Location: Newry Ireland
Elevation: 1653 ft/5o8m
The Hen Mountain sits at the northeastern extremity of the Mourne Mountain Range. It is the lessor elevated gateway to an area known nationally as a “place of outstanding beauty”, rolling east all the way to the harbor city of Newcastle, and the dreamy Irish Sea. The gorgeous hamlet of Hilltown sits just west of The Hen, which is the practically perfect jumping-off point for this small mountain. The main car park for The Hen Trail is off Sandbank Road, near the beautiful River Bann, which can easily be found. The Hen, with it’s classically Celtic treeless approach, is entirely welcoming. I was so drawn to the view of this small summit from my deck at Hilltown that I literally ran down to the River Bann, hopped the fence, crossed the rocky river bed, and started an ascent from the northwest with my sneakers on. The image on the left was taken while standing in my sneakers at the base of the Mountain. It was just that type of day. When the Sun comes out in Ireland the landscape becomes a vision. The wildflowers in the area glow in variations of gold, green, and velvet.The image below shows Mount Hen, second from the left, taken from my accommodations in Hilltown. This was exactly how I pictured J.R.R Tolkien’s “Shire”.
The River Bann reminded me of so many rocky streams in the Massachusetts hills, with several massive free-standing boulders lining the sides of the flowing stream. The scientific explanation for these boulders is, of course, glacial, but several of the larger stones look as if they had been cut and angled specifically, which is often found near sacred mountains in New England, and here in The Mourne. Additionally, coming from New England, where the forests are an overpowering aspect to any landscape, views like this, where not even a single Hawthorn tree can be seen on the horizon, are a constant surprise to the senses. It is truly surreal. The mountains are roughly the same scale as New England’s smaller ranges, but the peaks just look so much more stoic, without one single tree. The Sandbank Trail is actually on the other side of the Mountain from this spot on the river, along the eastern face, about 400 yards away. In Celtic places the opportunity to wander should be embraced; there are no animals that could overpower you (like a Bear or Wolf), and the chances of stumbling upon Neolithic expressions are pretty good. And perhaps most importantly, this is one of the best places in the world to take out your camera(s).
Heading directly up the mountainside from the river, climbing over the farmers fence, I came across this lonely boulder. It was a like seat for watching the lower valley. Flocks of sheep rove the hillside with farms in foreground, all bustling and interwoven into a rural tapestry that America has almost forgotten. Ireland remains one of the the most functionally rural European country’s, where men over the age of 70 can be seen in the tractors hauling hay, while the elderly in America linger in nursing homes. Experiencing a nation where the food is fresh, without preservatives and processing, can have your body feeling stronger and more awake, in a relatively short period of time. Here I will venture to share a rare introspective moment that took place from this beautiful scene. Things at times become incredibly clear while hiking, super-clear. I began to think about America, and it was perhaps a thought I had been waiting to have for some time. Americans are confronted with a universe of processed and artificial foods on a daily basis, wars, social movements, and scandals, and while hiking in the safety of a place like this, I simply could not help but wonder what the hell has been going on in the United States for the last 15 years, and how the rest of the world truly sees us. It is borderline embarrassing. Ironically, so many locals in Newcastle expressed their desire to be in Boston, where I was from, having little awareness of the truly challenging social experience America forces upon its citizens today. All of this crossed my mind as I made my climb. Turning and facing the peak the wildflowers ran concentrically in what felt like a spiraling parade of color, radiating down the ledge. These are the places to wade in, like wandering into a dream. The brush here is deep, knee high, and strenuous to climb. The Irish Sea is only about 7 miles away, and the hedges have a toughness to them, a saltiness just beneath the surface, perhaps carried on the wind. Complimenting this faint ocean breeze is a strong Sun which can be felt warmly on the skin. Although many people do not picture Ireland’s climate in this way, when the Sun is out, windburn is a real possibility in the heights; in The Mourne the body can be fooled by the wind, seeming cool while outside, but later revealing a burn when out of the breeze.
It is said by Hebrew texts, that the fall of 300 angels took place, once upon a time, upon Mount Hermon, in Lebanon. While hiking in the heights of many mountains this is a story that has crossed my mind many times, especially while approaching peaks. If this story were true, than this culture of fallen angels would have claimed the high places first, coming from above, however surreal it sounds. And what we find in so many of the high places, in mountain ranges all across the world, are megalithic statements of impossibly large, but crafted stones. Hen Mountain’s peak is capped in solid rock, with indents and fixtures that are seemingly crafted into it. The anthropological side of hiking takes place as you explore the rocky ledges in the heights, and turn to see the beauty of the valley below.Simply put, the rocks tell a story, and a well trained eye can read that story. There are lineations in the rocky peak that are hard to describe. These parallel streaks look to have been burned, or smelted into the stone. These streaks look eerily like they were made to mimic the rippling landscape beyond, all at the top of the mountain.Here at the peak, this single 1 ton stone sat freely and in complete coherence with the parallel streaks beneath it. There were no other stones like it. With the scruffy wildflowers that somehow spurt out of the crags in the rock, and the layers of green beyond, this feels like the precipice of another world, however small the mountain truly is. This is the game that the peaks of mountains play, no matter what part of the world you find yourself in. At only 1,653 feet the feeling on Hen Mountain is still ‘top of the world’, as the Celtic landscape rolls nakedly away into the horizon.
