A short circuit of the feast at Aileach

I could have sworn I walked over the ground today where the banqueting hall of this feast once stood:

The kings of Erin in fetters,

With Muircheartach son of warlike Niall,

Ten hundred heroes of distinguished valour

Of the race of the fierce fair Eoghan.

The Son of the living God was pleased

With Muircheartach, the son of Niall;

Long in possession of the sovereignty of Banba

Be the descendant of Neill Frossaigh , the most valiant.

The noble kings were attended

According to the pleasure of the race of Niall,

Without sorrow, without gloom in the house,

As if they had been clerics.

Ten score hogs – no small work, –

Ten score cows, two hundred oxen,

Were slaughtered at the festive Aileach,

For Muircheartach of the great fetters.

Three score vats of curds,

Which banished the hungry look of the army,

With a sufficiency of cheering mead

Were given by the magnanimous Muircheartach.

Twelve vats of choice mead

Were given to the kings of Ereann,

The dinner of an hundred of each kind of food, nobly

Was given gratuitously to them from the Queen.

From The circuit of Ireland by Muircheartach mac Néill (in Irish)

This is so far the only translation I could find. The feast took place at the end of winter beginning of spring in 942. The site is east/north-east of the ruin of the O Dochartaigh Castle at Aileach Mor, below the remains of a impressive farm. All the fields in the vicinity have stone walls. And there are so many of it. Most of the fields have been cleared beyond hope of any features over the last centuries. Robert, the farmer I talked to, said, that he didn’t know who built the stone walls and that he doesn’t believe it either, that all the stones were taken out of the fields. The overall size of the complex of the royal seat must have been enormous. Tara comes to mind. Aileach had no mound of hostages but a house for them. Both sites had a banqueting hall, fit for a of thousand warriors.

Just outside the boundary of White Oaks, a Christian centre, seem to be the remains of a Stone Age burial site. Two earthen, circular structures at Dundrean, which, most likely where supporting raths to the royal site, used to be just beside it. Another one was just across the bog, now the Buncrana Road, connecting Bridgend with Derry, at Bunnamayne. There might have been at least one more, covering the rear, towards what is now Culmore. The rest is pretty much sheltered by a hill range and the gap between seems to have been to some amount bog on the 1661 map. But as I said before, no hope really, of finding any trace of these places today. But a magnificent spot is there, no doubt, fit for a king.

The visibility, higher you go up the hillocks, covers the penetrations of the Atlantic, called Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle, much more intimate, than it does from the distance of the circular structure on top of what is now called Greenan Hill. And the space available does by no stretch of imagination cover what would be needed to accommodate besides 1000 warriors, several hostage kings, “Ten score cows, two hundred oxen,” and most importantly the sleeping and toilet arrangements for a feast like this.


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