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Visit & Experience Stories

The Devil, a Goddess and a High King

Wild imaginations and captivating legends are never too far away when peeling back the mysterious layers of Ireland's history.

Ireland's Ancient East stretches across 17 counties, taking in windswept coastlines and secluded, spiritual hideaways. From Cavan to Kilkenny and Longford to Tipperary, there is a multitude of locations to explore and to scratch that historical itch.

There are over 30,000 castles in Ireland, containing myths and stories that pervade across the centuries, with our ancient past indelibly written inside every stone.

Legend has it that after St Patrick banished him, the Devil took a bite out of a local mountain and spat that mouthful of rock back out - this became the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary. The Kings of Munster ruled from here for generations, before Brian Boru, a rival king who would ultimately become High King of Ireland, captured it in the 10th century.

The Rock of Dunamase in County Laois today lies in ruins but was once home to Aoife, the daughter of the King of Leinster, and her husband the famed Norman knight Strongbow.

Legend has it that after St Patrick banished him, the Devil took a bite out of a local mountain and spat the rock back out.

Certain hills in Ireland also hold great significance.

The Hill of Uisneach in County Westmeath is said to mark the centre of Ireland, with 20 counties visible from the top. The hill is a sacred place as the earth goddess Ériu and the sun god Lugh are said to be buried underneath it. Ireland, after all, got its name from Ériu.

Bealtaine is one of the four seasonal Gaelic festivals and falls on May 1. Marking the beginning of summer, feasts would be held and bonfires were traditionally lit to protect cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Other customs such as rolling in the morning dew to increase attractiveness and youthfulness (!) were common too. Nowadays, a Fire Festival takes place at Uisneach with music, dance and a lively fire parade.

The Hill of Tara in nearby County Meath was the seat of the Irish High Kings and is at least 5,000 years old. Records from the 7th century detail that when a new High King was anointed there, they had to drink ale and symbolically marry the goddess Medb, or Maebh.

The festival of Samhain, the precursor to modern Hallowe'en, was marked here to herald the end of the harvest and beginning of winter. Taking place at the end of October since at least the 10th century, the spirits or fairies known as Aos Sí, could more easily cross into our world from the Otherworld during this time. Food and drink was left out to appease them and during feasts, a place was set at the table for the souls of the dead. Costumes were also worn when calling to people's doors asking for food, just likes its modern equivalent trick or treating. To this day, many Samhain rituals live on among Irish people, including serving a brack cake with a ring or coin inside to predict future fortunes.

Source: Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Ireland's Ancient East