Facing to east at the peak Sandbank Trail can be seen approaching an elevated knoll at about 1200 feet, just below. The view beyond this “porch” is stunning, leading all the way to across the Mourne to Newcastle at the coast. In this spot there are two distinct rocky fixtures that sit like ‘gates’ as the trail passes through, and between these two fixtures is a free standing boulder that I believe was placed here as a kind of ‘marker’. A closer look at this rocky “gateway” and boulder revealed a compelling case for megalithically cultural craftsmanship.This boulder stood perfectly square at roughly 8 feet high, and 3 feet thick, upon level rock beneath. The indentation of the lower portion of the boulder, again, had the look of ‘smelted’ rock, of a design, like a cherished chair. What is more compelling about this megalith, is the exact spot upon which stands, in a beautiful gateway on the northeastern edge of the entire Mourne range, as if to say “Welcome to The Mourne, enter!” Beyond this very spot is every other mountain in the region, including Bearnagh Mountain, which contains some of the most ancient roads, and cultural stones, in the entire world. If you ever come to The Mourne Mountains, The Hen’ is a perfect place to either begin, or end your experience, as a ‘gateway’ for the entire range and relatively pleasant climb. As all hikers do, I eventually made my way back down into the valley-village of Hilltown, and simply walked back east along the Sandbank Road. Be careful here, the Irish drive at one speed, fast. On my last day in The Mourne I witnessed a sunset from the eastern edge of Hilltown that sums up the entirety of the potential experience, stunning. Anyone visiting here can experience a waking dream; it is simply a matter of going. And although this particular article was filled with more personal introspection than usual, I would like to reiterate that the soul point of each featured place is to make the hike tangible for you, the reader, so you can picture yourself getting there, above the valleys, to the stone gateways in the clouds. Thanks for reading, and go strong.
Location: Blacklion/County Cavan Ireland/Cavan Burren National Park
Note: Much like the way the Skellig Islands on the southwest coast of Ireland are represented in the final scene of ‘Star Wars/The Force Awakens’, Cavan Burren National Park feels like the last bastion for recluse Jedi Knights to live out their days in a galaxy, far, far away. The only way to describe this set of rolling Celtic elevations, the cinematically striking Hawthorn trees vibrating on the horizon,the ancient stones strewn across the valley like dominos, is complete scintillation.
The rare and strange megalithic ‘calf house’ in the top image above is at the base of a small mountain. The excellently constructed trails here wind down the elevation and diverge along paths which take you into pristine Celtic forest bedded entirely in clover, with ancient megaliths in mysterious rows running straight through the trees.Known as Killykeen Forest, this significant preserve of rare Celtic trees feels like an original fairytale backdrop. Adding to the universe of rolling clover are huge boulders covered in moss; these are giant green monoliths glowing between the roots and branches along the trail.
Moving deeper into the woods the sunlight blasts away beyond the hedges, while occasionally unrestricted shafts of light peak through into the inner thickets. When the Sun peaks through the mossy trees and hedges they shimmer with a misty light. The woods here are like the opening scene for the most classic Celtic myth, at one moment bright and shimmering, and the next, shadowy and dark.You can take the lower trail away from the forest to caverns and small cliffs where saint Patrick himself may have met with Druid kings. These caves are supported by what look like singular pillars which were carved out of the cliff at some point, either by an ancient culture, or by the wind. It is for you to decide. Before you make your decision about what’s possible and what’s not, consider some of the most amazing megalithic chambers in the world waiting to be viewed nearby…In a grove of ancient mossy stones and trees, set in an otherworldly vision about 1.5 miles into the lower trail, is one of the most amazing and mysterious megalithic chambers in Ireland. In this grove you almost expect a reclusive Jedi Knight to emerge from the mysterious stone chamber, which is clearly the centerpiece of this scene. This of course is an imaginary context, but the actual depth, beauty, and mystery that exists here is not imagined at all.
This is a 4000 to 6000 year old Celtic megalith. It is a mix of a wedge tomb, cairn, and stone chamber all in one. It should first be understood that the limestone slab that has been placed as a type of panel above the small entranceway looks to weighs at least 10 tons, if not more. This is a four inch thick, rock-strip of 7 by 14 foot wide singular slab, of solid limestone.To quarry and craft this chamber would have taken an immense amount of work, yet there are no markings on it. No chips from a chisel at its edges, or Pic-axe cuts of any kind. The dedication and resources of an entire village would’ve been necessary to quarry and move this stone to this specific spot. This seems like an extremely strange amount of effort for a Neolithic village to produce just to build a “house for a calf”, which is what the archaeologists of this area have actually had the nerve to label this chamber. The idea of a community exerting the resources and risk necessary to transfer this specific monolithic stone in a precise placement and location just to “house a cow” is insultingly absurd, and borders on fraud.
A refined consideration of this chamber should first take note of the specific angle of the slab, which, as can be seen by the refractory blast of light glaring off its surface (first image above) is facing directly towards the course of the Sun through the valley. The specific angle of this extremely hard to move megalith indicates that it was intentionally placed in such a fashion in order to absorb as much of the Sun’s energy as possible. Additionally, connected to it, absorbing the Sun’s energy, are three stone-linings. This is a type of energy epicenter. Just as solar panels are angled on rooftops and plugged into an attached house for energy, this slab looks to serve the exact same purpose with the connecting stone-linings. This is a Neolithic solar panel distributing the harnessed energy of the Sun to the stone-linings which act as ‘cables’ transferring energy out to the landscape. Look at the stone-linings (which are a massive megalithic project also) in this image below, they plug-in and diverge in three different directions, which leads us to our next observation about this magical grove where wildflowers bloom like muffins in the grass.Modern archaeologists have dismissed these stones as primitive objects thrown down without any secondary functional purpose, perhaps other than to restrict the movements of herds. That’s problematic from the start. These stones couldn’t restrict a blind billy goat with three legs. This is a massive amount of effort to build something that doesn’t even perform its assumed functional purpose. This is because it’s not a “wall”. If we truly look at this scene functionally, from an engineering standpoint, it starts to make sense. Stones have energetic properties, transferring and storing energy if harnessed. How do we not acknowledge this in our particular day and age? Distributing harnessed energy is what our modern culture does with miniature ‘microchip landscapes’ every day. How could we not identify this larger model for the exact same concept, which is a landscape with connectors and harnessers of solar power that synergizes the entire area? This is the first engineering culture on earth, fully conscious of the utility properties of the elements in the landscape. Early antiquity was anything but primitive. “Archaeologists” selling people the idea that this priceless monument is a “calf house” are a patronizing disgrace.
