The Hill of Uisneach is a thin place – one of those many luminal places in Ireland where the two worlds – physical and eternal – are fused together. It is an ideal site for being spiritually enriched by doing a walking meditation.
Few would realize as they drive along R 390 between Mullingar and Athlone, that they are passing through one of the most mystical places in all of Ireland – the mythological center of Ireland from where an ancient boulder marks the spot where all of the five provinces originate and come together… and beneath that boulder lies the goddess, Ériu, daughter of Ernmas of the Tuatha Dé Danann, earth mother of Ireland – and from whom Ireland takes its name – Eire or Erin.
From the pinnacle of the Hill of Uisneach, they say a person can see 20 counties. The Irish are always full of superlatives when they describe their archaeological treasures, but I will admit, the views are from that pinnacle – also known as St. Patrick’s Bed – are some of the most stunning I’ve seen in all my travels. The light seems to be different at Uisneach. The energy is riveting on this hill and its surrounds. And moving across this curvy greenscape of Uisneach dotted with stones, brush and lone hawthorn trees, one can see that it is a ripe setting for walking meditation.
I learned about the process of Walking Mediation from my friend – and Brittany expert, Wendy Mewes. She does walking meditations with group tours that come to Brittany. The process that Wendy described is done completely in silence – even in a group. No one talks for the duration of the walk – perhaps 20 minutes.
As the walk begins, one focuses on the act of walking, moving through the landscape, being mindful of the body and the process of walking. Then one becomes mindful of the surrounding life force, noticing it in all living things around…sensing the force.. noticing that every living thing is charged with that divine presence, the presence of the creator – the great spirit – the source of all life and energy.
The third step of the walking meditation is to connect the two – your own life force with that of what surrounds you. What do the trees, the grass, the sky, the stones tell you? What do you hear from them? What do you learn from them? What are you sensing?
Sometimes, when the walking meditation is over, those on the walk discuss the experience and share what they learned, felt, were moved by, etc.
One can become totally consumed in mediation on Uisneach. The energy is overwhelming, and one can lose a sense of time and placement in the physical world. It’s no wonder that the ancients chose this spot for communal, spiritual practices. The Hill and its stories are tied to a tradition of spiritual power, rituals, traditions and mystical occurrences. It is one of Ireland’s most sacred sites.
Uisneach is said to be the spiritual and mythological center of Ireland – the Axis Mundi – Ireland’s naval – the joining point where all of the provinces come together in the center of the country, as well as the joining point between two worlds – the mystical and the physical. Archeological excavations show that Uisneach was likely a fire ritual site – a large one – a place where many people came together and celebrated the feast of Bealtaine.
On the slope of the hill is Uisneach’s most famous landmark. The Aill na Mireann – meaning the stone of divisions, also known as the Catstone (so named because it resembles a crouching cat). This 30-ton limestone boulder that stands 16 feet high sits solitary on the lonely hillside. It was believed to not only mark the intersection of all five of Ireland’s provinces, it’s also said to mark the grave of Ériu, the mother goddess of Ireland, the one whom Ireland – Eire – is named for.
Uisneach was also said to be the site of one of the five great trees of Ireland – The Uisneach Ash – planted by Fintan the Seer who is said to have divided Ireland into its provinces with the stone at the dividing point – calling for there to be knowledge in the west, battle in the north, prosperity in the east and music in the south with royalty in the center. The Stone of Divisions. Since the stone touches every province, it also shares each province’s virtues. Thus we have the concept of all provinces meeting at Uisneach, and it being the mystical and mythological center of Ireland.
There have been people tracking ley lines throughout Ireland who see a common pattern with many lines leading to Uisneach. High Kings were once crowned at Uisneach before the Hill of Tara became the royal center for the country. So the legendary mystical character of the site goes back thousands of years.
There is a small (some believe enchanted) lake on the hill dedicated to Lugh, a member of the Tuatha Dé Dannan also known as the sun or harvest god. Legend states that Lugh battled with his brother on this hill and was drowned in the lake and buried under a nearby mound. Some believe the lake is enchanted.
Not too far from Lugh’s Lake is the foundation of the old palace that sat atop the hill. Located in one on those grounds is another stone – nicknamed “the money stone.” It’s short and appears to have petrified wood drilled into it. The stone has amazing energy, and if you place your hand a few inches away from it, you can sometimes feel the energy coming off of it in the form of heat or a vibration. Using dowsing rods on the hill, we found the magnetic pull coming – not from the Catstone, but from the money stone. I’ve not been able to trace the origin of the name of that stone but can encourage people to seek it out.
Considering the ancient fire rituals, royal traditions, legends of the goddess, the Capstone, Money stone and enchanted lake, Uisneach is truly a mythological mecca for those who seek out thin places. A walking meditation here, is powerful food for the spirit.
Guest blogger for this post is Mike Croghan, owner of Rathcroghan Tours. He’s from Bellanagare in County Roscommon. Mike is an artist as well as a guide will be leading our group through the Rathcroghan sites on day 6 of the Thin Places 2012 tour.
I’m the luckiest man in the world – I really am, I’m a Croghan and I live on Rathcroghan.
To those who may not have heard of Rathcroghan (that would be 99.9% ), it is one of Ireland’s greatest hidden gems, a landscape that is both physical and mystical, the Tara of the west, home to the goddess Medb, the epicenter for Celtic spirituality……and more.
I clearly remember sitting at the window looking over at a nearby hill whilst eating my dinner – I was 7 years old. What had my attention was a ring fort on the hill top, I can remember wondering what it was before turning my attention back to the spuds.
Over 40 years later I still wonder about that ring fort, what was it used for, why was it placed there, who lived there; my problem is that I am asking the same question about the other 140 monuments on Rathcroghan and it has taken over my life. You see Rathcroghan has the highest density of earthworks in Europe and they sit on the landscape, untouched in their original state teasing me with their enigmatic presence.
The monuments are wrapped in myths and legends, some are named after long dead kings or heroes, others hold the secrets to the otherworld, more have names associated with ancient tales and stories.
For the archaeologist Rathcroghan is a gold mine of monuments dating from as far back as the Neolithic period all the way through the bronze age, iron age, right through the medieval periods to today, so many different styles of monument – raths, cairns, barrows, ring forts, ceremonial mounds, caves and standing stones.
If you approach Rathcroghan as a spiritual pilgrim looking for a connection then you have hit the mother load. The integrity of this landscape has remained intact over the millennia as have the energies within the land. In fact the area only really makes sense when viewed as a ritual landscape.
While other Celtic capitals hit the headlines and receive thousands of visitors each year Rathcroghan sits and waits for the inquisitive pilgrims to search it out, allowing only the true path walker to find it, this may sound poncy but it really is true.
The greatest thrill for me is to be able to introduce these seekers to the area and let them see for themselves just how special the area is, as I said, I’m the luckiest man in the world.
And I still love the spuds.
Learn more about Rathcroghan at Mike’s website – Rathcroghan Tours. His website includes some video and audio with photographs and text. It’s a great resource for those wanting to know more about this remarkable complex of sites.