at 1.119 feet above sea level, the Lough an Lea mountain
situated between Kingscourt and Bailieboro in east Cavan
was the focus of much controversy during 2002. Infuriated
by the construction of a 41 metre mast beside an ancient
burial site, local residents organised a year long round-the-clock
vigil at the site. John Loughran examines the mountainšs
historical significance and its rich vein of folklore.
Lough an Lea mountain derives its name from the Irish, "Loch
an Leigheas" meaning 'lake of the cure'. While the
lake, which was situated at the foot of the mountain has
long since vanished, as a result of drainage works, folklore
recounts that the lake had magical powers.
It is said that a "Cailleach" or "old woman"
that ruled the area in the dim and distant past had a magical
cure which could bring soldiers killed in battle on the
mountain back to life. Her magical power was much sought
after by her adversaries. In an attempt to steal the cure,
the "old woman" was captured.
However, she resisted her captors and refused to reveal
the contents of her secret cure. In an desperate effort
to keep the cure from here captors, she threw it into the
lake, where it sank into the silt. Folklore recalls that
the silt at the bottom of the lake retained the magical
Coote's Statistical Survey conducted circa 1845, described
the lake in flowery terms and referred to the magical powers
of the silt. It recorded that the silt when withdrawn from
the lake and applied to the skin, had been known to cure
many skin diseases.
It is generally accepted that the first settlers at the
Lough an Lea arrived more than 5,000 years ago. They eked
out an existence through hunting wild animals such as boar
and fishing in the local lakes and rivers. Their dwellings
were constructed using timber cut locally and the skins
of the wild animals they had killed for food.
These skins also were also used for clothing and footwear.
A 'Halbred' dagger from the Stone Age period and several
stone implements were recovered from the mountain and are
now housed in the National Museum.
Where life exists there is also death and the first inhabitants
of the Lough and Lea buried their loved ones in burial mounds
or cairns. Two pre-historic cairns - thought locally to
be as old as Newgrange - are located on the mountain.
These cairns have never been excavated by archaeologists
so their true archeological and historical importance remains
buried beneath the earth.
While the existence of the two cairns has been recorded
for many years, locals suspect that other cairns may lie
uncovered further down the mountain. A similar configuration
exists at Loughcrew near Oldcastle, Co Meath where a series
of smaller cairns was discovered at a lower level during
In Neolithic times our ancestors believed that energy waves
passed from settlement to settlement. Significantly Lough
Crew, Slieve Gullion in Armagh, and Tara in Co. Meath are
all visible on a clear day from the summit of the Lough
an Lea. This, locals say points to the fact that the Lough
an Lea mountain is of significant archeological importance.
A wealth of folklore exists surrounding the mountain and
the lake. It is said that a one-eyed hare lived at the bottom
of the lake. A local hunter tried to kill the hare for meat.
He waited at sunset for the hare to return from his travels,
but the hare saw the hunter from a great distance as he
lay in waiting. Before the hunter had time to perpetrate
his evil deed, the hare bounded over him and plunged into
the lake and out of site. The hunter went hungry that night.
Another delightful tale is told of a cow that was spirited
away by the people who lived under the lake. The owner of
the cow attempted to retrieve the beast and was brought
down under the lake for an indeterminable time, before finally
being released along with the cow.
The practice of lighting bonfires outside the houses on
the Lough An Lea and surrounding areas continued long after
died out in other parts. The fires were lit to honour the
Goddess Aine. In Christian times fires were lit on St. John's
Eve and lighted embers were thrown into the fields to ensure
a good crop.
In the month of July people gathered around the lake, bathed
in its waters, picked bilberries and wild flowers, danced
played, wrestled, and took part in tests of strength and
agility and some fell in love. Meeting old friends, exchanging
news, recounting old stories and folklore of the mountain
formed part of the festivities. The practice was known as
In the early 1800s horse race between Muff lake and the
mountain were held every Sunday in July from 3.00 to 6.00pm.
It is said that more than 60 horses and riders took part
in the race.
The ancient Celtic festival of Lughansa was celebrated at
Muff on August 1. Indeed the Fair of Muff held on August
12 still takes place every year and draws thousands from
all over the country.
Nearby Taghart lake had its own special festivities where
horses were forced to swim part of the waters of the lake.
Stories of hidden treasures are part and parcel of the folklore.
Large gold beads from the Bronze Age found near the lake
can now be seen in the National Museum.
This cursory look at the history and folklore of the area
shows that Lough An Lea mountain is one of Cavan's least
known yet most important treasures.
Locals are now calling for a strict management and conservation
policy to be put in place. With the backing of Duchas, locals
are trying to have the Lough An Lea and its hinterland designated
as a National Heritage Area.
Duchas has identified the crest of the mountain as a dry
heath habitat with rare clubmoss species which gives the
area a national dimension in conservation terms.
At the time of writing, the Lough An Lea Environmental Action
Group was 10 months into its mountain-top protest. By all
accounts they are not coming down until this important national
treasure is recognised.
Taken from Breffni Blue