Just 10 yards from this beautiful chamber is an amazing isolated boulder that sits specifically above another granite foundation. There are no other level granite tables protruding out of the ground anywhere else in the grove. There are perfectly parallel slashes along the side of the free-sitting boulder, which gives the impression more akin to a sculptural statement, or display of decoration, rather than clumsy cracks from random toppling.This boulder was specifically place on this exact spot as a marker for anyone approaching the area. It is obviously a statement that displays incredible strength and ingenuity, warning anyone passing through that the region is habituated by an individual(s) capable of this statement. The area is inundated with cultural megalithic statements, and yet, “scientists” somehow have the nerve to isolate this particular statement of megalithic balance and power, as random “glacial activity”. People need to get their heads around the idea of megalithic engineering in antiquity, and the ability to move and utilize massive stones. These engineered stones are in every forest and wildlife reserve from Gortnavern Ireland, to Monument Mountain Massachusetts. We need to stop being afraid of the possibility of a different history that the ‘postmodern era’ has perpetuated. Cultural history, after the last glacial flood period, spans some 12,500 years. In just the last 100 short years of human culture, which is a whopping 8% of the overall Era, ‘modern culture’ has decided to literally theorize everything, just ignoring the other 92% of cultural history along with the various forms of evidence we have inherited but mostly ignored. When defending the the 92% portion of overall history with a “modern scholar” they will dismiss the concrete evidence of engineered megaliths and historical texts with the painful logic that these statements are “just too old to be true”, or ” made-up stories created to manipulate culture”. This makes a practice of dismissing anything outside of the approved of narrative. If cultures just follow narratives and not the scenes themselves, those cultures will forget themselves. These stones are incredible coded puzzles that have been handed down to us from antiquity. They are literally priceless. In all our “modern wisdom” we still have yet to explain the purpose for these wedge tombs. This fact alone is enough to dismiss the assumptions of those who say that todays era is the height of cultural progress and achievement. It simply isn’t true, and the stones prove it. Let’s look closer.
Just 2oo yards further up the trail is yet another priceless megalithic statement. This classic Celtic Wedge Tomb is at the top of a beautiful knoll with a 360 degree view on the Reserve. Placing these stones at this elevation would’ve been a serious endeavor, requiring years of specified labor.
This chamber has several features that are mysterious and fantastic. Roughly measured the chamber reveals a 17 foot long set of fitted and crafted blocks of limestone. There is a captivating symmetry and set-up to these 1000 pound stones, with a centered entranceway. Two ‘pillar stones’ guard the entrance about 7 feet from the immediate left and right of the center entrance. The implementation of symmetry into a grand stone scene indicates dynamic planning and geometric comprehension, even beauty.Their are squarely placed roof and side-stones which are cut and fitted in eloquent styles. Beds of vibrant wildflowers populate the hill all around the chamber. With the clouds rolling swiftly by above the entire scene it truly feels dreamlike and utterly surreal. There is another classic wedge tomb on the initial elevation when starting the trail. Unfortunately this chamber is dilapidated, but with the help of the other chambers down the trail, we can make a pretty good guess as to what this scene may have looked like once. There are 1000 pound ceiling stones which have been toppled, while the side stones are no longer standing straight up. It was once a beautiful limestone chamber with an incredible view of the mountain beyond. There’s a good chance that this chamber once mimicked the beautifully distinct Culigagh Mountain in the background, which is a technique found in many of the stones at Mount Bearnagh in the Mourne Mountain Range to the east.
In review, the designated trails here are a short 3 mile loop that take you from megalith to megalith, branching off into the forest as well. The roads and pathways approaching the Reserve run for several miles all their own, and are completely accessible as well. This is a once in a lifetime excursion. The first culture in Ireland once thrived in this region, and found joy in creating impossible engineering spectacles built into the landscape, too grandiose to be removed some 6000 years later. Photography here is an opportunity to capture the beautiful spirit of Ireland’s oldest rural wonderland. These images tell a tale of complete beauty and mystique, of wonder and grandeur. An excursion here can lead you off-trail too, where Celtic stone-linings might be your only guide for miles. If possible, give yourself a chance to discover something away from the path. Wander into the hills to experience the breezy sway of the hillside brushing against your gear. A nearly scriptural level of simplistic beauty can emerge while passing by the flocks in these hills. The realness of witnessing a hallowed ‘rural order’ gives us a primordial reminder that life can hold incredibly simplistic beautiful moments, if we so choose. Cavan Burren National Park is the perfect place to wander into that type of moment. Seek and find.
