I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Digging Deep

Digging Deep

Amanda Bell
Underland, by Robert Macfarlane, Hamish Hamilton, 496 pp, £14, ISBN: 978-0241143803 A hellmouth, as fans of the Buffyverse will know, occurs where the barriers between dimensions are weak or flawed, allowing for portals between our earth and a variety of hell dimensions, encompassing variously both the pagan Otherworld and the Christian Hell. The best-known Irish Christian hellmouth is Saint Patrick’s Purgatory on Station Island, Lough Derg, in Co Donegal; it is an entrance to an Irish inferno where pilgrims were shut in for twenty-four hours at a time to experience the torments of Purgatory. The pilgrimage site is now inextricably associated with Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island”, the title poem of his 1994 collection, which serves as an examination of conscience in the context of the Northern Irish situation. That cave has long since been closed, but a pagan hellmouth is to be found in Roscommon – at Oweynagat, or the Cave of the Cats, the unobtrusive entrance to which is to be found on private land a short drive from Rathcroghan Visitors’ Centre in Tulsk. The cave mouth is tucked in at the base of a ditch at the end of a farm lane. The landowners evidently have a sense of humour – their black cat greets all visitors to the site and, judging by the pungent smell, uses the entrance to the cave as a convenient covered latrine. The lintel under which you must crawl to enter is a repurposed ogham stone; from within the cave looking back out you can see the inscription, which translates as “Fraoch, Son of Maedhbh”. A couple of metres in, the cave branches in to two tunnels – that on the right has long since collapsed, while the one on the left is a man-made souterrain which descends steeply into a natural limestone cave. It is suggested that a sojourn in the cave may have been part of an initiation ritual; the site is also associated with warrior goddess the Morrigan, who is reputed to erupt from the entrance in the form of a battle crow. Compellingly, Oweynagat is also seen as the entry into Tír na nÓg – the land of youth. One explanation for this is that caves, in which the temperature is cool and unvarying, were used to store perishables such as meat and dairy produce, and this ability to prevent organic matter from deteriorating with age became associated by…



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