While I was attending the Bealtaine Fire Festival at the Hill of Uisneach last month, I took the opportunity to explore several of the ancient monuments and earthworks dotted around the 2 square kilometer large site. The most captivating feature is a large glacial erratic located in a circular enclosure. Composed of limestone, it stands almost 20 feet tall, is estimated to weigh over 30 tonnes and has been nicknamed the Cat Stone, for from some angles it resembles a sleeping cat.
It goes by other names too – Umbilicus Hinerniae, Axis Mundi, Ail na Míreann (stone of the divisions) and the navel of Ireland. It marks the point where all four of Ireland’s provinces meet, was believed to be a gateway to the mystical fifth province Mide and the goddess Ériu, who gave Ireland its name, is allegedly buried beneath the Cat Stone. Ancient druids believed the Cat Stone marked the absolute centre of Ireland. With today’s GPS technology the exact centre of Ireland has been located just over 18 miles west, in a townland called Carnagh East on the shores of Lough Ree but even so, I am going to have to doff my cap to those druids. Only 18 miles out with no satellite technology, maps or aerial surveys? That’s pretty good going in my books.
On the same subject, I discovered a tongue in cheek documentary from an old Irish tv programme called Hall’s Pictorial Weekly, from back in the days when Irish telly only came in black and white. They visited several sites claiming to be the dead centre of Ireland.