Holy Moly, Mass on a Mountain

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Celebrating Mass on Mount Brandon in 2015. This mass was organised for Ang Wong Chhu, a Sherpa guide whose visit to Ireland’s “holy” mountain was filmed by Seán Mac An tSíthigh for TG4. Photo: Ciarán Walsh

 

Did you know that Tralee Mountaineering Club has its origins in the pilgrimage associated with Mount Brandon. The mountain was a major pilgrim site in medieval and early modern Ireland but the tradition of pilgrimage stretches back to pre-historic times; it is associated with Lugh, the Celtic god of light and his dark counterpart, Chrom Dubh.

The Christians exploited this but eventually abandoned the pilgrimage in the 19th century, mainly because of the chaos associated with the “moral holiday” that followed the arduous trek to the top.  Many attempts were made to revive the pilgrimage and organised ascents of the mountain in the 1950s indirectly led to the formation of  a mountaineering club in Tralee.

 

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CYMS Pilgrimmage to Mount Brandon, May 23, 1954. The photograph was taken in Faha, on the site of the grotto that marks the start of the traditional pilgrim route to the summit. Photo Tom Finn Collection.

 

The first item on the agenda of the new club was the split. Some members of the club argued that it should remain focused on the pilgrimage while other’s argued that the club should concentrate on mountaineering. The club mass became a compromise solution. It was organised by Seán Kelly every January and continued until 2017, when it was dropped from the calendar of club events.

The decision was taken by the outgoing committee (Chairperson Simon Quinn) and was only noticed when the calendar was published. Some members approached the club’s President (Nuala Finn) and asked to have the mass reinstated. The current committee (Chairperson Shane Mulligan) agreed and the mass was re-scheduled for April 16, 2018. It was a little ironic that the 2018 club mass, which traditionally remembers deceased members of the club, recorded the passing of Seán Kelly in 2017 and his brother Pat in 2018.

There is a wider issue here. The tops of mountains are regarded as spiritual places by many people within and without the mountaineering community.  There is extensive archaeology associated with summits, most notably Queen Maeve’s tomb on Knocknarea in Sligo. Many peaks are also marked by crosses, many of which were erected in 1954 to mark the first Marian Year, which was ordered by Pope Pius to promote the cult of the Virgin Mary.  Mount Brandon has both pagan and Christian associations.

 

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Cross on summit of Carrauntoohil after it was cut down in November 2014. Photo: Cronin’s Yard/Twitter  published in The Irish Times

 

The cross on Corrán Tuathail was erected in 1976 and was cut down in 2014. This generated a debate about the association between mountaineering and spirituality and whether it was appropriate to mark the tops of mountains with symbols associated with one religious denomination. The consensus seems to be that there is room in the mountains for all believers and none and that the process of marking theses places as sacred is, in the end, a personal choice.

 

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A bonfire lit by a Lithuanian mountaineer on the summit of Corrán Tuathail to mark St John’s Eve or Bonfire Night (June 23). The new cross can be seen in the background. Photo Ciarán Walsh.

 

The tension between pagans and Christians is now part and part and parcel of the pilgrimage to the top of Brandon. The Christians climb the mountain on Lá tSin Seáin Beag (June 29th) and the pagans, who revived the Lughnasa festival in 1995,  climb the mountain on the last Sunday in July, which is known locally as Domhnach Chrom Dubh.

In 2015 nine of us attended a mass that was organised for Ang Wong Chhu, who was visiting Ireland’s scared mountain. Nuala Finn and I became sherpas for the day, acting as mountain guides and carrying filming equipment for Seán Mac An tSí­thigh of TG4.  We approached the mountain from the west. A month later over 150 pagans climbed the mountain from the east. To each his/her own.

 

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Sacred Places: the mass that was organised for Ang Wong Chhu, Sherpa guide. Photo: Ciarán Walsh.

 

 

 

 

 

Sun sets on Winter in Loch A’duin: The Vernal Equinox on the Dingle Peninsula

 

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Spring has sprung. At 16.15.21 GMT today, Tuesday March 20,  the Sun passed the celestial equator (the imaginary line in the sky above the equator) and night and day were, on this date, the same length. This is the Vernal or Spring Equinox and it marks the end of Winter or the first day of Spring, depending on how you look at it.

 

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Space.com reckons that if you were standing on the equator at a point just to the west of the Itapará River in northern Brazil, the sun would appear directly overhead. On the Dingle Peninsula the Equinox is marked in a very different way.  Dáithí Ó Connaill of Tralee Mountaineering  Club discovered that the setting Winter sun shines into a megalithic tomb in Loch A’duin (The Lake of the Fort). Loch A’duin is located just below the Conor Pass on the the Dingle Peninsula. Dáithí is the best person to describe it.

 

The Vernal or Spring Equinox in in Loch A’duin, on the Dingle Peninsula

The following is a brief account of my curious “discovery” regarding the equinoctial sunsets at the megalithic tomb in Loch a’Duin:

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The “discovery” was made following a hunch that the bronze age tomb of approximate date of 2500 B.C., which has a westerly orientation, may have had some significance due to the fact that it is embellished internally with some prehistoric rock art, leading one to surmise that it may have had some ritualistic significance, similar, in a minor way, to the passage tomb of Newgrange in the Boyne Valley, which is oriented on the winter solstice sunrise.

It was visited at the winter solstice annually over fifteen years but, invariably, the sunset was not visible due to either cloud cover or rain.  There was a brilliant sunset on the winter solstice of 2014 but, alas, it did not have any unusual bearing on the tomb’s orientation.

 

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However, this led to a little thinking as to the possibility that it may have had some relevance vis-a-vis the vernal and autumnal equinoctial sunsets around March 21st and September 21st.  The reasoning behind this curiosity was that, when one looks at the orientation of the monument, it seems to face directly into an imaginary “v” formed by the spur of nearby “Sliabh Mhacha Reidh” and the distant spur of “An Gearan”.

It transpired that the equinoctial sunsets of September 2015 and March 2016 were visible and it was delightfully noticed that the sun on both occasions(and indeed over a few days preceding and subsequent to the equinoxes) bisected the “v” and spectacularly illuminated the tomb and the rock-art therein.

There are many theories abroad as to why our distant ancestors went to such careful planning and should lead to interesting discussions.

 

 Dáithí Ó Connaill

 

 

 

Hill walker discovers ancient ritual site on Bengorm, Co Mayo.

Bengorm Chamber

 

In 2016, hill walker Michael Chambers discovered a cave like structure among large boulders on Bengorm in the Nephin Beg Range in North Mayo. The chamber contained bone fragments and large pieces of quartz. Archaelolgists were called in and the bones were determined to be human and included remains from adults, adolescents. and children.

Louise Dowd of IT Sligo carried out a rescue excavation for the National Monuments Service. Analysis of the bones show that they were deposited in the Neolithic or New Stone Age, which covers a period of 6,000 to 4,500 years ago in Ireland. A bone from an adult was 5,600 years old, while a bone from the skeleton of a child was deposited some 4,400 years ago.

This was not a burial site. Archaeologists believe that the bodies were laid out in a pit and left to decompose. Some time later the skulls were smashed and the larger bones were removed. It is thought that the chamber was one part of a much more complex burial ritual.

CW

 

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Bengorm SW Top: photo by Peter Walker (Original track, 2017)

Views of Bengorm courtesy of  Mountain Views

 

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Bengorm NW Top