Hill of Uisneach
An ancient ceremonial site and the mythological centre of Ireland, the Hill of Uisneach is one of the most sacred and historic sanctuaries in the world. Although it stands just 596ft above sea level, the summit of Uisneach commands extensive panoramic views over the central plain, with no less than twenty counties visible on the horizon.
The roots of Uisneach lie beyond recorded history but its surviving monuments and relics range in date from the Neolithic, early Bronze Age to the medieval period, indicating human activity spanning some five millennia. Uisneach is the burial site of the Earth Goddess Ériu, the founder of Ireland and the Sun God Lugh. The 'Catstone', a huge weathered limestone boulder under which Eriu is buried symbolises Ireland united in its divisions and is the most famous of over forty surviving features on Uisneach.
Uisneach became the seat of the High Kings in later years and ancient texts state it became customary for the claimant to the high throne of Ireland to ‘marry’ Ireland’s founder Ériu at a ceremony on Uisneach. It was said in ancient times that Uisneach divided Ireland into ‘knowledge in the West, battle in the North, prosperity in the East, music in the South and Royalty at the Centre.’
When Tara later became the seat of the High Kings, Uisneach was still the royal centre of Ireland; the meeting point of the ancient provinces where laws were struck and divisions agreed. It was linked to Tara by a ceremonial road, a section of which remains today.
One of the most enduring legends of Uisneach is that it was the location for the first great fire to be lit in Ireland. To usher in the first dawn of summer in May, the Uisneach hearth burned biggest and brightest of all; visible to over a quarter of Ireland. Hearths were extinguished in every Irish home and fireplace in the country, in anticipation of a new flame from Uisneach’s Bealtaine fire. It must have been an extraordinary sight, with the country plunged into utter darkness ahead of this sacred festival. Using the flame from Uisneach, fires were then ignited on the other sacred hills of Ireland. When lit they created a unique ‘fire eye’ over the island, ushering in an entire summer of sunshine.
As the centuries progressed, the great fire became the catalyst for the Bealtaine festival, an annual gathering and fair at Uisneach that continued to early modern times. As well as continuing to feature a giant bonfire, goods were exchanged and gifts offered to the Gods. It was often the first chance of the year for neighbours to greet each other after a long and often times bitter winter and great celebrations ensued, not only at Uisneach but throughout the country. Feasting, dancing, music, tournaments and trade were all avidly partaken in as the festival proceeded. It became customary to drive cattle through two fires as a preservative to shield them from diseases and accidents.
Guided tours are available from passionate local guides who will bring you through a fascinating journey into the spiritual past of ancient Ireland.