Location: County Meath/Ireland
Elevation: 508 ft
Note: It is fitting that the Hill of Tara, the historic site where it is said the High Kings of Ireland were once crowned, is on a road with no name. This sets the tone for the experience of County Meath, and within it, the enchanting hamlet of Castletown, a place deeply dedicated to preserving the beauty of Celtic life in all its aspects. Castletown is wonderfully lacking in the exacted labels of modernity, with lanes and lands that have names known only by the local farmers and families. It is here that The Hill of Tara is embedded, and without a GPS, or mapping system on your phone, you simply will not find it. Be prepared. The deeply rural aspect of Tara’s location has been challenged by organizations wishing to modernize this area with more expansive highways, and this effort has been met with overwhelming resistance. The people here clearly value a connection to the sacred land over monetary expansion, and this gives us yet another connection between Celtic and Native American culture. The Hill of Tara is the central natural monument for the earliest Celtic identity of the Irish people, while Newgrange is the Megalithic complex with equal stature. It is understood that the High Kings of Ireland were crowned, and kept their High Seat, here. There is a standing stone and stone chamber at the top of the Hill, marking the very spot where the High King was crowned in ancient times. There is a main trail from the car park, and several minor trails that encircle the hill. A full hike of the area is about 4 miles long, if you so choose, rounding the Hill. Perhaps more importantly is the option to sit down and understand the depth of what this place represents, and feel what it exudes. It is not a cliche taking place at Tara’, it is in fact one of the realest connections you can feel to the landscape in all of Ireland. There are several specific monuments that should not be missed here. The stone chamber is a beautiful example of corbel layering in the Celtic style. It is placed specifically at the zenith of the Hill, and built into the ground in order to connect with the earth below. This exact style of stone chamber exists mysteriously in the forests of New England. Below are examples of the stone chambers at Upton and Nashoba Brook, Massachusetts/USA. They are very similar in construction to The Hill of Tara stone chamber, but lack the pinnacle context of the Irish chamber, so obvious with a single glance. The question arises: What are identically constructed stone chambers doing an ocean apart from each other? A full analysis of the stone chambers, both in Ireland and New England, may reveal astrological, as well as geomorphic significance. While standing inside the Upton Stone Chamber when I took the image below, over two years ago, several small glowing orbs began floating around my camera lens. (image below/left of center, 2 orbs connected) This is a strong indicator for the purpose of harnessing energy in these chambers.
I had never before seen an orb up until that particular moment, or even believed that they existed. It became clear to me that what takes place in the stone chambers is most likely a harnessing of energy. This is very similar to what is done with electrical current and quartzite utilities in today’s era. The stone chamber at Tara’ would very likely have the same energetic benefits, and therefor be a good place for the High King of Ireland to be. After spending some time upon The Hill of Tara, I began to feel that the entire Hill was harnessing energy somehow, and I certainly wasn’t the only one. (Image below/Kings Stone/site of the crowning of the High King)
Within the Stone Chamber at Tara’ is a type of “keystone” (image below) which maps out the megalithic works of the entire area. On this day I didn’t see any orbs in the Chamber, but it was abundantly clear that Tara’ is a spiritual center that was designed in a very specific way. This would’ve taken an enormous amount of effort. These megalithic monuments date back at least 5000 years. It is very likely that the High Kings chose this place specifically because they knew of an even older megalithic culture that once dwelt upon this Hill, which was a culture capable of harnessing energies through the positioning and aligning of stones with the Sun, Moon, and Stars. The Hill of Tara is a type of energy center, with several large concentric earthworks built into the hillsides. The exact meaning of concentric earthworks is not known, but science is beginning to understand fractal and concentric patterns as extremely useful in the reverberation and harnessing of electric currents.
The feeling at The Hill of Tara: In J.R.R Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of The Rings there are two chapters that take place in an enchanted forest called Lothlorien. Deep within Lothlorien there is a hill named Cerin Amroth, and the description of what happens when the company of travelers from this epic tale first glimpse this ancient Hill is poetically relevant to the Hill of Tara. The passage reads:
“Behold! You are come to Cerin Amroth,” Said Haldir. “For this is the heart of the ancient realm as it was long ago, and here is the mound of Amroth, where in happier days Amroth’s high house was built. Here ever bloom the winter flowers in the unfading grass: the yellow elanor, and the pale niphredil.” The others cast themselves down upon the fragrant grass, but Frodo stood a while still, lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name…”(pg 350;LOTR)
Here is a picture of high plateau of Tara’s wildflowers from up close. They are delicate and beautiful, colorfully vibrant, rich, and unfading, very much like the description of Cerin Amroth in Tolkien’s Lotlorien. Perhaps it was because the angle of the light on the field was personally different for me; just as the Irish angle on the Sun is different than that of the angle of the Sun in the American northeast where I’m from; but from my foreign perspective the Hill seemed to literally glow in the late-day Sun. It glowed in a way I had never seen before. I could feel a type of electricity all around me, and yet it was a simple landscape on the surface. I truly had to sit down and collect myself for a moment as my head was nearly spinning. I know it sounds strange, but it’s true. It is very hard to explain, but as I came up the Hill, I began to see that the Irish understood this feeling, completely.
I included the fictional description of The Hill of Cerin Amroth experienced by the characters of The Lord of The Rings above because it was the most relevant passage I could find in all of literature to describe my very real personal experience with The Hill of Tara. When I arrived people were literally sprawled out in the grass, attempting to harness the energy of the Hill. (image/below) I found myself blinking hard at what I was seeing.
I walked above the stone chamber to get a glimpse from the highest point of the area. Two Irish kids jumped up in front of me and began posing for a picture in the most hilarious way. They were absolutely carefree. With all of Ireland in the backdrop, I suddenly felt as if all my concerns were, at best, ridiculous. Off in the distance I marked a couple kissing, and then not far from them were college kids sitting and talking softly above the ancient circular rings now covered with earth. Coming from the America of the last 15 years, I just wasn’t accustomed to this type of uninhibited joy and calm. There was no stress, no observational angst, no fear whatsoever. And you could feel it.
