In County Roscommon, near the village of Tulsk is the Cruachan which is a complex of archaeological sites in what is described as the capital of Connachta. It hosted some of the main ritual gatherings in ancient times and is important to mythologists as the seat of Ailill and Medb (the intoxicating one – related to Meade), King and Queen of the Connachta in the Ulster cycle. This site is also known as the ‘Cave of the Cat‘, an entrance to the other world and at Halloween all sorts of spirits came out of this portal to and from the underworld. Another interesting way of tying Archaeology to Mythology is that here at Cruachan were found a number of Ogham Stones; the first alphabet in Ireland, dating back to 5th or 6th Century and names were recorded on these stones in an earlier form of Irish and it is quite unusual to have mythological figures recorded on stones.
The Ring Barrows are mounds of earth heaped over burial places in use from Neolithic times, though they were typically of the Bronze Age and usually covered a single or at most two people buried in each one. We don‘t find swords, jewellery or tools in these types of graves which implies that they occurred prior to the coming of the Celts with their tradition of the burial of possessions with the deceased. Ring barrows date back prior to the Celts in Ireland and are another good argument against the theory that a huge wave of Celts showed up into Ireland because continental burial traditions were far different from those used at the Ring barrows.
1. Petrie Crown (George Pitrie) – This piece of high status metalwork was very much an elaborate headdress and extremely well made piece of La Tene style sophisticated work discovered in County Cork and influenced by Greek art forms. It exhibits the repetitive symmetrical design popular with both Hallstatt and La Tene craftsmen.
2. Bann Disc – A bronze disc about four inches in diameter found during digging in River Bann in 1939. The design features of an Irish version of Celtic art. We have no clue what it is but it has been speculated that it may have been some kind of warrior jewellery piece.
3. Tandragee Idol. – Found in Co. Armagh this curious piece may have deeper significance than just a common statue. The nubs of horns on this figures head and the cross arm are directly related to what experts suggest may be an image of Nuada, popular King of the Tuatha De Danaan, who had his arm cut off by the Firbolgs during a battle for control of Ireland, but later has the arm replaced by a silver arm by skilled physicians. If so, then here is an example of reality intermingling with mythology.
4. Tricephalic Head – Depicts three faces that probably represented a ‘Trinity’ of some kind. This dispels the popular myth that St. Patrick used the shamrock to demonstrate what a trinity was to the pagan natives because they already knew what a trinity was. It may have represented three divine persons in one or it showed a God who could see in three directions (past, present and future perhaps) at once. We can only speculate as to which.
5. Beltany Stone Head – With it‘s ‘Bealtaine’ inference and found in Donegal at Beltany Stone Circle the name implies the festival of May 1st (Bealtaine) which may mean it was some kind of sacrifice and dates from the Bronze Age and thousands of years prior to the arrival of the Celts. We cannot rely totally on the evidence presented to us by Archaeologists because stones are silent and all we can do is try to interpret their meanings as best we can but such interpretations are always left open for further investigation and thinking. We must then look elsewhere for further evidence and thus we turn to the early Irish myths and sagas.