Emerald Isle


Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales and Legendary Places in Ireland

One of many paths into the otherworld, Oweynagat

In county Roscommon there's a place of great antiquity called Oweynagat, which some have mistakenly thought to mean the Cave of Cats, although it has nothing to do with cats - “cath” being the Irish word for “battle” and so it should rightfully be called the battle cave. Indeed it has a long association with the Morrigan, Irish spirit of war and power, who is said to emerge from its depths every Samhain, driving dread beasts before her.

The Morrigan used to drive her herds of cattle into the cave each day when the sun went down, and once she stole the herds of a lady named Odras, who tried to follow her after refusing to let her cow breed with the Morrigan's bull, but was turned into a lake by Sidhe-sorcery.

Young men used to descend into the cave in order to prove their manhood by challenging the Morrigan.

The cave has other names too, gathered over its thousands of years of existence, the way of the fairies, the Sidhe-mound, the entrance to the Otherworld, medieval monks even called it the Gates of Hell! Over its lintel is the Ogham inscription, “Fraech son of Medb”, and there's little doubt but it speaks of the very Queen Medb whose fort lies nearby and who strove so mightily with Cú Chulainn.

There are other inscriptions and other lintels in there too, but they are difficult to read, having collapsed. The entryway was made by the hand of man, as well as a door, now gone, but the heart of the cave is a natural void.

Étain and her lover Midir fled to escape their pursuers and took refuge in this cave, led by the furious king Eochaid. Midir wanted to guest with one of his relatives called Sinech, who lived there, and it was said to be a marvellous palace in the fairy world.

One of their maidservants, whose name was Crochan Crogderg, whose name meant the blood red cup, fell in love with the cave and was given ownership of it to dwell in by Etain. She it was in time who gave birth to the famed Queen Medb.

Queen Medb herself was said to have been born here, after  Some years later, it was from this cave which Nera emerged to see Rathcrogan, his home and the strong place of the men of Connachta, in flames.

It is surrounded by the misty ruins of many ancient sites and monuments, ring forts and standing stones, dolmens and cairns, places where the Druids learned their craft, and holy wells of old.

Strange tales and odd happenings abound around Oweynagat, such as the story of the Ellen Trechen, a ferocious creature with three heads that came forth from the bowels of the cave and went on a rampage across Ireland, slaying many before being killed itself by the poet and hero Amergin.

Small coppery-red birds burst out of the cave withering every plant they breathed on before being hunted by the Red Branch, as well as herds of pigs with whose touch turned everything to disease and rot. Ailill and Medb themselves desperately hunted them but had a hard time of it, as the creatures could vanish and change in size!

If you do venture into the cave, be careful for a woman once got lost in the depths and emerged at Kesh Corran in county Sligo, many miles away! But for the adventurous the cave can be found on the map below.

Legendary Places in Ireland

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