Whatever the original function of Tara’ once was, there is a remnant of it still today. On a sunny day Tara’ feels like the safest place on earth, and this is no exaggeration. In the hills beyond are ruined bell-towers of abbeys long since diminished. It should be appreciated by the readers that these towers, although they look extremely old in their picturesque way, are practically young, comparatively, to the stone chamber and standing stone at Tara’s peak, as well as the stone chambers in New England, for that matter. Bective Abbey, a classic Medieval complex, is only 1.5 miles from Tara’, and it is a wonderfully tranquil place. (image below) You can walk the ground and see some beautiful architecture from inside the cells. The monks must have known how spiritually potent this area was, with its proximity to Tara’. They would’ve gladly choose to live-out their days in the presence of The Hill, knowing they could certainly do a lot worse. Adding to this energetic feeling of the land and stone-works from the earliest Neolithic period, to Celtic and Medieval, is the oldest element of all, the Boyne River, which cuts North to South through the area. This is the Boyne River Valley, an ancient and sacred landscape filled with stone engineering. “The High Man”, a Celtic complex of astrologically-aligned hill-forts, wedge tombs, and standing stones, is not far from this area. Its monuments are built in precise fashion along the Boyne river in order to be a reflection of the Belt of Orion astrological system actually built into the Irish hills. The entire area is absolutely sacred.
The Hill of Tara has been preserved by the efforts of Irish citizens who have resisted the modern world’s “advances”. They have openly protested any modernization of the area. If you are lucky enough to find the Hill of Tara and walk the grounds; if you come to Castletown and cross the river Boyne; realize it is anything but a simple hike through rustic terrestrial trails that you are taking, but rather, it is a hike into the way things were in the beginning of Time.
Note: It is hard to know how to begin when talking about a place like Gortnavern. It really isn’t a place that you will find in a tourism guidebook. It’s a rugged and cloudy place, with dark oily soil in the heights. Known as ‘Ranny’ to the locals, the small black mountain peak here overlooks Mulroy Bay, an inlet extending out to the stark Atlantic edge of Ireland’s northernmost coastline. There are no trails here, just farmers roads, and fields upon fields. In the distance to the northeast is a rim of mountains that create a saturated basin of nearly picture perfect rolling hills and streams. What looks like a simple and approachable climb through these heights is actually a phalanx of thick hedges, stony streams, tall grass, rocky knolls, spongy moss, and tough roots. You will need all your gear, tall boots, and rain suit, to hike without fear. At the dark peak of Ranny wild goats graze and look on. It is easy to see that people do not come here often, judging from the looks on their faces. There are plants and fauna here that I have never seen before, with winding undergrowth and tunnels of tough branches. To achieve the peak at Ranny you will have to pass through them. Not only that, but you will have to cross streams, climb fences, and avoid bulls in the fields. At this point you’ll probably want to ask: ” Well then, why the hell would you want to go hiking there?” It’s a good question, with a worthy explanation. The Dolmen. The misty heights of Ranny is home to one of the few remaining undisturbed Celtic Dolmens in this part of the world. Other Dolmens remain, but are reinforced, rebuilt, or tampered with, in various ways; But not the Gortnavern Dolmen. It is in situ, in it’s original state; A beyond-priceless expression from an era gone by, built by the first culture that this part of the world had ever seen. Irish archaeologists date the building of most Dolmens somewhere around 4000 to 6000 B.C.E, but in truth, there is really no way of knowing just how old this megalith is. This is an exquisite example of the Portal Tomb, which is a spiritual statement of a crafted, massive, stone satellite, meant for catapulting souls from this world, to the stars. The 10 ton, elevated capstone, supported by five huge pillar pieces beneath, is forever tipping its brim towards the beautiful Gortnatraw Mountain in the distance. If you can get to this spot, it feels as if whoever created this Dolmen, wanted us to see how beautiful they felt this very scene was, which is why, perhaps, they chose to face the capstone in that specific direction. If that is the case, then as you look, you are sharing a moment with someone who lived 6000 years ago. What could be a more worth while hiking goal? Whatever you do, stop to appreciate the the strange darkened peaks, of a style i had never seen before, or since. In the end, you will have to decide what your goals in a rustic scene like this will be. If hiking to the top of Mount Ranny is your goal, be prepared to cross farmers fields, and travail the obstacles, with a tough incline as you go. If finding the Gortnavern Dolmen is your goal, you must find Drumatrumman Road. Pass the farm at the top of Drumatrumman Road, and continue about a half mile further up the hedgy dirt path. You will need to look right; At about 75 yards to the right of the lane, beyond cows in the fields, just to the next gully, beyond the stream, you will see the Dolmen. Beyond the hedges behind the cattle in the image below, the Dolmen is just out of view at this vantage from the road. Keep clear of the bull, follow the hedge to the left. More generally, approaching this scene, there is a sign for the ‘Gortnavern Dolmen’ from the main road just outside Kerrykeel center, but from there you should plan to ask for help, and bring your GPS/Phone, you will need it. Many of the roads do not have names, so approach farmers with humble honesty and respect. You are on their land. If you tell them you would like to see the Dolmen, they will gladly show you the way, but DO NOT JUST WAVE AT THEM AND PASS BY. This is a real rural community, with functional farms and generational families at work, be respectful. If you can get to Gortnavern, you have already achieved something which most people, even seasoned hikers, will never do. These are the rare places, the wild unmarked terrains, where you will discover more about yourself in the challenge, than any commercially advertised trek can offer. This is the real Celtic experience. Go strong, bring plenty of water, and may the road rise to meet you.
