Ireland’s gate to hell is in Roscommon

During Samhain, it was believed fearsome otherworldly creatures emerged from Oweynagat

Cromwell got it so wrong. He should have instructed our ancestors they should go “to Hell and to Connacht” (not “or to Connacht”). For the gates of Hell, and the origin of Halloween, are in that august province (whatever the month) at Rathcroghan in the beloved Co Roscommon.

This, of course, will delight some envious neighbours in surrounding counties who are wont to wilfully misconstrue the reality by insisting how, rather than the entrance to hell being in Roscommon, it is hell. Their fate is sealed – as hot as Spain in July with no exit gate available.

The cave of Uaimh na gCat (Oweynagat) is believed to be the original “home” of Halloween and Ireland’s gate to hell. October 31st marks the celebration of Samhain, when it was believed fearsome otherworldly creatures emerged from Oweynagat to haunt innocent Rossies (as did Kerry footballers thrice, in 1946, 1962 and 1980).

Even those saintly early Christian Rossies believed the gate opened at Halloween every year, allowing dead souls from hell to enter the world of the living through a portal as unique as anything in science fiction. Then dangerous beasts emerged from the cave as well as horrible goblins and copper-red birds led by a monstrous three-headed vulture named O’Shea. Not for the faint-hearted.


(Apologies to all goblins and three-headed vultures. We know the vast majority of you are kind, decent, and neither horrible, monstrous nor from Kerry.)

Last July a delegation of younger relatives from the US branch of the McGarry family visited Oweynagat and were suitably impressed. Being, inevitably, “unusual” for genetic reasons, this McGarry family has a partucluar passion for the letter D, as evident in their names: Declan, Di(ana), Deryk, Dylan, Danny, Delaney. They were accompanied at Oweynagat by their Rossie cousin, Deniese. (My niece, Niamh, but why spoil the story?)

They were very impressed with the tour and actually entered Oweynagat, emerging unscathed and unshaken in their passion for D. (Of all the letters in all the alphabets in all the world, why choose the innocuous D?) Then it must be said, apart from that (d)issapointment, they are a grand crew and a credit to the surname, of which you will find few in hell. Or Kerry.

Oweynagat, from the Gaeilge, for “cave of the cats”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times