Irish origin. He may have been using them as a talisman, but if they truly were the samples in question, how they would have come into his possession remains a mystery.  While occultism and the Nazi’s has become a staple of fantasy fiction they did actually have an SS division called the Ahnenerbe whose role was to research and gather up ancient religious relics and such like, who were active even before the outbreak of war. One of their interests was said to have been the suppression of the Irish harp in Ulster by the British but there is no evidence of them ever having been in Ireland. It struck me that this could also be where the local and up to now inexplicable saying, ‘French Wizards’, comes from. “There’s a bit of a French wizard about him.” is still said when someone is doing something out of the ordinary in this part of Leitrim. (Stephen Rennicks)

Approx location of drilling sites on map

Mobius Strip

The outline of Co. Leitrim forms the figure 8 pattern of a mobius strip with the crossover point of infinity located close to the northern tip of Lough Allen. This part of the lake has a Bermuda triangle like reputation for compass abnormalities, ship wrecks and at least one disappearance going back to ancient times. It had always been felt that something large and metallic lay at the bottom at the lake at this point and in 1955 a bathysphere was even sent down to explore. Visibility at that depth turned out to be very poor but some very unusual readings were said to be found which detected a very large magnetic and metallic object. It may have been a massive iron deposit which would not be unusual as Sliabh an Iarainn (The Iron Mountain) is right beside this. The most popular theory is that it may be a crashed alien vessel. The bathysphere did however run into problems of its own while exploring the mystery but its crew of one was simply pulled back up to safety. The craft had to be left at Cormongan pier while it was being fixed which is where this picture is said to have been taken from and was much later published along with an account of the event in the Leitrim Guardian of 1996. (Stephen Rennicks)

Location on map

Navigating Reality

Slieve Anierin (location on map)

A walk on Slieve Anierin and an encounter with a decaying sheep fleece led
me to ponder Nietzsche’s law of ‘the eternal recurrence of the same’. Not much
further along I realised that The Hitchhiker’s Guide and the I Ching are both
ways of navigating reality. When I got home I looked up Douglas Adams answer to
the meaning of life, the universe and everything, 42, and found its corresponding
hexagram in the I Ching, which translates as abundance. I decided to try
switching the numbers around and next looked up 24 whose hexagram means
returning. This brought me back to eternal recurrence again. From life and death
to boom and bust we are on a never ending cycle, always returning, even at the
height of our abundance. (Stephen Rennicks)

What Was it All For? No. 2

Slieve Anierin (location on map)

“What was it all for?”, a question posed by the late John McGahern which his followers are transmitting from various points within the county for the universal mind to ponder or Deep Thought to compute. This location is the peak (585 metres) of Slieve Anierin (The Iron Mountain) which according to ancient Irish legend is where the Tuatha DeDanann landed. (Stephen Rennicks)