Annual May Pilgrimage To The City

Donal Hickey

Editor: Mícheál Ó Coileáin

The month of May has an age-old association with an ancient stone fort, known locally as The City, in the foothills of the Paps Mountains, close to the Cork/Kerry border.

On May Day, and throughout the entire month, people visit this place to pray, do ‘rounds’ and invoke blessings for animals and crops. Long ago, it was also a ‘pattern day’ and an occasion for merriment and socialising.

Visitors will be fewer this year due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, but local people are going there.

The late folklorist and local historian Dan Joe Cronin, who spent a lifetime researching The City, traced it to the time of the Tuatha de Dannan about 4,000 years ago when the first people are believed to have settled in the area.

History buffs are generally agreed that pre-Christian, Pagan people were so enraptured by the beauty and contours of the Paps that they dedicated the twin mountains to the goddess Danu or Anu. Hence, they are known as the Paps of Dana, or Danu.

Located about four miles south west of Rathmore, The City (Cathair Crobh Dearg, or city of the red claw) was a place of Pagan worship and, it is also believed, a centre for human and animal sacrifice. Paganism was, of course, supplanted by Christianity and the place has religious connections to this day.

A statue of the Virgin Mary stands out and Mass has been celebrated there in May for many years. For people in Sliabh Luachra, parts of Duhallow and the Baile Mhuirne area, it’s a place of annual pilgrimage.

The May traditions are most likely traceable to the old Celtic festival of Bealtaine, heralding the start of the summer, new growth of crops and the lengthening day. Farmers still take water from a ‘holy’ well which they sprinkle on animals.

The structure of The City basically is made up of a high circular wall, now broken in places. Parts of the wall are about 10 feet high and of similar width. The structure is about 50 metres in diameter and there’s awell-worn stone on which pilgrims have engraved Celtic crosses over a very long period.

In his book, In the Shadow of the Paps, Dan Joe Cronin wrote that the area beneath these mountains was one of the first places in Ireland to be peopled. He believed a great amount of mysticism unique to Irish folklore came from the Tuatha De Dannan whom he described as a very talented and magical race.

“The Tuatha De Dannan erected the circle of stones surrounding The City together with the old Megalithic altar. The shrine which they had erected was sacred to their mother goddess…the mother of the gods,’’ he said.

“Here they performed their rituals and cast their magic spells. Theirs was the first enactment of a semi-religious nature to be performed at The City.’’

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