How the Secrets of a Prehistoric World were Revealed by Séamus Ó hUltacháin

In the mid 1990s four megalithic tombs were known to exist in Burren townland with a scattering of outliers in the adjacent townlands of Cavan and Fermanagh. In the summer of 1997 I was told by Paddy McGovern of Legeelan that a ‘stone ditch’ (which would have been buried over millennia) had been discovered by him when cutting turf as a young man some fifty years previously. The wall was mostly taken away for road building but remnants could still be seen. The adjacent townland of Burren was now a mature coniferous forest, ready for harvesting and an uneasiness that the ‘whole archaeological story’ had not been told and that ‘archaeology’ could be destroyed in harvesting operations prompted me to remark to Gaby Burns that I felt that only ‘half the story’ had been told. And so in the autumn of 1997 we began surveying this enigmatic limestone escarpment, where huge sandstone boulders which ‘did not belong’ were omnipresent. Bit by bit we began to realise that we were examining the (substantial) remains of an almost perfectly preserved ‘prehistoric world’. Although we had no background in archaeology we quickly began to trust our instincts – our ‘gut feelings’. The landscape never ceased to surprise – never failed to fascinate. We were driven on both by the joy of discovery and the desire to share our discoveries. We were greatly encouraged by Rory Sherlock who undertook an archaeological survey in this area in 1998 –’99 and by other archaeologists and geologists. Gaby was the recorder/cartographer/illustrator while I forged ahead into ‘the unknown’. The result of our work is contained in the book ‘Burren-Marlbank – A Monumental Prehistoric Landscape’. After twenty-one years of studying this ‘relict’ landscape I’m still not sure if ‘half the story’ has been told. Hopefully it has not!

Séamus Ó hUltacháin


The following is a poem ‘Baile’ (in Irish) which tries to imagine the shock/wonder/excitement of our prehistoric ancestors when they first reached the Burren/Marlbank escarpment. In a way it mirrors the confusion/excitement we experienced as we tried to re-imagine and unravel their world.



Is le mór-iontas a d’amharc siad thart
Nuair a bhain siad an scairp aolchloiche amach don chéad uair
Scaipthe ar fud na coillearnaí
Na clocha ollmhóra gaineamhchloiche – as áit – achan áit
Cuid acu macasamhail na sléibhte a bhfuair siad spléachadh orthu
Eadar an coll is an iúr ar a mbealach aníos ó na h-uiscebhealaí
Bheadh éacht mór oibre le déanamh
A mbeart a chur i gcrích
Agus imfháluithe a leagan amach dá mbeithigh agus dá mbarraí san áit seo
Ach nárbh é sin a mhol na saoithe is na draoithe dóibh a dhéanamh
A mhaígh gurbh anseo a threoraigh déithe na nua-thalmhaíochta iad
Chun lonnaithe agus deireadh a chur le h-ocras is le h-anró
Agus stop a chur leis an síor-ghluaiseacht
Agus giota ar ghiota tháinic siad chun tuisceana
Gurbh anseo cinnte a d’fhág na déithe an bunábhar buan
Fá choinne cróite is claíocha is fiú páirceanna súgartha
Is gurbh anseo a raibh fáil ar an dúrchloch luachmhar
Crochta sna h-aillte os cionn ailteanna alltachta
A d’fheilfeadh dá n-uirlísí feirme is baile
Is le tua cloiche i láimh chrom siad ar an obair
Is leag siad síos crainnte is rinn’ spás glan de
Is scoilt siad an chéad chloch is chuir síos marcanna
Is ghrean siad cuid eile le rúnscríbhinn phearsanta
Pobal beag faiteach ar imeall na scairpe
Réabhlóidithe radacacha ag cumadh ár staire

Séamus Ó hUltacháin

Cathal Buí, the Parish Priest and the Seven Curses

The clergy did not like Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna at all. He was a bad influence in many ways. However, all the young ladies loved him.
Once when it was rumoured that Cathal Buí was visiting a particular area, the parish priest warned people to have nothing to do with him and called down seven curses on anyone who would give him a night’s lodgings.
That evening at nightfall a knock came to the priest’s door. On opening the door the priest saw an old woman who asked him for shelter ‘ar ghrá Dé’. The priest agreed and asked his servant girl to prepare a ‘shakedown’ for the old beggar woman in the kitchen corner.
The priest went to bed and when he arose in the morning the ‘old woman’ was missing. Scrawled on the kitchen wall was a message, which said:

‘Seacht mallacht a thug tú a shagairt a chroí
Ar aon dhuine a bhéarfadh foscadh do Chathal Buí
Tú féin thug tú foscadh do Chathal Buí
Agus thit na seacht mallacht anuas ar do thoigh’

‘Seven curses you called down, a shagairt a chroí
On him who’d let in the bad Cathal Buí
Yourself, you took in the bad Cathal Buí
So now the seven curses rebound back on thee’

The priest checked his house and stables and found the following items missing:
1. His horse
2. His saddle
3. His whip
4. His riding boots
5. His riding hat
6. His horse’s bridle
7. His servant girl

(Story provided by Seamus O’ hUltacháin)

The Battle of Moneygashel

The Battle of Moneygashel took place on the Cavan/Fermanagh border at the beginning of WWII, as rationing took hold and people began crossing the border to purchase items in the north that were scarce in the south.

Upon their return to Moneygashel one night, Customs Officers confronted a group of smugglers. A struggle ensued. In the end, the Customs Men seized several bags of flour, but had no way of transporting them. The men decided that it would be a good idea to order a local family to store them for the night. The lady of the house gladly welcomed both flour and one of the officers, who had been instructed to stand guard until the others returned with help.

That night the tenants of the storehouse held a great Ceili. All the neighbours were invited and they piled in. As the officer warmed to the hospitality of the locals, a pretty young maiden approached him and asked him to dance. Not wishing to appear uncivilized he politely accepted. While the two of them glided over the flagstones in the kitchen, bags of flour were also flying… out the upper room window, and onto a waiting ass and cart!

(Story provided by Claire Maguire)

The Underground Adventures of a Poitín Still

The first water tracing experiment in Ireland was carried out totally accidentally in North-West Cavan in the mid-nineteenth century.

At the time home distilling of poitín was common and raids by the authorities were common too. On hearing that the authorities were approaching, the owners of a poitín still in the vicinity of Garvagh Lough in the foothills of the Cuilcagh Mountains decided to conceal the evidence in the small stream issuing from the lake. This stream goes underground a short distance further on at the sinkhole called ‘Poll na h-Abhann’.

The excise men came and looked high up and low down but found no evidence of poitín making. When they had gone the men came to retrieve their still but it too had gone!
Some days later a man walking by the Shannon Pot was surprised to find a poitin still washed up on the bank.

The neighbours in Glan all celebrated that night believing that Sionna, the goddess of the great river had given them a gift in their time of need.

(Story provided by Seamus O’ hUltacháin)