The Hill of Uisneach – a Thin Place
The Hill of Uisneach is a thin place – one of those many luminal places in Ireland where the two worlds – physical and eternal – are fused together. It is an ideal site for being spiritually enriched by doing a walking meditation.
Few would realize as they drive along R 390 between Mullingar and Athlone, that they are passing through one of the most mystical places in all of Ireland – the mythological center of Ireland from where an ancient boulder marks the spot where all of the five provinces originate and come together… and beneath that boulder lies the goddess, Ériu, daughter of Ernmas of the Tuatha Dé Danann, earth mother of Ireland – and from whom Ireland takes its name – Eire or Erin.
From the pinnacle of the Hill of Uisneach, they say a person can see 20 counties. The Irish are always full of superlatives when they describe their archaeological treasures, but I will admit, the views are from that pinnacle – also known as St. Patrick’s Bed – are some of the most stunning I’ve seen in all my travels. The light seems to be different at Uisneach. The energy is riveting on this hill and its surrounds. And moving across this curvy greenscape of Uisneach dotted with stones, brush and lone hawthorn trees, one can see that it is a ripe setting for walking meditation.
Walking Meditation, the Process
I learned about the process of Walking Mediation from my friend – and Brittany expert, Wendy Mewes. She does walking meditations with group tours that come to Brittany. The process that Wendy described is done completely in silence – even in a group. No one talks for the duration of the walk – perhaps 20 minutes.
As the walk begins, one focuses on the act of walking, moving through the landscape, being mindful of the body and the process of walking. Then one becomes mindful of the surrounding life force, noticing it in all living things around…sensing the force.. noticing that every living thing is charged with that divine presence, the presence of the creator – the great spirit – the source of all life and energy.
The third step of the walking meditation is to connect the two – your own life force with that of what surrounds you. What do the trees, the grass, the sky, the stones tell you? What do you hear from them? What do you learn from them? What are you sensing?
Sometimes, when the walking meditation is over, those on the walk discuss the experience and share what they learned, felt, were moved by, etc.
One can become totally consumed in mediation on Uisneach. The energy is overwhelming, and one can lose a sense of time and placement in the physical world. It’s no wonder that the ancients chose this spot for communal, spiritual practices. The Hill and its stories are tied to a tradition of spiritual power, rituals, traditions and mystical occurrences. It is one of Ireland’s most sacred sites.
Uisneach – site of the Bealtaine Fires
Uisneach is said to be the spiritual and mythological center of Ireland – the Axis Mundi – Ireland’s naval – the joining point where all of the provinces come together in the center of the country, as well as the joining point between two worlds – the mystical and the physical. Archeological excavations show that Uisneach was likely a fire ritual site – a large one – a place where many people came together and celebrated the feast of Bealtaine.
The Catstone and Enchanted Lake
On the slope of the hill is Uisneach’s most famous landmark. The Aill na Mireann – meaning the stone of divisions, also known as the Catstone (so named because it resembles a crouching cat). This 30-ton limestone boulder that stands 16 feet high sits solitary on the lonely hillside. It was believed to not only mark the intersection of all five of Ireland’s provinces, it’s also said to mark the grave of Ériu, the mother goddess of Ireland, the one whom Ireland – Eire – is named for.
Uisneach was also said to be the site of one of the five great trees of Ireland – The Uisneach Ash – planted by Fintan the Seer who is said to have divided Ireland into its provinces with the stone at the dividing point – calling for there to be knowledge in the west, battle in the north, prosperity in the east and music in the south with royalty in the center. The Stone of Divisions. Since the stone touches every province, it also shares each province’s virtues. Thus we have the concept of all provinces meeting at Uisneach, and it being the mystical and mythological center of Ireland.
There have been people tracking ley lines throughout Ireland who see a common pattern with many lines leading to Uisneach. High Kings were once crowned at Uisneach before the Hill of Tara became the royal center for the country. So the legendary mystical character of the site goes back thousands of years.
There is a small (some believe enchanted) lake on the hill dedicated to Lugh, a member of the Tuatha Dé Dannan also known as the sun or harvest god. Legend states that Lugh battled with his brother on this hill and was drowned in the lake and buried under a nearby mound. Some believe the lake is enchanted.
Not too far from Lugh’s Lake is the foundation of the old palace that sat atop the hill. Located in one on those grounds is another stone – nicknamed “the money stone.” It’s short and appears to have petrified wood drilled into it. The stone has amazing energy, and if you place your hand a few inches away from it, you can sometimes feel the energy coming off of it in the form of heat or a vibration. Using dowsing rods on the hill, we found the magnetic pull coming – not from the Catstone, but from the money stone. I’ve not been able to trace the origin of the name of that stone but can encourage people to seek it out.
Considering the ancient fire rituals, royal traditions, legends of the goddess, the Capstone, Money stone and enchanted lake, Uisneach is truly a mythological mecca for those who seek out thin places. A walking meditation here, is powerful food for the spirit.
Craig French says
I’ve been to Uisneach a few times now – once on the Winter Solstice tour and twice to the incredible Bealtaine Fire festival. It is indeed a beautiful place covered in fascinating history and rich in story.
I read thr blog on Rathcroghan – I know it well and it’s one of my favourite places here in the Midlands of Ireland. I live in County Longford (often referred to as the forgotten County), a place that has its own part to play in the cycles of ancient Irish myth and has its own thin place. Not far from me is a village called Ardagh and behind it stands Ardagh mountain (Brí Leith to name it correctly ) It’s more of a hill than a mountain but it’s enough of a challenging hike if you’re not in good shape. It’s where St Patrick is supposed to have met the local king to ask permission to found a church which he left in the hands of his nephew, St Mel. Longford cathedral is named St Mel’s but the modern one in the town centre is not the original. The remains of that are to be found in Ardagh. Anyway, it is also on Brí Leith that the myth of Midir and Etain concludes leading to the belief that somewhere on the mountain is an entrance to Tir na nÓg where the two enchanted lovers still dwell. It’s a great story to read should you choose to follow up on it. Now, there is a part in the original written story that is, for me, the most amazing thing. It describes the building of a wooden road across a bog and the great tumult of men brought to fell trees and work on it. Not too far from Ardagh is a small place called Corlea that stands in the midst of a bog and the old peat workings. In this place, buried in the bog was discovered the preserved remains of such a road which would have stretched for miles, part perhaps of a wider network connecting the royal and sacred sites of Ireland. Part of it is preserved inside a specially built visitor centre and if you should come back to Ireland is well worth a visit. For me, the fascination lies in that intersection where myth and hard archaeological evidence meet – where one speaks to the truths of the other.
Oh, thank you for offering such rich commentary, Craig. I would love to visit that site as I’m sure my guests would. I, too, am captivated by those intersections of myth and evidence. Isn’t everyone? Ireland is such a mystical place. Welsh Travel Writer, Jan Morris wrote this about Ireland:
“Ireland has always been holy. Even the climate of the place, a disturbed alteration of clarity and blur, seems made for mysticism, and in my experience, the profound simplicity that I have been trying to elucidate opens the way to speculation and conviction. I am more contemplative in Ireland than almost anywhere else.”
Thanks for taking the time to visit the blog. I hope you’ll come back.