Uisneach is the mythological and sacred centre of Ireland. At its heart is Aill na Mireann, or the Catstone, where the five provinces of Ireland met.
Uisneach was said to be the home of the sovereignty goddess, Ériu, after whom Ireland is named. Ériu, according to legend, rests under the Catstone.
Uisneach is also linked with the Sun God Lugh. It is said that Lugh, who gave rise to harvest celebration Lunasa, was drowned in a lake on the Hill and rests beneath an adjoining tumulus. According to one theory, the God Lugh, with his ‘long arm trailing behind him’ and his face too bright to look at, was actually a comet.
On Bealtaine (May time), a fire was lit on Uisneach to celebrate the coming of summer. The lighting of the Uisneach fire was the signal for igniting fires on many hills across the whole island creating a unique, fire eye, with the Uisneach fire being the pupil.
The ‘Good God’ Dagda is said to have lived at Uisneach and stabled his solar horses there. Two souterrains have been located at Uisneach, inside a wheel shaped enclosure. One of these ‘caves’ is in the shape of a mare pursued by a galloping stallion. Horse deities have always been associated with the hill.
Archaeological work at Uisneach has uncovered evidence of enclosures, souterrains, houses, two roadways (believed to link the royal sites of Uisneach, Tara and Rathcroghan).
There was a real fifth province or kingdom in ancient Ireland known as Mide. The ‘fifth province’ could also refer to the world of the imagination and the magical ‘otherworld’. The Catstone was regarded as a gateway to this other world. In ‘The Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology’, Uisneach is described as ‘a hill that has played a significant role in the Irish imagination’.
Saint Patrick visited Uisneach. His place of worship is now known as St. Patrick’s bed. Saint Brigid was named after the great pan Celtic Goddess Brigit – ‘The Bright One’ who was worshipped at Uisneach in Pre-Christian times.
Legend has it that Brian Boru came to Uisneach around 999 to lay claim to the sovereighty over Mide.
In 1111 AD, a synod of bishops and clegry was held at Uisneach to begin the work of dividing Ireland into Dioceses.
As late as the 1600’s, the people of Westmeath referred to themselves at ‘people of the old kingdom’ (of Mide / Uisneach)
James Joyce visited Uisneach while he was working in Mullingar in 1900 – 1901. Uisneach has the distinction of being mentioned in ‘Finnegans wake’.
In the early 1900’s, leading figues in the Gaelic League regularly visited Uisneach for a Feis held each August on the Hill. Eamonn de Velera addressed a rally on the Hill in the late 1920’s.
The Hill of Uisneach is one of five royal sites that is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Ireland, Tentative List. The other sites include:-
– Cashel, Co. Tipperary
– Dun Ailinne, Co. Kildare
– Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon
– Tara, Co. Meath