Saints and Demons at Brigid’s Shrine – Co. Louth Megalith Tour Part 2

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The main reason I was in Co. Louth was for Tommy McGovern’s gig at the Spirit Store in Dundalk. I’ll wait until Tommy hits the big time and sell the story to NME. The plan was to see the gig, then find somewhere to park up and sleep in the van. Earlier that day I had decided to sleep at St. Brigid’s Shrine.

After the gig a few of us went back to Tommy’s. It took me well out of the way of the shrine, so I settled on staying somewhere closer to Carlingford.

Tommy’s friend asked me to take him home, thinking I was heading back up north. When he found out that wasn’t the way I was going he couldn’t apologise enough. I didn’t care. I like to drive strange roads at night. I dropped him off and he pointed me in the direction of Carlingford.

At the bottom of his road was an archway that I hadn’t noticed on the drive in. Across the road from that was some sort of visitors’ centre. I turned my car towards the archway and the words ‘St Brigid’s Shrine’ were illuminated by the headlights. I knew it wasn’t chance me finding this place. I drove through the archway and saw various statues dedicated to Jesus and Mary.

There was a car park across the way by the visitors’ centre. I parked there and jumped in the back of the van. It was pitch black. I was feeling anxious. The statues had creeped me out. I put my head down and tried to sleep. An abandoned house was on the other side of the road. I kept imagining someone looking through the windows of my van at me. There was a light and a small weapon hidden near me in the van just in case. It made little difference to the feeling I had of being watched.

I reminded myself why I came here. This was an ancient pre-Christian site of healing, a place of good energy, and sleeping nearby would not be a danger to me. I settled quickly after that thought and got some sleep.

Sunrise and the cold woke me up. I got out for an explore. There was another car in the car park. It had a northern registration. In the daylight I saw stations of the cross on a green next to the visitors’ centre. A woman was at them. I went to the other side of the road where I had seen the statues the night before.

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The shrine was beautiful in the daylight. A small stream flowed through it. On one side of the stream were some trees and fallen leaves. On the other was a path and manicured green grass. It was a contrast between nature and the creations of man. There were shrines and statues on the man made side. The remaining stations of the cross had been set on nature’s side. Song birds were all over the place in large variety. Variety in plant and animal life is common at these sites. I threw some seeds down for the birds. I appreciated the tranquillity of the place for a little longer then headed back.

The stones were on the car park end, and this was my destination. I followed the stream past the stations of the cross. The woman I had seen earlier was at a shrine to Jesus. I did not want to disturb her worship. The stream led to the shrine she was at. A plaque sat at the turning of the stream outlining which stones were which and what prayers should be said at each of them.

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The stones were easily recognisable. The horseshoe stone is quite small with a horseshoe clearly marked in it. Next is the headstone, marked out with white paint, then the knee stone.

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As I approached the other stones, the woman came down from the shrine. We started talking. It was Good Friday, and she told me she was fasting and doing the stations of the cross. We talked about religion and faith. I tried to hide that my faith wasn’t rooted in Catholicism, but I’m sure she knew.

She lived locally, around four miles away on the other side of the border. I told her I wasn’t from the area and had slept here the night before in my van. She was shocked. “Were you not scared?” she asked. I told her I was a bit anxious at first, then I reminded myself what this place was and that had calmed me. She was still shocked. She told me there had been incidents here.

Then she said something that really resonated with me: “The devil is attracted to these sorts of places.”

When I had tried to sleep the night before, the entity watching me through the window felt demonic. In my mind’s eye it had long, greasy hair with faded green skin. It looked like the girl from the exorcist, only bloodier and with the flesh coming off its face so badly that its features were no longer recognisable. It wasn’t knocking, but it had its hand on the window. I did not open the door. The front doors were locked and the back door had the padlock on. I was armed. I allowed the healing properties from the stones outside to seep in and the demon left.

At many similar sites I have visited, there have been broken bottles, empty cans, pill packets and underwear. There have been the remains of scenes that I would rather not write about, things that have left me very unsettled. Demonic entities vary in strength and harmfulness.

The woman and I chatted some more. She told me about the stones. She showed me the hip stone, the eye stone and the back stone and told me the legends behind them.

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Brigid had been dragged away by her hips to be married against her will. To make herself less attractive, she plucked out her eye. She used water from the stream to heal her eye and it was restored.

The woman told me how she too had used water from the eye stone to heal ailments in her own eye.

Brigid was around at the time Patrick was Christianising Ireland. No doubt many of these practices were druidic in their origins, along with many other practices and customs associated with her. This was not the time to challenge this woman’s beliefs though. She was very generous with her information and knowledge, and had been a pleasure to talk to.

She gave me books and pamphlets. She was clearly trying to convert me. I took them out of a general interest in religion. She also gave me a St Brigid’s Cross pin. She told me she had been waiting for someone like me who she could help. We spoke about her sons, who had left home and grown away from the church. They had gone into other areas of society. She was grateful that two of them had found good Catholic girls in other parts of the world at least.

She invited me back for breakfast, but I politely declined. It was Good Friday and I wanted meat. I gave her my phone number and told her she could call any time. I then left for Carlingford with much to reflect on.

Where is our Cù Chulainn now? – Co. Louth Megalith Tour Part 1

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This is the stone that legendary Ulster warrior Cù Chulainn tied himself to as he died. Tricked by Queen Medb into breaking one of his geiss (a religious taboo), he was weakened before his final battle. Cù Chulainn was mortally wounded and tied himself to this stone by his own entrails so that he would die on his feet. His enemies were so afraid of him that they kept their distance even as he was dying. They would only appraoch when a raven landed on his shoulder, signifying his death.

As I stood in the field by this stone three ravens flew directly overhead. I could hear others cawing all around.

Cù Chulainn was our Hercules. He went through all sorts of trials. He defended Ulster when its men were struck down by a curse of labour pains, given to them after the King of Ulster made his wife race a horse while she was pregnant. It makes me think about the men of Ulster now, emasculated in this time just as they were during the Cattle Raid of Cooley, when Cù Chulainn stepped up.

Who stands for Ulster now? The British government does what it wants here, while Sinn Fein and the DUP line their own pockets, complicit in their inaction.

History moves in cycles. Where is our Cù Chulainn now?

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A couple approached the stone as I left. They were holding hands. I climbed the fence out of the field and cast my eyes back for one last look at the stone. The couple were leaning up against the stone kissing. Love and life and life and death are all intrinsically linked.

Is Stormont something that should be destroyed to bring new life? Does Ulster need a hero to bring about that death? Would new life elsewhere cause Stormont’s death naturally?

There is certainly instability ahead. No one knows what will happen when Brexit kicks in. If direct rule happens the old power structures, in the form of paramilitaries, are already waiting in the wings to fill any void.

No paramilitary or political party is relevant to me.

I drove into Dundalk after the stones and was struck by the amount of tricolours on lampposts. Gerry Adams has an office here. Despite having just visited the death place of the greatest Celtic hero in Irish mythology, I felt very much like an outsider. I may not like the British government, but that does not make me a green, white and gold flag waver, nor have ever taken communion. I don’t sign up to the Catholic church’s or Sinn Fein’s hijack on Irish identity. I don’t know the rules of hurling, but I know how to swing a bat. The Celts of these islands had more in common with each other than a Roman church or a middle Eastern deity.

It makes me wonder at what point did the Scots stop helping the Irish against the British and start helping the British against the Irish? After all, the Scots are mostly the Irish who invaded Alba and stayed there. The Ulster Scots are those who came back. We were split by Christian churches playing a game of divide and conquer; a game going on to this day with different beneficiaries.