Friday, March 11, 2011

Oweynagat. The Cave of The Cats. Part One.


Located within the Rathcroghan complex, Roscommon, which is the royal site of the great kings of Connaught (Connacht) and sacred centre of the Goddess/Queen Medb (Maeve).

(Pronounced Oen-na-gat), also known as Cave of the Cats (from a legend where a Great female Warrior killed a Monster Cat that dwelled in the cave). This is believed to be the entrance to the Otherworld and home of the Morrigan, where it is believed she arose at the beginning of the wars related in the story of the Taín.

When she emerges from Oweynagat, the Morrigan is the earth spirit aspect of Medb and as the fearsome ‘War Trio’, she becomes the Morrigan or Morrigu. The name is generally taken to mean “Great Queen”. She is generally accepted as a Triple Goddess, but there are disagreements about how specifically this works. The most common ‘threesomes’ are Aná (pronounced Anya), Badb (pronounced Bave) and Macha as well as Badb, Macha and Nemain. Her triple form has also been referred to as Morrigan, Badb and Macha.

Inside the cave are two ogham stones which translate to mean ‘the pillar of Fraech son of Madb’. Here it is believed that the spirits emerge at Samhain to mingle with the human world. It is of huge mythical importance, the opening to the cave is quite small, roughly three feet high by four feet wide and this opening leads to a souterrain or underground passage. Once through the opening the cave opens up to a large space.

How it became to be called ‘The cave of the cat’s’ is unknown, no cats appear in its folklore or myth. There was a cave in Connaught (Connacht) where a cat was consulted by fortune-tellers but its location was never given in the old texts. Was this Oweynagat, who knows?

The name Oweynagat may come from the magical wildcats featured in "Bricriu's Feast" that emerge from the cave to attack the three Ulster warriors before being tamed by Cúchulainn. The name could also refer to the king of the cats, Irusan, who features in Irish fairy tales and was believed to live in a cave near Clonmacnoise but is associated with many places.

The Christian monk’s called this cave ‘The gateway to hell’ as they were supposed to believe that devils and spirits dwelt there.

It's quite possible that feral cats lived in the cave and may have attacked anyone who tried to enter. You have to bend down to get into the entrance so you would be offering your face to any angry set of teeth and claws from screaming cats so it would be easy to understand any superstitious stories that may have been told at the time.

The whole area is well worth a visit. The Heritage Centre has a detailed history of the area, a well equipped shop, and a lovely little cafe where even though they use tea-bags they still warm the pot. They also have a well designed website which you will find at


  1. "The Christian monk’s called this cave ‘The gateway to hell’ as they were supposed to believe that devils and spirits dwelt there."

    As well, I believe that the entrance to Purgatory has been tentatively located on Station Island in Lough Derg, County Donegal.

  2. Yes, amongst other places? I have always felt that the idea of purgatory was offensive to me, for among the souls waiting to enter heaven were the souls of children born out of wedlock or those unable to obtain the last rites as well as other innocents. I wonder how Jesus Christ would view the rules of a religion that professes to represent him??? Or am I being simplistic?

  3. The whole business about limbo and purgatory is the work of some busy minds who were trying to nail down something that was over their heads. And, as we know, the usual result of that is to hit yourself on the thumb.

  4. Thank you for a wonderful introduction to this site - really interesting. I do not know much about Roscommon, but I have visited Cork and Kerry extensively, but I will certainly think about it.
    Thank you.

  5. You are more than welcome Radders. If ou look at the previous posts you may find something interesting. Keep dropping in.

    Busy minds or just sick minds?
    Limbo from the latin Limbus meaning the boundary or edge of hell. This has been where the souls of unbaptised babies were said to be condemned for the past 800 years (Catholic church doctrine). As if griefing parents did not have enough to contend with. The idea of limbo has now been abandoned by the Pope. Apologies for the past 800 years has not yet been forthcoming.

  6. Have not officially heard that the place of Limbo is abandoned. As a catholic this is news to me...I live in the United Kingdom. Was it only published in Ireland.
    I really would like to know?

  7. Hello and welcome Kilkennycat.
    The process of doing away with Limbo began under the late John Paul II. He was backed by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope. Ratzinger was quoted at the time as saying "If I had the chance I would drop the idea of Limbo"

    Pope Benedict XVI has decreed that “limbus infantium” is no more, that means it has been formally abolished by the Catholic Church. The status of “limbus patrum”, where those “good people” went who were unfortunate enough to have died before the coming of Christ, on the other hand, remains… well, in limbo, so to speak.

    In 2006 a report by the catholic church stated ‘'There is greater theological awareness today that God is merciful and wants all human beings to be saved.

    British priest Father Paul McPartlan, who helped compile the report, added: 'We cannot say we know with certainty what will happen to unbaptised children. But we have good grounds to hope that God in his mercy and love looks after these children, and brings them to salvation.'

    As a pagan I am happy with our concept of the summerlands. I do not wish to offend any Catholic/Christian and hope you find items of interest as you search through the posts contained here. Keep dropping in and I'm glad you have taken time to comment. Hope the above provides a clearer insight to the present status of Limbo.

  8. From my book "The Ballad of Fedelm":

    "Driving a chariot drawn by two white-winged stallions, Fedelm was armed with sword and dagger strapped to either side of her leather belt. She held a silver staff with gold inlay in one hand and the reins in the other. Her long black and white gown of zebra print silk had a slit running up the right side to mid-thigh. Over this she wore a scarlet cloak, while a red cape with the hood thrown back covered her shoulders. The latter two garments were trimmed in ermine. On her feet were a pair of sandals with gold clasps. A garland of flowers adorned her hair. Her traveling companion was a sinewy, coal black jaguar with alert green eyes, which she had befriended at the otherworld known as Oweynagat or Cave of the Cats. More on that later. . .

    "Fedelm drove her chariot to the aforementioned otherworld known as Oweynagat or Cave of the Cats. It was here that she had befriended the jaguar, and it was a dimensional portal for faeries, elves and leprechauns as well as for some of her fellow Dananns residing in Middle Earth. In addition, various enchanted felines, both large and small, lived there. Hence its name. After bidding farewell to her friends, she left the Emerald Isle traveling first to Tír na n-Óg, where she had a chance to catch up with many of her long-lost friends and relatives on the Blessed Isle. However, with so much of the world still to see, she journeyed to distant lands and further adventures far away across the seas."