Paul Cotter

An tEaragail

Paul Cotter
An tEaragail

An tEaragal

Is rudaí nádúrtha iad na sléibhte; cruthaithe ag fórsaí geolaíocha na mílte mílte bliain sula raibh ár sórt ann ar chor ar bith. Ach is rudaí cultúrtha iad chomh maith, sa mhéid is go dtugann muidinne, an chine daonna, ainmneacha dóibh agus go gcuireann muid scéalta agus ciall ina leith. Ní amháin sin fiú ach tugann muid onóir do chuid acu mar go measann muid go bhfuil siad

‘naofa’, go speisialta má tá siad i gchónchruth cosúil le Sliabh Fiji nó Kilimanjaro nó píceach cosúil leis an Earagal. Shíl daoine go raibh na sléibhte mar sin ag díriú ar an spéir nó fiú ag déanamh teagmháil leis an spéir – ríocht na ndéithe.

In ainneoin an easpa seanchais a mhaireann faoin Earagal, is cinnte gur sliabh beannaithe a bhí ann. Sa bhrí is cruinne den fhocal, is ainm ón ‘Chríostaíocht’ é Aireagal – ón tSean Ghaeilge Airecal – a thagann ón ainm Oraculum, Laidin eaglasta. Tá an t-ainm sin le fáil in áiteanna eile in Éirinn chomh maith – go háirithe i gCúige Uladh, ar a n-áirítear Aireagal Adhamhnáin i dtuaisceart Cho. Dhoire.

Ach cén sórt rudaí a d’fhéadfaí a chreidbheáil faoin Earagal roimh aimsir na Críóstaíochta? Tá leideanna éagsúla ann ó aimsir Chríost gur dócha go raibh an sliabh go dearfa ina fhócas dúthrachta don dia Ceilteach Lugh – Lugh Lámhfhada, go díreach mar bhí a mhacasamhail i gCo. Mhaigh Eo, Cruach Phádraig, sula ndearnadh é a Chríostú fosta. Ach diomaite den logainm Dún Lúiche – 'dún Lugh' – ag a bhun, ní mhaireann scéalta ar bith faoin Earagail. Tá sé seo dochreidte; is cinnte go meallfadh a leithéid de shliabh chomh suntasach leis dinnseanchas san aimsir i bhfad siar. Maíonn easpa den chineál sin scéalta, agus má bhí siad ann uair amháin (agus is dócha go raibh go cinnte), rinneadh iad a chosc agus a chur faoi chois – is dóichí ag sagairt na Críostaíochta fadó.

Is é an tEaragal an pointe is faide ó dheas den ríocht ar a dtugtaí Síl Lughdach uair amháin – ‘síol’ nó ‘daoine Lugh’. Ba é an sliabh seo an mol theas den ríocht, díreach mar a bhí Oileán Thoraí ina mhol thuaidh dó. Glacadh leis an taobh tíre idir an sliabh agus an t-oileán mar an suíomh do throid eipiciúil idir dia maith (Lugh, cé nach n-ainmneoidh é i gcónaí siociar go raibh geis ag baint leis) agus an dia olc Balar, mar atá go fóill in logainmneacha nua-aimseartha agus sa bhéaloideas. Tá an béaloideas sin ina leagan áitiúil den scéal miotaseolaíochta is mó de chuid na hÉireann: An Dara Cath ag Magh Tuired – leagan Éireannach de scéal comhchoitianta a thagann aníos sa Bhíobla mar scéal David agus Goliath. Gó díreach mar a bhí Oileán Thoraí ceangailte le Balar, tá sé beagnach cinnte go raibh an tEaragal (sula bhfuair sé an t-ainm sin) ceangailte le Lugh – an dá cheann acu ag cur in iúl sraitheanna éagsúla de chontrárthacht chosmacha: theas agus thuaidh, ard agus íseal, tír agus farraige, maith agus olc, dubh agus bán, dearfach agus diúltach, éirí agus luí na gréine, lá agus oíche, geal agus dorcha, óg agus aosta.