Note: Along the gorgeous south-west coast of Ireland, which runs all the way down to a baby-blue Irish Sea, sits the rare, old-growth, Celtic forest known as The Raven. There are a few reasons why it’s rare; The first being the British incursion of Ireland, which took place from the early Medieval period into the Colonial. The British occupation made it possible to extort vital resources for England, such as timber for the imperial fleet, starting in the mid 1500’s. Luckily The Raven survived. The second reason for the rarity of this place is that The Raven has been a protected wildlife Reserve since the 1880’s, making it a priceless time capsule of trees and flowers that have almost vanished. It is the only place left in the country where you can find the wildflower known as Wintergreen, which is mingled among Devil’s-Bits, Foxgloves, and Bluebells in the grassy dunes. This is a place to let your imagination go, and daydream about the feeling of old Celtic regions. It is a natural kingdom of preserved fauna and wildlife that Celtic peoples felt was sacred.
Beautiful trails extend around, and through this forest of towering Irish Pines and Evergreens. One of the trails is a basic circular loop around the edge of the old glades. S0me tree’s are standing over 150 feet tall, above broad beds of rolling clover, tall grass, and shiny white sand. If you add the element of the striking blue-crystaline color of the Irish Sea, the overall scene becomes worthy of wonder. There are fantastic minor trails that branch off into the forest, creating a direct pathway from the beach, about halfway around the larger outer loop.These pathways are nearly perfect for mountain-biking as well. An extended adventure is possible for those who wish to try a more rustic challenge of approaching the Raven from further off. If you park at Adcavan business park, about 3 miles away, you can bike the small dirt road that runs parallel to The Raven in the distance. Riding from the main road, you will need to lift your bike over a simple gate, and ride 2 miles, eventually reaching a dilapidated stone archway. This archway marks the path that runs directly towards the forest. This route is rustic and challenging, with rocky paths that run along a huge ocean channel lined with golden wildflowers while you approach. At times you may need to walk your bike, but it leaves time to get a picture of the channel with The Raven beyond.
Once you reach the forest you may wish to explore the beach before continuing to ride. Lock your bike around a tree and climb over the dunes to get a glimpse of the Irish Sea. Smaller side paths lead through thickets on the edge of the dunes that are tempting to follow. The Pines run to the edge of the dunes, opening up to a spectacular scene, one which the ancient mariners of England, and the Vikings, must have admired while approaching to raid. A view like this is also most likely what a young Saint Patrick must have seen, and had to return to, even after captivity. This place is hauntingly beautiful, even on a cloudy day. Enjoy the opportunity to relax and wander in a rare wildlife scene from long ago. All options for exploration are possible at The Raven. Good luck as you go:) Seek and find.
Note: It is a beautiful thought that some places in the world are simply known as ‘regions’. The Burren is every bit a national park as any of the existing national parks in Ireland, and yet it is simply a region. No modern organization monitors this area overall. It is sustained by the endearing love of the Irish generations that have lived here since Celtic times. These are the people that remained through the Medieval-to-Colonial British incursions, and The Famine, and reveal an incredibly deep connection. A single sojourning through this striking landscape is all a hiker needs to understand this connection. The roads and hills are open to hiking and climbing, as well as designated pathways. Make your way to the entry points as best you can by researching, exploring, and engaging the people of the area. To begin, the N18 highway runs south of Galway and connects to N67, which flows into the dimension that is The Burren. The gateway to this dimension is Dunguire Castle, perhaps the most beautiful in all of Ireland. Embraced almost entirely by a bay that runs out of the harbor town of Kinvarra, Dunguire looks to be floating on a small island, slightly separated from reality.Dunguire’s grounds have pathways around the castle, and the courtyard is also accessible. Feel free to park in Kinvarra and walk a scenic mile to Dunguire’s 15th century gates. Kinvarra is the pivot-point for the turn westward, around the edge of the bay, and into the enchanted zones. In this place the small caps of the mountains are covered in white stones, with rock-stricken hillsides that are the color of the moon. These undulating hills hide incredible monuments intertwined with the stone-walls and hedges. The Poulnabrone Dolmen has sat 17 miles southwest of Kinvarra for over 6000 years, and is the most iconic Dolmen in the world. This iconography is due to the otherworldly context of the megalith, surrounded by free-sitting boulders in the peripheral distance, and supported by smoothly grooved rows of rock beneath it. It looks to be the very crossroads of heaven and hell. At a glance, it becomes totally understandable as to why they call these Dolmens “Portal Tombs”, meant to send the spirits of Celts to the stars. The 6 ton capstone, which is placed six feet above the ground, looks like a stone-satellite for receiving messages from the solar system. The Poulnabrone Dolmen has a similar look to the Gortnavern Dolmen in Donegal (Pictured below/left), far to the north, with a massive but slim capstone and similar supporting stones. Other Dolmen’s in various Celtic regions abroad sponsor much larger megalithic features, as well as different styles. This Dolmen can be found just off the R480 road, which is a classic country-drive with tunnels of tight green hedges. Be prepared. The best regulated hiking trail of the area is, without any doubt, the Cliffs of Moher. A Medieval tower sits at the northerly edge of the excellent trails that run along the dramatic Atlantic cliff, which drops over 700 feet below. These trails run for about 6 miles along the ledge, so it is just over a half day of hiking if you so choose. The coastal view and the towns to the south are epic in this area, so take your time on a fairly level trek. All throughout the country side are thatched cottages and ancient abbeys. Perhaps just as haunting as these ancient places are some of the abandoned cottages of families that could not ride-out The Famine, along the country roads. This is a place where hikers and photographers should spend more than a few days. The Burren has that “beyond time” capability to make a traveler forget about the outside world. Legendary author J.R.R Tolkien lived in, and utilized, this landscape at times, along with places in Wales and England, for the inspiration of the descriptions of the magical Shire of his stories. Amazingly, after all this wonder, it is yet, and still, simply a region. This is perhaps the best reasoning as to why seeking and finding is sometimes necessary for true adventurers, where many miles outside of the commonly ‘commercialized experience’ of domesticated parks, real indigenous surprises still exist in the regions of lessor known places.
