Inishowen is unique – in terms of the outstanding beauty of its geography and in the way that the traces of its history survive to this day, conveying an evocative picture of a vibrant and unfolding past.
History is full of contradictions and paradoxes, none more so than in this area where the monuments that have survived the ravages of time are symbols on one hand, of fueding and violent Chieftans and on the other, the sacred burial grounds of Druidic times and the piety and sanctity of the great seat of learning, the early Christian monastic sites.
Historical archetypes are easy to distort, and as such while it cannot be denied that much violence and savagery occurred, it would be very wrong to underestimate the deeply spiritual nature of a people whose involvement in religious activities streatches back 5000 years and the wonderful and curious treasures that out dual-natured ancestors have left us.
To enjoy and understand this history, it is advisable to suspend the cynic and disbeliever in our nature and enter a state of opennes letting the imagination take over – painting a mind picture – taking time to reconstruct an image of what a particular monument may have been, how it was used etc.
Standing Stones, Portal Tombs and Stone Circles belong to an era where historical evidence is scant, fragmentary and mostly of a mythical nature. Evidence suggests that these monuments date from the period 1500 – 3000 BC.
The presence of such a proliferation of monuments from this age suggests that there was a highly advanced and active society in Inishowen, with close links to the builders of similar structures nearby in Scotland and further afield in mainland Europe. Fine examples of sites from this period are widespread throughout Inishowen.
This age of Myths and Druids left and indelible mark on the Irish psyche. Traces of customs, superstitions and beliefs still occur in the veneration of holy wells (converted from Paganism to Christianity) and many superstitions linking stories with figures from Myths and Folklore. The enigmatic Druids are much speculated upon but the precise nature of their beliefs (did they worship sun, fire etc.) are still confined to the realms of supposition.
Inishowen has many important ecclesiastical sites. Obviously Christianity was embraced with vigour and the relics from the period included crosses and slabs, some simple, some highly ornate, situated in ruined monastic sites. The medieval period is also well represented. The castle building activities of the Normans and later the local chieftans, suggesting a violent era in our past.
This is an extract from “Inishowen – A journey through its past revisited” – Neil McGrory (Published 2007 – ISBN 978-0-955739-0-1).