Story Archaeology

Uncovering the layers of Irish Mythology through a regular podcast and related articles.

Uaimh na gCait (Oweynagat)

The Cave of the Cats

Taken from a personal journal entry after an early visit to the cavecave of the cat

…..“There it is, by that house” and we tumble out of the car into the everlasting drizzle. The cave of Cruachán was said to be the most notorious otherworld entrance in legend. From here the Morrigan emerged each Samhain, and here she once appeared in her chariot, crimson-cloaked, leading the heifer to the brown bull of Cuailnge. This was the gate that loosed various plagues of otherworld beings into the outer worlds, and here Neera began his quest into the hollow hills.

At first sight the way in is not impressive. The opening is low and positioned under a small track. But there is a great stone lintel overhung by a verdant hawthorn and the entrance is open.

I have been inside before and know that the path is easier than it looks, although very muddy. However, last time I had no light and could only go so far. Now I have a torch in my hand. I see that the others are hesitating at the low opening and the depth of the mud, and so I dive right in.

“Come on,” I say from deep down the passage. “It is not difficult.”

My hand slips deep into the mud and squelches into my boots. I try not to remember that the friend who follows me is six foot four.

Now I can see the descending passage clearly. It is a rectangular tunnel well lined with cut stone, even if the floor is dripping with soft mud after the prolific rain. It dips steeply, and then ahead there are stone steps cutting down to a lintelled doorway of dressed stone. Behind it stretches suddenly a great natural cavern, water-washed and wild. It is leaf-shaped and high.

Carefully, watching each step, my companions enter through the portal and we stand together in the cavern.

inside caveWe hold our breath as the cave seems to reverberate around us. Much further along the cave, the floor rises suddenly into a rounded cascade of muddied stone, leaving only a dark opening below the ceiling. It might be possible to scramble up to that crack, but not now. We do not move, for this place is silent and disturbing.

I would like to experience the darkness, so I warn my young daughter that I am going to turn off the torch. She doesn’t mind. The warm blackness cloaks us, and around me I hear a rushing like many voices whispering, and I can almost hear words.

“Be strong and dream, for there is nothing but the dream. You must be born into darkness, and there is nothing in the darkness except the dream. Dream of starlight and the wind on the waters. Dream of warmth and the stirring of the breath. Dream of light and the rising of the sun. Dream in strength and power, for as you dream you create the world anew. Breathe the dream and awaken, for when you return to the world above, you will discover that you have dreamed true.”

This is a thought to take back to the light of day.

It is time to leave. With renewed light, we hand each other through the gate and up into the stone passage, and scramble crouching in the mud towards the lightful world. The mist around us as we leave is thicker. It swirls in the torch-beam, patterning the path. And then we are out, mud-smeared, into the falling rain. We both spontaneously raise our arms to the sky and stretch our exhilaration to the scattering water drops. …..

The ‘Morrigan’ is a much maligned figure in Celtic story. If you have listened to the podcast, you will know that we see her as the inspired poet, the one who stands at the crossroads with a clear view, and like all who carry clarity, she may represent a challenge.

Chris Thompson

And NOW…

I almost wish I had one of those annoying pop-ups that tell you that you do not want to leave the page yet. Well, here it is.

Please do not leave this page without clicking on the link to Crúachán Aí.

  1. Cruchan Ai is one of the most important archaeological sites in Ireland, and the other end of the story that begins at Macha’s Navan Fort
  2. The interpretive centre is a lively and informative way of discovering information about a site that extends over several kilometres.
  3. On the history and heritage page, you will find a “real time” video of a visit into Oweynagat, “The Cave of the Cats”, frequently referred to as the “hellmouth” of Ireland.

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