County Donegal, Ireland

Sunday, May 20, 2012: Grianan of Aileach

The Grianan of Aileach was what led me to choose this area for part of our visit. I knew that the O’Neills were one of the great Irish families; in fact, they are one of the few families that the banshee cries for at their deaths. From the Wikipedia article: “Legend has it that for five great Gaelic families — the O’Gradys, the O’Neills, the Ó Briains, the Ó Conchobhairs, and the Caomhánachs — the lament would be sung by a fairy woman; having foresight, she would sing the lament when a family member died, even if the person had died far away and news of their death had not yet come, so that the wailing of the banshee was the first warning the household had of the death.”

I found out in my research that the Grianan of Aileach was important in the history of the O’Neill clan, so I figured why not make this one focus of our trip? The story of this place is far from simple, though. There is much controversy about its restoration and history and new evidence continues to come to light that it may have begun as a site much like the one at Newgrange.

I copied this from the sign at the site.

“This large stone-walled fort, located on a hilltop commanding views over Loughs Foyle and Swilly and counties Donegal, Derry, and Tyrone, was the royal citadel of the northern Uí Néill from the 5th to the 12th century. It was probably built some time around the birth of Christ. Its builders may have been attracted to this hilltop site by the presence here of a sacred monument – a prehistoric burial mound or tumulus, possibly from the Neolithic period (about 3000 BC).

“A lintelled passage through the 4.5m thick wall leads to the interior where the wall rises in three terraces to a height of about 5m; there are also two long passages contained within the thickness of the wall. Substantial restoration work was carried out in 1870. We know little about the three earthen banks which circle the Grianan, but they could be part of an earlier Bronze Age or Iron Age hillfort. The trackway running through these banks and leading to the fort is believed to be an ancient roadway.”

I plan to keep up with the new archaeological theories and findings about Grianan of Aileach. But, we went there for the first party on the site in centuries, and the views were every bit as awesome as we were told. (I slipped up to the top tier for a few shots before I was asked to come down.)

I just loved these two little girls.

Sandy is painting this one.

There was a pageant with kings and giants and dancers and flags and music!

There were reenactors and craftsmen demonstrating ancient and medieval skills.

And I ate a periwinkle fished out of its shell with a safety pin. I ain’t skeered of no food.

Next post – Sunday, May 20, 2012: Exploring Inishowen

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