Monday, October 31, 2022

The birthplace of the pre-Christian festival of Samhain, known today as Halloween is said by some to be a cave in the west referred to as Ireland’s ‘Gate to hell’.
The major archaeological ancient site Oweynagat (Cave of the Cats), near Rathcroghan in county Roscommon, has been compared by some to the famous burial sites at Newgrange in terms of its significance.
Rathcroghan or Cruachan Aí was previously called the ancient capital of Connacht and there are 240 notable sites which date back 5,500 years.


It has been said that ancient Celts believed the vast, murky cave, which stretches 37-metres or 121 feet underground is a doorway to the other world.
Local archaeologist and historian Daniel Curley, who has a master’s in medieval studies from NUI Galway, said that people once believed the transition of seasons from autumn to winter led to a spiritual shift.
“At least as long as 2,000 years ago locals believed that the gate between the worlds opened on 31 October.
“Monsters and manifestations would emerge, led by the goddess Morríghan, to create a world ready for winter, including birds with foul breath that would strip leaves from trees.
“Locals would stay indoors in fear of being dragged into the other world when the ghouls had finished ravaging the land.
“If you had to go outside you wore a costume and mask to look hideous.
“That way you would be left alone and not dragged into the otherworld,” he told the BBC.
The cave and archaeological site are hidden away in a field full of sheep.
The tradition of Halloween has changed drastically since medieval times but the wearing of masks, costumes and tales of spirits and ghouls continues to intrigue younger and older generations.
However, Rathcroghan in Roscommon is not the only region in Ireland that claims to be the location where Halloween originated.
Historian Geoffrey Keating wrote about the feast of Samhain and he referred to a fierce fire on a hill in Meath as being a focal point of the celebration.
Eight years ago, archaeologists discovered evidence of extreme and intense burning at Tlachtga – the Hill of Ward -which they believe dates back to 500AD
The Celtic feast of Samhain was a major event and it started at sunset on 31 October and continued until sunset on 1 November.
According to tradition, all fires were extinguished and put out across the country on Samhain Eve until a huge central bonfire was lit to mark the start of the festival.

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