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The Grianan of Aileach

The 'Grianan of Aileach' or 'Stone House of the Sun' was founded by Druids 1700 years before the coming of Christ. Aileach was the ancient over-kingdom of the Celtic UiNeill Clan. That kingdom consisted of two parts, Cineal Chonaill and Cineal Eoghain. Cineal Chonaill roughly represented the area now covered by Co. Donegal, thus the Irish name for Co. Donegal, which is Tir (the land of) Chonaill. In pagan days it was used as a temple of the sun, and later as a refuge for the womenfolk when the men went off to war. Thus it was sometimes called the 'Weeping Place for Women'. The geographer, Ptolemy of Alexandria in Egypt, noted its position as far back as the 2nd century. In later years it became the fortress and palace of the Northern High Chieftains. It is said that St Patrick preached here in 450 AD and baptised Eoghain, founder of the O'Neill clan.

Royal Grianan came to an end at the beginning of the 12th cenury when O'Brien, King of Thomond, and one of Brian Boru's earliest successors, sacked this place in revenge for a northern raid on Clare. For centuries this ancient monument lay desolate and almost in ruins....yet once more the old place was fated to be used as a temple. But this time by people of a different faith. During the dark and evil days of the penal code the Catholic people assembled here for Mass 'in spite of dungeon fire and sword.'

The cashel (ring fort) stands on Grianan Hill, some 253 meters (800 feet) above sea level. The 23 meter diameter cashel, made of unmortered stone, has outer walls 5.25 meters high and 12 feet thick. The entrance is more like a passageway than a gateway.

On the inside, two terraces, reached by a stone staircase, runs round at different levels, both set in the wall itself. Many of the stones are marked with tar....these are the upper stones found in the original positions when the cashel was restored between the years 1874 and 1879.

(The beautiful view of Lough Swilly, looking west from the Grianan)

Just a few notes.....

The road leading up the hill to the Grianan is quite steep and very narrow, so you have to take your time.......

And even if you're there in the middle of summer, because you're up so high, it's very windy and cold - how windy? Just look at the following photograph!

(No, Liam does not have a big head - his hat is just full of wind!)

NB. The text in this page was partly sourced from 'Donegal, An Exploration', by J.J. Tohill and 'Touring Donegal, A Guide to Co. Donegal, Ireland'.

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