Lough an Lea

Standing 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 cure.
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 It recorded that the silt when withdrawn from the lake and applied to the skin, had been known to cure many skin diseases.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 excavation.

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 it

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 "Rejoicing Sundays".

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
April 2003