Rathcroghan – an ancient place of buried Kings, Queen Medb and the origins of Halloween

Rathcroghan Ancient Site Tulsk Co. Roscommon

Between Roscommon town and Boyle is the medieval village of Tulsk whose hinterland boasts Connaught’s largest important historical complex, Rathcroghan, the ancient burial place of Kings, Warrior Queen Medb’s stronghold and the origination of Halloween.


Rathcroghan Ancient Irish site: 

Rathcroghan Iron Age Mound
Rathmore large Iron-Age ring fort mound.

Rathcroghan, the ‘Sacred Capital of Connaught’, is the oldest and largest unexcavated royal site in Ireland and predates the Pyramids of Egypt. The site is also associated with the birthplace of Halloween or Shamhna in Irish.

The complex is spread over a fairly large area, over 6Km² with ancient man-made features dating from the Neolithic Age (4000 to 2500BC) to the Iron Age (500BC to 400AD). The area was known as Cruachan, the ancient capital of Connachta.


The area has over 240 archaeological sites, of which 60 are protected National Monuments. The array of important historical features include Stone Age tombs, royal burial mounds, great ringforts, ceremonial inauguration sites, and huge linear earthworks.

King Daith's Stone
Daithí’s Stone – marks King Daithí’s burial place in Rathcroghan.

Queen Medb and Ireland’s last pagan King

This is warrior Queen Medb’s country who ruled Connacht from Rathcroghan. Remember the Táin Bó Cuailnge legend about the famous cattle raid of Cooley in Louth which featured the youthful hero Cú Chulainn among others? A real mad-cow story.

Interestingly, Ireland’s last Pagan King, Daithí is also buried here and a Standing Stone marks the spot (at the bottom of a farmer’s field).

UNESCO sites in Ireland

This historically important area has been added to the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status. Hopefully, it will get granted the honour because it is just as important as Irish sites like Newgrange in Meath (Royal Tara) and Skellig Michael off the Kerry coast (where they shot some of the last Star Wars scenes).

I have passed near this area many times and I had heard that it was ‘interesting’ and that it was ‘where the Kings and Queens’ of Connaught were buried. The size and scale of the complex really surprised me. I am also amazed why such an important site is somewhat of a secret? It is Connaught’s New Grange really… and needs to be promoted better as a place of real interest for all.

Oweynagat, The Gates of Hell
Entrance to the Cave of Cats (or The Gates of Hell!).

Halloween and Ireland’s Gate to Hell…

The pictures featured here are of some of the sites that I managed to get to. This included the legendary Oweynagat or Cave of the Cats, which was said to be ‘Ireland’s Gate to Hell’ and entrance to the ‘Otherworld’. You can see why the area was associated with the birthplace of Halloween. The cave entrance was small enough space and besides, I wasn’t ready for the hell or the Otherworld just yet…


Tulsk and Rathcroghan Visitor Centre

The village of Tulsk is also where the important Rathcohan Visitor and Interpretative Centre (and Café) aka Cruachan Aí (Plain of the Mounds) is situated. The centre offers guided tours but unfortunately, it does not open on Sundays so I missed out.

Rathcroghan Visitor Centre
The award-winning Cruachan Aí (Rathcroghan) Visitor Centre, in Tulsk, Co. Roscommon

Apart from a German woman, there was nobody else on the trail of the many sites on the day. Many of the main sites are mounds in fields with various other places of interest scattered throughout the nearby rural farmland. Some imagination is needed to bring these overgrown age-old sites to life in your head. Just think about how old they are, what is actually in them and what they were for? An ideal location for some AR (Augmented Reality).

Across the road from the Visitor Centre is the site of the ruined Tulsk Franciscan Abbey (built-in 1448) which has an interesting graveyard. Indeed, there is as an iron-age mound behind the visitor centre itself.

I hope to get back to visit Rathcroghan Visitor Centre next time and I will add that experience to this blog as well.

Tulsk Abbey
Tulsk Abbey, Co. Roscommon.

There is a map of the main areas to visit at the carpark by the large Rathmore Iron-age mound. Some of the sites are not easy to reach and you have to treck across farmland to see them. There is poor sign-posting as well to other sites listed on the map which does not help. If you are persistent and prepared to do a bit of driving and spotting, many wonders will be revealed. It was a bit of an adventure really, and sure doesn’t like a bit of exploring!

Check out the Rathcroghan Visitor Centre.





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