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The Mound of the Druids

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The Mound of the Druids

“From those who remember
To those who do not,
here’s a little poem
To those who’ve forgot:
Of a race of fearless people,
Noble, strong and bold,
Who lived as one with nature
And never did grow old. “

As a young man Yeats slept overnight in the central chamber of Newgrange for inspiration. That was part of his initiation as a Druid in the modern age. Today you pay money to get in, which goes towards the new Interpretative Centre there. Fine – if they knew or could tell you anything about the Druids. And you must accept an official guide – just what could they tell a Druid of Ireland if he turned up. It’s happened.

My native city of Kilkenny in South Eastern Ireland wasn’t christianised until the year 597 AD. This is late for Europe, but Ireland lasted longer than anywhere else in Europe, except the Nordic lands, before being finally Christianised.

Two hundred years before it was finally converted St. Kieran had preached in Kilkenny, to the amusement of the local king and his druid in the old wooden fort on the site of the present majestic Kilkenny Castle. But to no avail, the people weren’t interested. St. Patrick’s mission of 432 Ad to Ireland either never reached Kilkenny or also failed there. Kieran had built a little wooden church in the present beer garden of Kyteler’s Inn, which belonged in turn to the famous Kilkenny witch of the 14th century, Dame Alice Kyteler. Apparently Kieran was accorded full liberty by the powers-that-be to preach his early mission. So they were a tolerant lot, the Druids. After a few years of trying unsuccessfully to convert, he upped and left Kilkenny – and was mugged nine miles out of the city at Freshford for his cloak and clothes, and we do not know what the saint did for to preserve his decency.

The mound where the Druids lived is only a few hundred yards from my own house in the centre of the city. It was the very last stronghold of the Druids of Ireland. Their end was not a peaceful one as Christianity came to claim them. In 597 AD Christian armies from all over Ireland poured into Kilkenny under St. Canice. The Irish Druids fought bravely to the end up on their mound over the little city. But fate and the tide of history was against them. Most of the crowned heads of Europe were Christian, loyal to Rome, and Ireland had to follow suit. Much the same thing happened in our time with the EU. Some things never change.

There is a magnificent Cathedral up on the mound since the 13th century, built by the Normans alongside an earlier Irish round tower – you can climb the round staircase all the way to the top for a Euro, one of the delights of visiting Kilkenny, perching yourself atop an ancient Irish round tower!

Some experts, such as the renowned historian of the Kilkenny diocese, called the Diocese of Ossory ( after the old Druid name for the kingdom) Canon Carrigan, maintain that the tradition of building round towers in Ireland comes from a much earlier time verging on the Druidic, that such towers were used as astronomical observatories. The main idea is that the monks built them to escape up them from the raiding Vikings – but that doesn’t explain how so many of them were built before the earliest Vikings were heard of in Ireland in 795 AD.

The cathedral mound is bound by the river Nore and its tributary, The Breagach ( meaning “The False One” from the Irish) and is set in a plain of seven springs, all but one of them dry today. Only the ancient Well of Kenny ( Canice) or Kennyswell, flows today and you can drink good pure well water from its flow in its little stone well house. Obviously canice took the best well from the defeated Druids in his time.

The former Dean of Ossory (Anglican), the reverend Norman Lynas, confirmed to me that there are ancient Druidic crouch burials under the old cathedral and under the round tower.

A German dowser visited the cathedral and his rods went all over the place, Same thing happened an English druidess living in Ireland, Sandy Leigh. She explained that the mound is the centre of very powerful earth energies.

How did the last Archdruid of Ireland and his entourage happen to be living there at the end of the sixth century, and not at Tara or Cashel or Newgrange or at their former sacred college of Uisneach in the centre of Ireland?

I think it was for the simple reason that such places were well known to the Christian authorities as places where the top Druids would be, while all the while they kept their heads down at Kilkenny which would have been little known at the time – Kilkenny grew with the Normans from the 12th century onwards, and is variously known as ye Faire Citie and The Marble City. It’s probably the smallest little city in Ireland or Britain, it has two royal charters as a city from British monarchs and was at one time from 1642-1649 the capital of Ireland during a period known as The Confederation of Kilkenny.

The mound at Kilkenny, although there since 2000 BC, was not so well known.

You have to remember that by this time the Druids were proscribed and were on the run for their lives. Monks were leading armies around Ireland looking for them to kill them and their entire families on sight.

Finally the great Colmcille of Derry, who knew that the Archdruid and his Order chiefs were at the Mound of Kilkenny, and sympathised with their plight, unwisely said this to his friend, Canice. And though the son of a Filidh-Druid ( Poet-Druid) of Donegal himself Canice was a true Roman priest now and determined to rid Ireland of these pagan relics of the past.

In the year 597 therefore armies wound their way from all over Ireland into Kilkenny. It is said that the slaughter at the Mound of the Guardians was swift and short. It’s called progress.

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