A suspect for the hill

Around two weeks ago I came across an ancient name of a hill in Inishowen situated between Loughs Foyle and Swilly, called Crommal or Cromla. Theoretically all hills on Inishowen, except for those at Malin, lay between the two loughs, but this description is commonly used for the narrow neck which forms the connection between Inishowen and the rest of this island, incorporating two hill-ranges divided by a gorge. The highest point on the Foyle facing range is Cnoc Énna, now Holywell Hill, and on the Swilly side this point would be Greenan.

In 1786 a rather eccentrically ambitious Colonel Charles Vallancey, of the Royal Engineers, published his third volume of the Collectanea de rebus hibernicis. On page 322 I found the following entry:


or Crommal, a mountain or hill between Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly. From the eastern side of this mountain proceeded the river Lubar, called by the Irish Bredagh; and from the western, the Lavath, near the source of which on the declivity of the mountain was the cave of Cluna, where resided Ferad Artho, and the bard Condan, after the murder of Cormac Mc. Art, his nephew. During the middle ages, we find it denominated Cruachan Achuil, or Mount Eagle. It seems to have obtained the name of Mount Cromla or Crommal, that is the mountain of Fate or Destiny, from having an altar or cave, dedicated to Fate or Providence, called by the ancient inhabitants of these islands, Crom; whence Cromla, a place of worship, and Crommal a place of destiny. In the neighbourhood of Cromla, stood the rath or fortress of Tura, called by the Irish writers Ailich Neid, celebrated by all the ancient Irish histories, as the principal residence of the northern kings of Ulster. See Tura, Moilena, Leana Loch and Aileach.

O’Connor’s Dissert. p. 96.

There are a few difficulties with his description. Maps of Inishowen from the seventeenth century experienced some considerable problems with our hills. Since the heart of Inishowen, as well as its neck, is made of stone (hills and mountains), this is shown as an array of them without any count of how many hills compose a certain hill range, never mind their names. Mount Cromla seems to be marked on Beaufort’s Map, which may be eighteenth century. The river Bredagh still holds this name and is located at Moville, flowing into Lough Foyle and taking its name from an ancient division, occupying the north/north-east part of Inishowen , called An Bhréadach. The source of the river is on the eastern side of a hill called Crocknageeha. Below its western slope originates a river called now the Long Glen, discharging itself at the mouth of Lough Swilly, into the same small bay, Kinnagoe Bay, where the vessel La Trinidad Valencia sunk. It is possible that there is nearby an undiscovered souterrain, which would have been named a cave at the time. Lavath, as mentioned, is listed on page 374 in his work;

from Labh ath, the swallow water; a river which issues from the western declivity of Mount Crommal, and falls into Lough Swilly.

Aileach Neid (Aileach Mor and Grianán), at the southern end of Inishowen, is some considerable distance away from this location. Even travelling today, the conclusion of being in the neighbourhood of this place, would not be a natural choise by anyone living here. Cruachan Achuil, or Mount Eagle is to my knowledge not identified with any hill or mountain on the peninsula, but the dominating mountain on Inishowen is Sliabh Sneachta, visible from Grianán in the distance. In Maghtochair’s book of Inishowen the discovery of ‘caves at the base of Greinan Hill’ in 1838 by Mr. and Mrs Hall is mentioned, a souterrain, containing of three chambers and high enough to stand upright.

Leana Loch is the name given to Lough Foyle in Vallancey’s book and Moilena is the plain of fea, situated in the district of Inishowen, near Lough Foyle.

Fea was one of the wives of Neid of Aileach (see Sunsets at Grianán).

I could not find Tura at all and I never heard of this name being given to Aileach Neid or any other rath or fortress in Inishowen. There is not even an entry for it in Vallancy’s book. But I have no doubt in my mind that what is standing on top of Greenan Hill is a temple and place of assembly. It has the true Aileach/Aileach Mor within a two hours walk and even an ancient road leading from its gate towards the castle.

Only one relic of worship seems to remain of Crom and it consists of a gold figure surrounded by twelve stone figures. Crom’s worship was abolished by Patrick but he may have been more a fertility god (harvest) than a savage one with human sacrifices. A tumulus was found at Grianan between the second and the third rampart consisting of a centre stone with ten stones placed around it. The tumulus was found empty and unworthy of further recording, subsequently destroyed, even the heap of stones, mentioned by Dr. Brian Lacy in the Archaeological Survey of County Donegal from 1983, has disappeared now. I am aware that I am two stones short and my centre piece is not made of gold. There is also a shortage of the two rivers mentioned and I only can presume that their origin would have been near the foot of the hill, an area which has been drastically drained and reshaped through land reclamation in the last four centuries on both the Swilly and the Foyle side. But for the moment CROMMAL/CROMLA  is my main suspect for the hill.

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