When a new year starts with the realisation that, what was perceived as Grianan of Aileach until now and since the 1830’s, is not the circular structure on top of Greenan Hill but underneath the meagre remains of an old O’Doherty castle at Eleaghmore a few miles away, then one may wonder, what the remaining days of this year could possibly bring.
And it does leave the most important place on earth to me without a name.
Many names were given to a place of power and kings, destined to rule this island and change the course of its history. Amongst those names:
Ailech na Rig
All apply, so it seems, to one place alone, a mighty ringfort “Set on a narrow neck of land With seas to either hand” and a “noble lime house”, a “castle of limewashed […](?) walls“. – Aileach Mor, todays Eleaghmore.
The place I go to frequently is set on a narrow neck of land with seas to either hand, but had no man made lime to cover the outside of its walls at any given time.
Nor would this place ever accommodate anything bigger than a family farmstead. The inside barely equals the floorspace of todays narrow restriction of council housing. Even if the outer ramparts are taken into account, which even in its heyday would have been laughable in a military sense as defence mechanism, the available space does not allow for more than a good sized farm with a few outbuildings for storage. But for what purpose would anyone have had a farmstead built on such unique and magnificent spot, overlooking a significant part of the land, if there are surely more practical and less seasonal depending spots as far as cold temperature and strong winds are concerned.
Some months ago I finally got to read Dr. Brian Lacy’s contribution to the Donegal Annual in the 1980’s. In it he mentions the return of Muircertach of the Leather Cloaks from his winter circuit of Ireland (( hostage taking, cattle raiding etc). As he reached Aileach on his return with his hostages plus additional luggage and one thousand warmly clothed warriors, who where crucial to mount such ordeal in the first place, a feast was instigated at Aileach in the beginning of 942 AD, at a time the Aileach in question would have been firmly in the hands of Cenel Eogain as their seat of power and a palace of their residence, with “ten score hogs, ten score cows and two hundred oxen …’. ‘Three score vats of curdes’ and a ‘sufficiency of cheering mead banished the hungry look of the army’ and the hostage kings.”
Not only do I find it difficult to imagine this amount of people on such a small hilltop as the one occupying the site known currently as Grianan of Aileach. There is no sufficient space on this top, I have found so far, nor in its surroundings, which could possible accommodate such feast, which probably lasted for days. Not only is there no space to collect such amount of food as in two hundred oxen and the space to prepare, I also would contest that there is nothing on this hilltop to host such an enterprise, as a banqueting hall, without having your plate on your knees, your muscles of your behind and your legs firmly concentrated on preventing you to slope, always so slightly, and I can not help thinking that those thousand strong warriors, eating and drinking, had nowhere to go to relieve themselves during this feast, than the very spot they sat on. I have no doubt in my mind, that out of practical experience, they would have been very well aware of the fact that you do not share immediate food consumption or preparation of such and places of retirement for sleep with areas of relieve of the very fertile but nevertheless poisonous if not lethal product of such exercise if in close proximity to the above. Besides, it would have created some considerable amount of stink , if exercised within this very confined facility, despite the “lofty” location of this spot.
There are other doubts which concern the layout of the gate and the platforms. And that everything about it screams place of worship, meeting place and perfect for courts.
There is this place of great importance, the guardian of the northern island, with no name to call nor memory to revoke.
What a beginning indeed.