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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

How to discover Ireland? Just ask!

How to get to know Ireland? The answer is to start in one place (almost any place) and ask a question about it, the answer will led to something you never expected and that will lead to three others. There will be no end to it.

A visit to Lullymore’s historical site led me to hear of the thousands of years old ‘Five Roads of Ireland’. One of them passed nearby, helping to bring the country together at its centre in Tara. That led me to wanting to know more about who traveled them and why. Gradually it occurred to me that a lot was happening in Ireland long before the Normans came even though we had been told that it was a ‘dark’ or unknowable pre-historical age.

Following my Lullymore visit I discovered that one of the Five Roads (Sli), the ‘Great Road’ or Sli Mor, passed two miles from where I lived and I used them regularly without knowing the connection.

On further questioning I became aware the five ‘Sli’ were designed wide enough for two chariots to pass. Did they really have chariots in hilly and boggy Ireland? Indeed they had. Stories about them go back over two thousand years and the last mention of them was at a battle in 637.

Who was fighting? It was part of an on-going struggle between the men of Ulster (the O’Neills), the men of Connaught (blood relatives) and the men of Leinster, joined occasionally by the men of Munster. Today the memory may be surviving in rugby, and occasion GAA, inter-provincial matches.

At that battle of 637 at Magh Rath (or Moira) it was Domnall, the O’Neill High King of Tara fighting his foster son Congal Caech, King of Ulster. It should be no surprise that Scots, Welsh and Saxon warriors were involved. (Like today’s rugby internationals? Somethings never change.)

While that was going on, learned men and women were setting up communities of peace and learning across the country that gave it the reputation as an ‘Island of Saints and Scholars’.

How did they manage all that at the same time? I am still learning and amazed as I go from one place to another. You can follow my discoveries on my Facebook page and if you have had similar experiences yourself, let me know.


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