Hill of Uisneach : Bealtaine : 2011 : Ireland

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The Hill of Uisneach, or Ushnagh, also Uisnech (Irish: Cnoc Uisnigh),[1] formerly regarded as the centre of Ireland, is a historical site in County Westmeath (National Monument Number 155).[2] The 182 metre hill [3] lies on the north side of the R390 road, 8 km east of the village of Ballymore, beside the village of Loughanavally. The Hill of Uisneach occupies parts of four adjacent townlands: Ushnagh Hill, Mweelra, Rathnew, and Kellybrook.[3]

In Irish mythology, it was considered to be the omphalos or mystical navel of Ireland, upon which rested a great stone (Ail na M?reann, which means “stone of divisions”) which was said to indicate the meeting point of the provincial borders of Leinster, Munster, Connacht, Ulster, and Mide (which was once a separate, fifth province). Tradition tells that the Hill of Uisneach was a site favoured for Beltane fires and Druidical ceremonies, and as a ceremonial site it was regarded as second only to Emain Macha. In the poetic history Lebor Gab?la ?renn (Book of the Takings of Ireland), the Nemedian Druid Mide lit the first fire there. A fire was also lit on the Hill of Uisneach on the feast of Bealtaine. This fire could be seen from Tara, and when they saw it, they lit their fire.

According to a popular passage from the same record, ?riu, a tutelary goddess sometimes viewed as the personification of ?ire (Ireland), meets the invading Milesians at the Hill of Uisneach where, after some conversation and drama, the Milesian poet Amairgin promises to give the country her name. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) claims a common belief that Stonehenge was transported to Britain from the Hill of Uisneach. St. Brigid of Christian legend, who is also notably connected with fire, took the veil at this sacred locus.

Based on co-ordinates alone, some have theorised that this may be the site identified as Raiba or Riba, by Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy), the Egyptian-Greek astronomer and cartographer, writing in his Geographia around the year 140 A.D.

Archaeologically, the site consists of a set of monuments spread over two square kilometres in the closely adjoining townlands of Ushnagh, Kellybrook, and Rathnew,[3] which includes enclosures and barrows, a possible megalithic tomb, and two ancient roads. The largest enclosure was excavated in the 1920s by R.A.S. Macalister and R. Praeger and showed evidence of occupation from prehistory up to the early mediaeval period.

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