Rathcroghan, the Gateway to the Celtic Underworld

Rathcroghan is one of the most important sites when it comes to studying the roots of Irish thought.

Gabriela Castillo

In the very heart of the Irish forest stands the mystical Rathcroghan, the core of Celtic traditions and the location of the gateway to the underworld, from which the current tradition of Halloween originates. This is simply an archaeological paradise that tells the story from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages.

Rathcroghan and the Origin of Halloween

Also called Cruachan Aí, it covers over six square kilometers and contains more than 240 archaeological sites from the Iron Age. A whole series of characteristic funerary and megalithic mounds, typical of architecture from over 5,000 years ago, can be observed in the Irish meadow, culminating with Oweynagat, known as the ‘gateway to the underworld’.

Rathcrogan - rathcroghan, the gateway to the celtic underworld

Rathcroghan is the surviving evidence of the earliest historical settlements in the region, as well as religious foundations dating back more than two millennia. That is why it is one of the most important sites when it comes to studying the roots of Irish thought. Here, the first mythological and literary accounts of the enchanting Celtic culture emerged.

According to studies, the oldest monoliths found in the Rathcroghan region date back 5,500 years. But it is known that the Celts also settled in the region just before the Common Era began. And it was precisely during the Celtic occupation, when traditions showed worship of nature and Mother Earth, that the festival known as Samhain emerged, which commemorated the beginning of a new cycle.

Rathkrogan - rathcroghan, the gateway to the celtic underworld

During Samhain, the ancient inhabitants of Rathcroghan probably gathered in the cave Oweynagat, known as the gateway to the underworld, as it was believed to act as a portal to and from the Otherworld. It consists of a double underground tunnel that after a few minutes leads to a natural chamber covered with solid limestone walls.

Later, Irish migrants brought the tradition of Samhain to the United States, and due to syncretism, it transformed into what we now know as Halloween. A tradition that is celebrated around the world today originated as a sacred part of Celtic culture in a distant cave in the mystical Rathcroghan.

Genesis of Celtic Culture

The site has incalculable archaeological value, as although the gateway to the underworld is the most interesting due to the origin of Halloween, there are actually many other monoliths and ruins related to heroic Celtic tales. In fact, the main story of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, considered the greatest epic of the region, emerged from Rathcroghan when the figure of Queen War Medb (Maeve) of Connacht arose. Archaeologists believe that both the capitol and the queen’s palace are located among the many monuments that can be admired at the site.

Green - rathcroghan, the gateway to the celtic underworld

Currently, Rathcroghan can be visited and admired for its mystical landscape that holds at least five millennia of stories that finally shaped Irish beliefs. Although efforts are being made to designate it as a World Heritage Site to protect this sacred site.

Story originally written in Spanish by Alejandra Martínez in Ecoosfera.