Fires on the Hill of Uisneach | Where’s my backpack?

Fires on the Hill of Uisneach

Posted on June 5, 2015 by ailsapm

A couple of weeks ago I ventured right into the heartland of Ireland. In the county of Westmeath, between the villages of Loughnavally and Ballymore, lies a hill which has been a significant place of meeting and ritual since pre-historic times. The Hill of Uisneach, in its day, rivalled the more well-known Hill of Tara in importance. It served as the seat of kings for a time, with inauguration ceremonies being held on its slopes. When the seat of kings was moved to Tara, Uisneach retained its political significance as the place where laws were struck. In mythology, it was the burial site of the Earth goddess Ériu & the Sun God Lugh and erstwhile home to Dagda, leader of the legendary Tuatha De Dannan. St. Patrick wanted to build a church here in the 5th century, but when he was turned away by the O’Neil clan, he is said to have placed a curse on the stones here.

One of the most compelling reasons to visit is that the ancient festival of Beltaine is believed to have originated here. To herald the coming of summer, a giant bonfire was constructed atop the hill. All across Ireland, people extinguished the fires in their own hearths. When the Uisneach fires were blazing, torches would be taken from that fire and used to ignite other sacred fires on the crest of other hills, spreading across the countryside in great fiery waves until the fire that began at Uisneach in the centre of the country radiated out to reach even the darkest recesses. As the years passed, the Beltane celebrations grew to include music, dance, feasting, tournaments and trade and it is a flavour of these celebrations that the modern day stewards of the hill sought to recreate when they held their Fire Festival in early May.

There was something for everyone, from face painting and faeries…

… to yoga, gong mediation, story-telling for the little ones, guided history tours for the grown ups and live demonstrations of age-old crafts.

A great lineup of live music kept the crowd going…

… and a wonderful array of food carts kept hunger at bay. Dotted around the site, spectacular works of art added to the drama of the celebrations.

As the light grew dim, preparations began for the highlight of the festival; the great bonfire. Off to one side in an ancient ring fort. parade members readied themselves in their costumes…

… and rows of fire were lit…

… while on a nearby mound horses and their riders gathered before their gallop to the great bonfire.

The ‘Spirit of Uisneach’ heralded the start of proceedings…

… calling on the horses to ride the field…

… and then ushering in the parade.

When they reached the summit, the great bonfire was lit and fire dancers started circling around the fire.

As the flames died down, festival goers drifted back towards the food carts for sustenance and another band broke into song under the great marquee, but there was still one more fiery sight in store, for on the way back to the car park, a great tiki torch bid everyone Slán (farewell).

The festival does not take place every year – the current stewards of the land are mindful of the wear and tear on the site – but if you are lucky enough to be in the area when they are holding their next festival, do not miss it. If you are nearby at any other time, you can arrange to take a tour of this fascinating site by calling or emailing ahead of time. Phone +353 (0) 87 718 9550 Email

via Fires on the Hill of Uisneach | Where’s my backpack?.


Posted on 12 Jun, 2015, in What's happening in Ireland. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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