Note: In the presently modern condition the world finds itself in, filled with expanding urbanization in gentrifying cities across the globe, Killarney stands out as the ultimate Celtic haven, forever resisting through the sheer force of it’s natural beauty. Killarney is a dark Celtic fantasy, draped in jade, mingled with enchanted heights and mountain Gaps, where slanted stones literally hold coded messages of a Celtic era gone by. The view from the mountain peaks just south of Moll’s Gap is a hiker’s dream (top image), where you will need to gear-up in steel-tipped boots and a rain resistant windbreaker to truly enjoy the climb. Here the options are endless. Perhaps following a waterfall up a mountain sounds appealing. The angled stones of these long rivulets look to have been cut long ago, in order to influence the flow of the water. This is similar to many streams in New England and Scotland, where the landscapes appear to have been engineered in antiquity. Just one of hundreds of enchanting and mysterious features Killarney provides. The winding solitary dirt-roads far below have no names, but are known to be a portion of the majestic Ring of Kerry, where mountain biking is ideal. To the north is the crystalline Lake Brinn. Monumental slabs in the heights along the road headed to Moll”s Gap align to this lake, forever memorializing it as one of the best vantages in the world. These squared slabs of solid granite are a half mile above the road, and contain concentric rings that were carved into its face, representing a smooth contemplative perfection that is anything but primitive. These are priceless Celtic symbols. Moments in places where the concentric rings are crafted into the stones take on an almost Zen quality, the places photographers sacrifice to reach. When you find these rare sacred spots you share the beauty of the moment with those who marked it and gave it significance so long ago. You connect all the way to the beginning of Time. Further to the north more features of the landscape emerge, as well as more regulated hiking opportunities. Torc Waterfall is the largest Fall in Killarney. It’s a gorgeous cascade of falling water drifting down over massive boulders. A marked trail runs beside the fall, and up the beautifully forested mountain, for roughly two miles of elevated hiking. Above the Fall is a phenomenal view of Muckross and Leane Lakes, as well Ross Castle further to the north. The castle, built in the 15th century, is the centerpiece for several hiking trails that run to the west, through Ross Woods. There are several loops to choose from that run for miles through Celtic glades that are absolutely enchanting. Some of the rarer trees look to be 500 years in growth or more, seemingly from an entirely different era, and of a type I had never seen before. Every winding road and path in Killarney is a potential hiking experience. This is a place where looking over a map at night and planning the following days excursion to various Gaps, trails, and mountains is a true joy. For those who love epic drives, Killarney is a prize winner. By car you can arrive at several of the captivating vistas that Killarney is known for, such as Ladies View (pictured below), the Gap of Dunloe, or dozens of stops along the road to the Black Valley, at the southern edge of the Reserve. In so many of the still pockets of the park a deer may appear, as this delicate fawn did just west of the N71 road. (Bottom Image) Killarney is a venerable Celtic Valhalla for hikers, mountain bikers, cinematographers, dreamers, and naturalists, looking to tap into the best of what natures elements and energies have to offer. Killarney is not the sunny paradise of flighty escapist entertainments that so many western vacationers understandably seek out, but rather, it is an incredibly deep and often times dark Celtic dimension, full of rustic challenges and blue-grey breezes that end in otherworldly vantages. Just south of Killarney Town on the N71 road that runs through the park is a beautiful Standing Stone. It is yet another example of what megaliths often indicate, silently but strongly, that the area you are about to enter is a true wonderland.
Elevation: 1,729 feet
Note: If you wanted to find the geographical heart of all Ireland, working your way towards the absolute center of the country, you would inevitably arrive at the beautiful medieval town of Kinnitty. After just a momentary glimpse of this landscape it truly seems as if the countryside itself has become aware of it’s central placement as the green-beating-heart of Ireland, producing a stellar Celtic scene absolutely worthy of this title. Kinnitty Mountain, along with the old forest that runs along it’s lower valley, sits just a half mile to the north-west of tranquil Kinnitty. Hikers can pick up the main trail into this gorgeous scene at one of the prettiest entry points in the world, behind Kinnitty Castle, built in the year 1209. The Castle remains fully functional, with fine dining, an accessible outer courtyard, and stables where horses are kept and trained on the mountain throughout the day. Headed towards the trail it feels as if you’ve walked into an epic fable, or a medieval saga. The trail begins just behind the stables beyond a small trickling stream. A stone-circle will appear on your right, just 20 yards away from the path. It is a picturesque scene, with a barn-house at the edge of the looming Wood. Unfortunately, the stone circle is not authentic, and was created by a previous owner of the estate some years ago, but it’s aesthetic effect is certainly complimentary. Continuing past the sign that reads ‘Kinnitty Forest’ just beyond the circle, the trail begins to climb. With the British incursion of Ireland beginning in the 12th century, the British Royals illustrious Navy and it’s ships, as well the occupying manors and hamlets abroad, which were built in support of the Crowns `expansion’, deforested Ireland almost entirely. The upside to to this is that the remaining trees that make up Kinnitty Forest are like the regal survivors of a once beautiful era, refusing to vanish. They loom over the trail protectively with a beautiful bright milky color that shines against the glades. Continuing above the tree line, the trail begins to circle the Mountain, just to the right. In the open air and Sun, Fairy Foxgloves and Clovers appear in bright clusters. If you look down, at an elevation of roughly 1600 feet, in the most landlocked trail in all of Ireland, you will discover Seashells mingled with the stones!. How these shells came to rest at the top of a mountain is just one of many wonderful discussions you might have while strolling through this fantastic Celtic scene. The loop continues for roughly 4.5 miles before returning to the Castle grounds. There are alternate trails that continue several miles to the north-east, into the Sleive Bloom Mountain Range, if you wish to continue the experience. Kinnitty Forest trail is truly the sacred heart of all Ireland, and in every possible way. It is a priceless glimpse into the way things once were, of a quieter more peaceful time that still lingers in the hills of this Celtic place. It is my hope that whoever reads this review, and takes it to heart, will one day experience it for themselves.
