Rathcroghan & the Cave of the Cats

Disclaimer: None of these pictures are my own, the source is provided but if they are yours and you would like them removed, don’t hesitate to let me know.

Rathcroghan is an ancient royal complex surrounding Tulsk, County Roscommon, Ireland. It spans several individual sites, including mounds, fairy forts, caves and more.

There’s a lot of magic and mythology associated with the area, so of course I was intrigued and I’ve been meaning to go for a visit for ages. Last week was National Heritage week in Ireland, and Rathcroghan Visitors’ Centre (AKA Cruachan Aí) were running tours to the Cave of the Cats (AKA Owenygat or Uaigh na gCat). The cave is said to be a gateway to the otherworld. I decided I well and truly had no excuse now, and I went with my mother.

I was lucky enough to have interviewed (listen here) the incredibly knowledgable Lora O’ Brien, who works at the centre, a couple of times already for my work at RosFM, so I did have a bit of background knowledge about the magical sites and I knew that I was in for a treat. Lora is an amazing storyteller, an academic, and an Irish witch who really takes you to the past, the other world or the land of the Sidhe (faeries).

The tour started at Cruachán Aí where we all met up, and we then drove to the location of the Cave of the Cats, which was only about two miles away, in a field down a cul-de-sac.

Photo of Entrance to Oweynagat

The entrance to The Cave of the Cats is low and dark, and easily missed. Source.

I don’t have any of my own pictures, because Lora warned us that not only is the cave filled with muck, but it doesn’t seem to like electrical equipment. This is the moment when the tour visitors all started looking at each other with freaked-out-expressions.

We proceeded into the field to the mouth of the cave, which is very small and low to the ground, where Lora spend quite a while telling fascinating facts and stories about the cave.

Then, we begin our descent. This consists of a very narrow passageway, which opens out into a large chamber. Be warned, the passageway is very narrow, and very muddy, and you can feel claustrophobic, especially if you’re part of a large tour group who are all coming down behind you. The passageway is ten metres long, but it feels much longer than that on the way down. You go down on your bum, and your entire body gets covered in muck. You come back up on your hands and knees. Honestly, though, it’s really not that bad. In fact, I thought it was all part of the fun experience.

The Ogham Stone over the Cave Entrance

The Ogham Stone over the Cave Entrance. Source.

Just be sure to bring sturdy shoes or wellies and old clothes, maybe waterproof stuff if you’re into that kind of thing, and definitely bring a torch. My mother and I didn’t. There were a few torches in the group, but not enough to light the passageway down, and navigating sharp rocks and overhanging lintels in total darkness was quite the experience. Also, bring something to cover the car seat for travelling back so you don’t ruin it with your mucky bum.

When we finally got down to the main chamber, where Lora spoke some more about the cave and its significance. The Cave of the Cats is the home of the Morrigan, the Goddess of battle and strife, and Lora said that she has learned over a long period of time that things go best if you greet her. So, we all turned off our torches, and took the opportunity to say hello.

The atmosphere was very respectful, and I think we were all in awe of the great power we could sense in the cave. When the torches were turned off, the darkness was darker than you can imagine. Hundreds of times darker than closing your eyes the darkest night. It has a constant temperature of 4 degrees celcius, regardless of whether the temperature on the ground is +30 or -20 degrees, and it felt serene.

Lora pointed out that, at this point, people in the group often feel moved to speak about how they feel or why they have come here, and she has learned over the years that it’s best to give them the opportunity to do so. My immediate thought was, ‘Oh, it’s not me anyway, I wonder what she’s talking about…’ but as the silence carried on and the darkness pressed in on me, the urge started to rise.

It’s very difficult to describe, but it felt like a pressure coming from inside me. I felt that if I didn’t say something, I was going to burst into tears. I didn’t feel the urge to say anything in particular, but I had to say something, so I made a disjointed little statement about how incredible it was to be following the footsteps of ancient people, and to be in a place that has had so much meaning for such a long time.

The lights came on and we asked Lora questions for a while longer before heading back up.

The ascent certainly felt a lot quicker than the descent! We paused at the entrance to marvel over the ancient Ogham script overhead, then we were reborn into the physical world. That’s just how it felt. We felt refreshed and energised, and as we lay about on the warm grass, we marvelled over how we didn’t feel at all like we had just been climbing into and out of a cave. The group felt united and we chatted about what we thought of the whole experience, before we all started breaking off and going home.

Looking Out from the Entrance of Oweynagat

Looking Out from the Entrance of Oweynagat. Source.

My mother in particular felt really lifted by the experience. She felt like she had been revitalised and had been gifted with lots of energy. We both felt that the presence in the cave was a benevolent one, not at all what you’d expect from the Goddess of battle! At the same time, I wouldn’t like to be down there by myself – but it was truly a wonderful experience.

You shouldn’t visit the Cave of the Cats by yourself because it’s on private land (and I just wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t know what your’e doing), but you can get tours from Rathcroghan Visitors’ Centre, and I very highly recommend it. I’ll definitely be back at some stage because the feeling you get from it is so thrilling, and the ancient magic surrounding it is truly fascinating to feel a part of.

Here’s a video that somebody managed to get inside the cave.