|Setting out on the ascent up the path towards Calliagh Berra's House on Slieve Gullion.|
Thankfully, there's a roadway that brings you to a small car park that is already 360m above sea level, so the walk/climb on foot is only a further 200m or so in elevation. Still, despite our brisk pace, it took my teenage sons and I about half an hour to make the climb. It was a dull day, although not cold, with only a light breeze. All the time it felt like it was going to rain but it mostly held off except for a very light drizzle for a few minutes at the top.
|Looking south from Armagh towards Slieve Fuad (Fews Mountains).|
|As you get to the top of the path the cairn finally comes into view.|
The path twists and turns and has been nicely laid out with smooth rocks in places, gravel in others, and just turf pathways in others. However, about halfway up things become more steep and the climb is a wee bit more arduous. This was no deterrent for my 14-year-old twins, who looked as nimble as Legolas running along the mountain ridges of Middle Earth. We met a man who said he was waiting on a bus! I suggested perhaps he was waiting on a helicopter. Truth be told, it might even be possible that a fairy bus does pass this way every once in a while.
|The Calliagh Berra's Lake on the top of Slieve Gullion. Beyond it is another cairn, called the Northern Cairn.|
Fionn walked up the slopes of Slieve Gullion to the lake near the summit to find a beautiful young lady sobbing on the water’s edge. Being a gentleman he enquired as to why she was crying; to which she replied that she had dropped her golden ring in the bottomless lake. Without a moment’s hesitation Fionn ripped off his shirt and dived in, swam down until he found the ring, grabbed it and returned to the top only to find an old hag laughing, the Calliagh Berra. The witch had tricked Fionn and he fell out on the lake’s shore as an old withered man. When Fionn came down the mountain, no-one recognised him, not even the Fianna! However, when his trustworthy Irish Hounds smelled the old man they knew that he was their Master. Fionn, the Fianna, and the hounds forced the Calliagh Berra to restore Fionn to his youth, but it is said that his hair remained white like an old man’s for the rest of his life, and that his fate is said to befall anyone who bathes in the lake to this very day. Are you brave enough to dip your feet in the Calliagh Berra’s lake?
The cairn itself is known as Calliagh Berra's House and is just one of many ancient megalithic remnants that is named in her honour. At last we got the opportunity to enter its ancient passageway. It seemed like I had been waiting to do this for a long time. I've only ever imagined what it would be like because I had never seen it before. You have to hunker down at the entrance which takes a bit of nimble movement, but once inside the main thing to concern yourself with is the rocks on the floor. It would be very easy to sprain an ankle in there because the floor is so uneven.
|Inside the chamber of Calliagh Berra's House looking out through the passage entrance.|
|The chamber and rear recess of the passage-tomb on the top of Slieve Gullion.|
Another thing that strikes you is the lack of megalithic art. And indeed the lack of enormous structural stones such as those you find at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth - the large corridor orthostats, the bulky ceiling cap stones, the three-tonne kerb stones. This is a different type of structure to the Brugh na Bóinne complex. Similar in some respects, but different in others.
|Sitting at the entrance of the passageway into Calliagh Berra's House.|