Note: If the quintessential Celtic ‘dreamscape’ is what you are hoping to find in a hiking experience, Cavan Burren National Park is the place for you. This pristine pre-history landscape is sacred on every possible level, with roughly ten square miles of Celtic wildlife preserve. Embedded in the surreal panoramic vistas surrounding Cuilcagh Mountain, on which the park is mainly canvased, are priceless 5000 year old Wedge Tombs, Alters, Dolmens, and megaliths. A fantastic trail runs from the main entrance/visitors-center of the park to beautiful anthropological sites. The area is absolutely worthy of several specified reviews for each of the sites along this main route, but the real wonder of the region, and perhaps it’s most establishing distinction as a truly Celtic reserve for both exquisitely rare natural fauna and neolithic cultural gems, is that the off trail hiking reveals supremely beautiful works of ancient stone engineering as well. I discovered this incredible alter, featured in the title image above, by interpreting the lay of the engineered stones expressed over the landscape. Postmodern anthropologists have taken a dismissively poor perspective on what they have lazily identified as “farmers walls” looping over the hillsides. These “farmers walls” are not “walls” at all; functionally they do not limit the movements of grazing flocks in any way. Herds can simply walk over these stones if they so choose, so by literal definition, it is not a wall. The function of these special stones that look to our modern eyes as “walling” is actually a type of primitive ‘cable system’ that connects each sacred alter, from one to the next. These stone linings are like the wire that runs between a battery’s charge points, to the base-tip of a light bulb, passing energy from one end-point of energy to the next. I found this alter by following the lined stones running north west off the main trail. My educated guess was therefore to follow the lined stones I observed to see what special feature it was connected to. I arrived at this incredible Celtic alter wonderfully positioned at the next hilltop, approximately 1.5 miles northwest of the main trails (Top Image). Here again was another moment where my firm belief in the premise of engineered landscapes was vindicated. The earliest Celtic cultures attempted to harness and designate the transfer of energy in the landscape with stones that absorb the energy from the sun and connect the alters sitting strategically at the top the hills. These lined stones funneled energy from peak to peak, alter to alter. Most modern anthropologists fall victim to assuming that a ‘defined sacred space’ requires a specific ‘central temple’ that celebrates the area in a basically singular declaration. What they refuse to consider is that an even higher expression of the sacredness of the landscape is of course to utilize it while celebrating it, making the entire area a type of living, functional temple which connects each elevated corner. This engineering is also present in the mountains and forests of New England. I encourage hikers to prepare appropriate gear for deeply experiencing the landscape, for trekking into wilder corners of the reserves. If you follow the stone-linings of ancient Celtic zones to areas away from the designated trail, you will soon find that the premise of engineered landscapes is absolutely real. Aside form this, the natural beauty of the area is stellar. To deeply experience any ancient landscape equip yourself with cinema-capable cameras and capture your trek. Cavan Burren National Park is a portal into the primordial era of the earths most fantastic expressions, with priceless anthropological expressions of engineering from the first culture on earth. Seek, and find it out for yourself.
Note: Here is the now infamous Tollymore forest, the gorgeous setting chosen for much of the first epic season of Game of Thrones. The elevated peak directly behind the vivid pine glades is Croob Mountain, mingled with the greater Mourne Mountain Range. In real-time it is not hard to see why Tollymore was chosen by HBO as the back-drop for its mystical, Celtic/Medieval imaginary masterpiece. The glowing moss on the stones and tress indicate a pristine, ancient, and untouched aspect to the forest. Older places have this moss, which if touched by human hand, will not grow otherwise. It is everywhere in Tollymore, creating the feeling that one has stepped through a window into the way things once were. Several streams and rivers run through the woods, filled with glades of Oak, Beech, and even ancient Redwood. The stones within the streams reveal signs of equally ancient engineering, with directional layouts to influence the flow of water, or contain it in leveled pools with crafted rock faces. I was able to identify several focal points where the rock had been hewn into a funnel, or spout, which is an amazing feat of controlling/pacing the active elements in the landscape. Again, the moss along the stones of these streams is luminary, especially in the sunlight, like something out of hallowed fairy tales. More significant anthropology exists in Tollymore, of classic rock fixtures, also found in the deep woods of New England. To our modern eyes they look like “walls”, but a closer look reveals that they were not built as “walls”. The location of these ‘aligned rocks’ are most often from one peak to the next. Animals are in no way contained by these aligned rocks. They must have had some other purpose, if not just to define the space, but more to connect zones, like a cord of some kind. The stone alignments at Tollymore were inundated with mossy overgrowth, giving it the engaging and magical look that Celtic trails exude. Other glades hosting taller Oaks and dry beds of grass were speckled with the captivating Fairy Foxglove. These violet towers stand guard to some of the most enchanted zones in the forest. Tollymore is absolutely worth a visit. The trails are clear and wide, running along the streams or into the mountain. See for your self, Tollymore is a Celtic daydream.