Jon O’Sullivan, An Scéalaí Beag, writes about ancient monuments in Ireland, and how we could, or should, be engaging with them as Contemporary Pagans.
The Landscape of Ireland is covered in ancient monuments. From the large hillfort enclosures of Tara, Rathcroghan and Emain Macha, the many of passage tombs such as Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, down to the multitudes of Ogham stones and boundary markers. A person could spend a lifetime visiting one of them each day and still not see them all.
Yet the landscape of our country and indeed the world has changed. The peoples of earth have grown in population and longevity and require more and more space in which to exist, so what may have once been a remote mountainside marker, is now an outcropping in a cattle pasture, or what was once a grave marker or site of spiritual worship, now sits in someone’s back garden.
So how do we navigate this tricky paradigm when we wish to seek the connection of nature at these ancient places, but don’t want to get arrested for trespassing on private land?
Well this is where the first benefit of modern ‘interference’ can be seen, in the Office of Public Works (OPW).
The OPW are responsible for some of Ireland’s most important heritage sites and ancient monuments. Iconic sites ranging from the Rock of Cashel in Tipperary to Skellig Michael on a small island off the Kerry coast, are just some of the stunning 780 heritage sites in their care.
Many of these sites would not have been maintained if not for the investment of this government body and a lot of them have scheduled tours at which a person can experience some of the echoes of Ireland’s past.
This, however, is ONLY 780 sites, which a person could visit easily in a relatively short space of time. There are so many more that do not fall under the direct management of this body, either because of the sites’ size, significance, or the fact that it exists on private property.
Irish citizens do have a right to access recognised heritage locations, but not at the expense of the landowner. Many of these ancient monuments exist on active farming land, and as such trespass is not permitted if it would interfere with the livelihood of the farm.
Irish tour guides work hard to establish a working relationship with these landowners to agree access to certain sites, but as ever the landowner does have the right to refuse access. In a lot of cases the landowners themselves become the guardians and caretakers of these monuments, and were it not for their local regard for the history of the land they own, many of these sites of archaeological interest would no longer stand.
Contemporary Pagans at Ancient Monuments
Now I have talked about some of the positive sides of modern interference with these sites, but unfortunately there are also many harmful and damaging interactions.
Though many of these ancient monuments contain carved stones, raised erect or positioned supine, these stones themselves are not beyond wear and tear. Being exposed to the natural elements of our world is one thing, but even stone can be worn away by the rub of thousands of hands, or toppled to the lean of thousands of visitors.
As tour guides, we have experienced some truly shocking behaviour carried out by people who are supposed to have respect and reverence for our heritage right at the heart of their practice. They have strewn rubbish as they walk around, dumped junk off their buses right at sacred sites, climbed all over ancient stones so they could get a selfie that makes them look interesting and adventurous for social media, stolen pieces of the very ancient monuments they claim to revere so they could have a souvenir to take home.
In some of the more extreme cases alcohol poured over engravings which are thousands of years old, supposed to be given by Pagans as offerings, or crystals and tealight candles wedged into crevices in the rock, may have the best intentions attached to them.
Invariably though, they do nothing but harm that which has remained visible from the times of our ancestors.
There is a lot to experience in visiting with these ancient monuments, and indeed there is much a person can learn from connecting to the monuments in our landscapes. I would call upon each of us to consider it a personal responsibility to ensure that we protect these messages from the past so that the coming generations will still be able to experience these fascinating sites for themselves.
Where To Now?
If you think that the Irish Sacred Sites are interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always: