Sunday, 9 April 2017

Walking the path of the Ancestors.

The beautiful spring morning called me to take to the road in search of adventure. 

I decided to travel to Roscommon after seeing pictures of an impressive dolmen in the south of the county but I had no idea that my destination would prove so exciting.

The first hint I had that this was to be a remarkable journey came with an Ice-House built into 
a bank next to the small, twisting road.

Ice-Houses were small stone built spaces used to store and preserve meat. 
During winter the floor and walls would be packed with ice blocks made from hard snow, the meat wrapped in large leaves then placed inside. More ice was added and when filled to capacity the door to the house was sealed with a large flagstone.

Artists reconstruction of a Fulacht Fiadh from the OPW.

During excavations, prior to building the nearby motorway, two Fulacht Fiadh, ancient cooking places, were also discovered and it is believed that this area was home to groups of Neolithic people. 

As I parked a profusion of blackthorn blossom nearby hinted at the enchantment to follow.

A sign post and carved stone pointed the way to Meehambee Dolmen, which takes it’s name 
from the townland of Mihanboy, Meathán Buí, 'yellow meadow’.

To reach the dolmen visitors walk down ‘The Bridle Path’ which was restored by the Drum Heritage Group after local people successfully petitioned the National Roads Authority to reprieve the area. 
Constructing the M6 motorway would have destroyed this site and today the new road passes close by but curves around the hidden treasure.

The Bridle Path is three feet wide allowing for passage by people on foot or on horse back. 
Local folklore suggests that it once served as a direct route to the West of Ireland. 

The path itself is ancient, cut into an embankment by digging away tons of earth and rock. 
Large boulders and stones were used to construct the boundary walls, now green with lichen 
and moss. 

Whitethorn and ivy intertwine to arch across the path.

I could envisage this pathway filled with a procession of people carrying the remains of their dead down to the Dolmen near the river.
Walking in their footsteps I was surrounded by the scent of Ransoms, wild garlic and this area was known by locals for years as ‘The Garlic Patch’. 

Ransoms were used as a deterrent to ward off evil spirits when placed over an entrance door. 
Before antibiotics were created they were an effective medical and veterinary treatment for many ailments as well as being used in cooking.

The path twists past Lios a’ Dreoilin, Fort of the Wrens. 

This early settlement is now marked by a grove of trees and what appears to be the remaining boulders of the wall which contained the small fortress.
Standing beneath the branches it is easy to imagine people gathering inside their home telling tales around the open hearth.

Today Lios a’ Dreoilin is believed to be a home to the Good People and misfortune will fall upon 
any who harm the trees and bushes here.

Further on the path ends by the gentle waters of Abhainn na Crannai, the Cross River, where a natural ford leads to the west.
The heart of this place was very near as I left the river and wandered through trees, shadows and violets.

And as I got closer sunlight broke through to cover the clearing in green velvet.

Meehambee dolmen dates to around 3,5000 BCE and was built either to house the remains of a leader or as a collective burial site for several people during Neolithic times. 

The back stone has collapsed due to the weight of the massive limestone cap, weighing about 22 tons, which originally would have stood on six upright stones.

The remains of cairn material and scattered boulders around the area hint at other features which were once part of this sacred landscape. 
Two stone axe heads were discovered by children playing at Meehambee, however the Dolmen has never been excavated.

Folklore warns that interfering with Giant Lobby’s Rock will bring bad luck on all those concerned.

Entranced by stones, sunshine and the scent of ramsons, I thought of the time-worn rituals of 
burying and honouring the dead. 
Who were the people who stood here? What were their customs?
Did they mourn or celebrate the passing of their own into another life?

I finally left the magic of Meehambee and as I climbed the path I felt I was leaving behind a truly sacred space.
A place of journeys - from east to west, from this world to the next, a place where, even today, 
we are only a step away from the past.