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Monday, June 23, 2008

Summer Solstice 2008

Saturday 21st June, 6pm, Rathcroghan Co. Roscommon

A community celebration of the first (official!) day of Summer, hosted by the Cruachan Heritage Centre, took place on Saturday 21st June, the Summer Solstice.

Cruachan organized a procession and Fire performance display to entertain and educate, while respecting the importance and integrity of one of the oldest and best preserved of Celtic sites in Europe.

Considering the day's rain, there was a respectable number of attendees gathered in the car park off the main N5 Tulsk to Westport road, at 6pm. Families were very welcome, and it was lovely to see the interest of so many kids and teenagers. The ages ranged from a very excited 2 year old with a disturbingly accurate talent for wielding his plastic sword (ouch!), to a rather more solemn 16 year old who graciously consented to appear in full Gaelic garb.

On this day, the daytime hours are at a maximum, and darkness is at a minimum. In times gone by, communities gathered to celebrate the sun at its strongest on this day; in the hope that the light, heat and fiery influence would spread across the land and carry on through the coming months. It is officially the first day of summer, but is referred to as Midsummer because it is roughly the middle of the growing season throughout much of Europe.

Rathcroghan main mound is considered by archaeologists to have been a major assembly point, most probably used for ceremonial purposes, and is well known as the Celtic Royal site at the heart of ancient Connaught. Midsummer is one of the four Irish Quarter days that divide the official calendar. Many towns and cities have 'Midsummer Carnivals' with fairs, concerts and fireworks either on or on the weekend nearest to Midsummer. In some rural spots, bonfires are occasionally lit on hilltops.

Of course, there were no bonfires lit on this hilltop, but the torches carried by attendees were enough to lend the energy of live fire. This was even before the fabulous addition by Fran De'Venney, in full Gaelic warrior battle dress, of the 'Faol Lia' Performing Theatre Group.

Starting in the car park, attendees processed across the ground to the sound of a walking drumbeat and the chant of Samhradh - the Irish word for Summer. After the base of the mound was encircled, we entered by the Eastern indent, and circled the hill top twice Deiseal (clockwise, or 'sunwise' in the old literature) , ending in a loose ring around the central point.

From here, with his double ended fire staff ablaze and twirling, Fran encouraged the heat and life force of the sun at its height, represented by the Fire he wields, out to each of the four Provinces of Ireland. He made reference as Gaeilge to the traditional attributes of each, according to the literary source 'The Settling of the Manor at Tara' (Prosperity to the East, Wisdom to the West, Music to the South... substituting Warrior Courage for the too oft repeated Battle, to the North), and the ideal of Sovereignty and Kingship in the Centre. As the centre is wherever you are standing, and Cruachan has long held reputation as the sacred centre for the burial and inauguration of Kings (yes, even before Tara!), this all seemed particularly appropriate. As did leaving by the Western indent, trouping past the thistles and the sheep carcass that so horrified and yet delighted the children!

It was great to see enthusiastic community participation at a time and place that would have been such an important annual focal point to our ancestors. Also great was the fact that although we were blustered at and misted on, the deluges apparent countrywide over the height of summer weekend held off long enough for us to salute the sun. Hopefully it will herald more sun to come!


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Discovery Programme 2008 Week 3

What an educating week, after watching the guys getting back down to last years levels I finally got the chance to spend a week on site trowelling. The first thing I learned is that life is not always fair.

I was helping a guy called Duggan in a slot trench for a couple of days. Various layer changes were coming to light as well as a possible early christian boundary but there were no artifacts showing up in the material.

Wouldn't you know it, Duggan flew back to the States and the next day I uncovered a possible copper fastener and Jenny who was also in the trench found a really nice flint thumb scraper; hard luck Duggan, still if you had not sweated to create the trench we would not have found the artifacts.

There are a wide variety of pieces coming to light including a myriad of animal bones that were used as fill, antlers, lots of slag from an area probably used for metalworking, bone needles and buttons, coins and much much more.
Along with the artifacts building boundaries continue to be exposed, so the Discovery Programme are starting to get a really comprehensive picture of the way the building morphed over its lifetime.

Lets hope that the weather is kind to us next week and further progress is made otherwise I will be using the flooded slot trench to improve my front crawl.

Cheers for now.

Mike Croghan

Monday, June 2, 2008

Discovery Programme Week 1 Day 1

So this is it. The discovery team are now removing the back fill with loving care and attention.

They are still at the stage of shovels, mattocks and wheel barrows, but the tarp that was draped over the site at the end of last season is now in view.

The weather is perfect for the job (unless you happen to be the one digger who is currently sweating Guinness), and looks set to hold for the next few days.

Stay tuned for the next update and hopefully towards the end of the week there will be photos to browse.

Enjoy the bank holiday.

Mike Croghan