An account of one of our Tours

On November 5, 2011 by admin

Inish Times: Tuesday, 27th September 2011

Mass Rocks and other historical sites of Inishowen     – By Sue McLaughlin

I’ve recently become familiar with the West Inishowen Historical Society (WIHS) and have attended a few meetings. This group’s members follow various and sundry issues of local historical interest researching late residents ‘ contributions both in books and artefacts relating to Inishowen’s past.

As more investigation produces forgotten or hidden historical facts, with effective advertising, we can become competitive in the tourist industry and provide sightseers many reasons to visit the peninsula.

For many of us in this area, knowledge of our history was passed through oral tradition. Great-grandparents and grandparents told stories at fireside chats while the young wide-eyed listeners held onto these shared memories.

Eventually, that sense of wonder evolved into structured, ongoing scholarly research generating today’s more widespread activities such as guest speakers presentations and daily-weekly field trips offered by the WIHS.

On such field trip took place on a Wednesday afternoon last month. We assembled at the Coffee Shop at SuperValu in Buncrana, met John Hegarty, current chairperson of the WIHS, and set off on our excursion. Our group formed a three-to-four car convoy that snaked slowly and cautiously through lesser valued travelled lanes and unpaved paths.

We trekked through stones, tall wet grasses, heavy rain and dodged frequent inquisitive wasps to view the much concealed Mass Rocks. It’s fascinating to think that these same rocks were, to our pre-Christian ancestors, places of mystical reverence and sacred significance. As we viewed the rocks, John Hegarty, an archaeologist, shared insightful and detailed information at each location.

Then, somewhere in the Parish, we were shown clachan sites, small enclaves of meagre cottages huddled closely together in no particular plan. They were the dwellings of tenant farmers and their families.


Sheep Raids

However, there were times, in order to subsidise the family provisions, the farmers took part in the occasional night time sheep raid. These midnight requisitions greatly displeased the landlord who then demolished the clachan, separated and dispersed the tenants to various areas of the estate, thus ending the nocturnal forays.

Still, the landlord kindly rented the land to the tenants (the original owners).

From there, we drove on to a narrow road – this could be called a green road – since there was more grass than tarmac. On a hill in this secluded area rested an altar mound. In the past, the priest celebrated Mass on this knoll while the congregation blended into the lower thick hedgerows to avoid detection.

Today, a fairy tree grows on the mound. Perhaps, this might deter any would-be trespassers.

Further on, we tramped through a soggy field and actually touched a Mass Rock. The rock’s surface exhibited cup-shaped indentations known as Bullaun Rings. These were part of the rock from ancient times but their function is unknown.

The constant scrapings from the rock resulted in the ring formations and it is thought the rainwater collected in these ‘cups’ possessed powerful medicinal properties, one of which was believed to be an ingredient included in the preparation of fertility potions.

In a nearby field lay a large sloping boulder, which bore a marked resemblance to what could be a partially buried dolmen.

Priests Cemetery

In Mintiaghs Glen, we stopped at a “Relig a Taggart,” a priest’s cemetery wherein the bodies were buried in the dark of night and the clerical remains were necessarily hidden as a consequence of the Penal Laws.

We passed through Glasmullen and viewed a cross high on a hill. There, the priest said Mass while the congregants concealed their presence in the trenches in the valley below.

From there, we passed the Binnion Battlefield where, legend has it, in 1557 Shane (The Proud) O’Neill fought Calvagh O’Donnell over the lordship of Inishowen.

As we waved our way through Doo Lough hills, we passed closely to the large windmills. One of our group remarked: “… from the past to the future in one brief afternoon …”

Our final stop was the field near Cockhill in which lay a more recent Mass Rock. This was not used in Penal days; rather it served the people in outlying regions as a more central location.

Just imagine, how many thousand tourists visit Dublin to view, among other things the famous Book of Kells, while right here in Inishowen lie Mass Rocks which connect us to an even more distant past.

Perhaps, if we publicise Inishowen’s historical richness, encourage and cultivate tourism, it would open a vibrant industry for this area.




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