Tugadh onóir mhór do Lugh ar fud Eoraip na gCeilteach in aois na hIarannaoise. Bhí Julius Caesar den tuairim go raibh sé inchurtha le Mercury – an coibhéiseach Rómanach den dia Gréagach, Hermes. Sular ghabh na Rómanaigh é, ba ghnách leis an chathair Lyon sa Fhrainc an fhéile a ba mhó a choinneáil in onóir Lugh – chiallaigh a ainm ársa, Lugudunon, an rud céannann céanna is a chiallaigh Dún Lúiche. Go fóíll, ainmnítear an chéad mhí de shéasúr an fhómhair – Lúnasa – i ndiaidh Lugh.

Sula dtáinig an Chríostaíocht go iarthar Thír Chonaill (agus is dócha go cionn fada ina dhiaidh sin), bhí an tEaragal tiomanaithe go cinnte don dia Lugh, agus b’fhéidir, fiú, gur tugadh ainm air mar Sliabh Logha.

Brian Lacey
Meitheamh 2015

An tEaragal

Mountains are natural objects; created and shaped by geological forces aeons before our species even existed. But they are also cultural objects in the sense that we humans give them names and attribute stories and meaning to them. Occasionally we even honour them as 'holy' – having extra meaning – especially if they are cone-shaped like Mount Fuji or Kilimanjaro or peaked like Mount Everest or Croagh Patrick. Such mountains were often considered to point to or even touch the sky – the realm of the gods.

Despite the absence of surviving lore, Errigal was almost certainly such a holy mountain. Aireagal – from Old Irish Airecal – is literally a ‘Christian’ name, derived from ecclesiastical Latin Oraculum meaning an oratory. In pre-Christian times Oraculum meant a place where oracles (prophecies) were obtained. That name occurs also elsewhere in Ireland – particularly in Ulster, including Aireagal Adhamhnáin in north Co. Derry.

But if its present name dates only since the arrival of Christianity, what sort of things might have been believed about Errigal before that? There are various hints that from around the time of Christ, at least, the mountain was probably a focus of devotion almost certainly to the Celtic god Lug – Lugh Lámhfhada, just as its Co. Mayo counterpart, Croagh Patrick, was before it too was Christianised in early medieval times. But apart from the place-name Dún Lúiche – 'fort of Lug' – at its base, there are no surviving beliefs about Errigal. This is extraordinary; almost certainly such a beautifully-shaped and brightly-coloured mountain would have attracted dinnseanchas in ancient times. The absence of such stories suggests that if they once existed (which almost certainly they did) then they were deliberately censored and suppressed – most probably by early Christian clerics.

Errigal stands at the southernmost point of what used to be the kingdom of Síl Lugdach – the 'seed' or 'people of Lug'. The mountain was the kingdom's south pole just as Tory Island was its north pole. The landscape between the mountain and the island was believed to have been the location of an epic struggle between a good god (Lug, although usually not named) and the bad god Balar, as is still reflected in modern place-names and folklore. That folklore is the localised version of the greatest Irish mythological story: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired – itself an Irish version of a universal tale reflected in the Bible as the story of David and Goliath. Just as Tory Island was connected with Balar so, almost certainly, Errigal (before it got that name) was connected with Lug – the two representing various sets of cosmic opposites: south and north, high and low, land and sea, good and bad, black and white, positive and negative, sunrise and sunset, day and night, light and dark, young and old.

Lug was widely honoured throughout Celtic Europe in Iron Age times. Julius Caesar thought he was the equivalent of Mercury – the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Hermes. Before the Romans conquered it, what is now the French city of Lyon held the greatest festival in Lug's honour – its ancient name, Lugudunon, meaning exactly the same thing as Dún Lúiche. To some extent Lug was a personification of the sky, of light and the sun; the first month of the harvest season – Lúnasa – is still named after him in Irish. Some scholars believe his name is related to the Latin word lux meaning 'light' but others think it came from a Celtic word for an 'oath' and that there may have been a taboo against uttering the name itself. That taboo seems to be reflected still in the folklore of Cloghaneely where the stories which are evidently about Lug often do not use his actual name.

Before Christianity arrived in west Donegal (and probably for a long time after) Errigal was almost certainly dedicated to the god Lug, and may even have been called something like Sliabh Logha.

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