A Photo-Journal Of The Irish Underground

Oweynagat (‘Cave of the Cats’), Co. Roscommon.

Oweynagat

The entrance to ‘Hell’

While not of great speleological significance, Oweynagat (‘Cave of the Cats’) I would argue, is one of the most intriguing archaeological monuments in Ireland. Today it feels hidden away and out of sight located as it is almost in the ditch of a modern field boundary. However, as a cave feature it is situated in one the most karstic regions of Ireland (that is, in County Roscommon) and as an archaeological monument it forms part of a complex of 50 archaeological monuments that make up the ancient pre-Christian Connaught royal site of Cruachán. It is therefore of special importance as a cultural adaptation of a natural geological feature.

Oweynagat


As it stands today, Oweynagat is in poor condition. Originally, an earthen mound surrounded the entrance but this was almost entirely removed in the 20th C. construction of the access laneway (Waddell, 1983). Thankfully, however, the monument itself is in excellent condition. This consists of a double souterrain (which is closed in on one side) leading, after 3m, to the natural cave. In the building of the souterrain, recycling of other archaeological monuments occurred, in which two ogham stones were incorporated as lintel stones in the roof.

Oweynagat Inside the souterrain

One at the entrance reads ‘Fraech son of Medb’. Mebd likely refers to the Queen of Connaught, Maeve, whose bickering pillow-talk with King Ailill over cattle ownership lead to the attempted stealing of the Cow Of Cooley and the rise to prominence of the fearsome and brutal Cú Chulainn. Until recently, the cave was known as the entrance to the underworld where, at Hallowe’en each year, the cave served as a portal to and from hell.

Oweynagat

‘Recycled’ Ogham stone, part of which reads ‘Fraech son of Mebd’.

oweynagat_img_242617

From the front of the frame the walls are dry-stone and roof lintels can be clearly seen. At the second light source, about 2m further in, can be seen the beginning of the natural cave.

The dry stone walls of the souterrain soon give way to very fine solid limestone walls which open into a long rift chamber. The rift passage form seems to be quite common in this area of Roscommon and there are a number of open similar passages recorded in the surrounding fields (Fenwick and Parkes, 1997) . These, however, are roofless and Oweyngat is by far the most impressive. While only 30m long the rift is quite impressive and the walls preserve a good degree of moonmilk calcite. For an easy to access spot, it is also relatively clean and undamaged.

Oweynagat

The largest section of the alluring natural cave, showing the author / photographer.

NOTE: While this cave is very accessible and well worth a visit, please note that it is protected as a National (Archaeological) Monument as well as a protected habitat under Annex I of the Habitats Directive. It is great that such a monument is open to the pubic so please ensure that your actions here won’t lead to its damage and the inevitable gating of the entrance!

REFERENCES

Fenwick, J., and Parkes, M., 1997.’Oweynagat’, Rathcroghan, Co, Roscommon and associated karst features. Irish Speleology 16, 11-14.

Waddell, J., 1983. Rathcroghan – a royal site in Connaught. Journal of Irish Archaeology 1, 21-46.

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