You have just arrived at a rath which is known by the local people as ‘Lios na Sí’. ‘Lios’ is another Gaelic word for a rath and ‘Sí’ is the word for the fairy folk. There is a tradition in Gaelic that you never use the word ‘Sí’ out loud as it was disrespectful and could bring misfortune. Instead these otherworld beings were often spoken of as ‘na daoine maithe’, meaning the good people.
Just across from Lios na Sí is a modern stone circle. Stone circles are part of our ancient past and remind us of our connections to our ancestors many thousands of years ago. This new stone circle was created by the local community in homage to local folklore. The engraving on the stones reflect the traditions, history, mythology and culture of the community surrounding Drumnaph and the broader area. One stone has a broad sword, harp and triskel engraved upon it. The sword represents a local battle which was fought in the distant past between the Gaelic clans of Mac Lochlainn and Ó Néill in which the chieftan Niall Mac Lochlainn was killed. Tradition tells that the local townland of Slaughtneill is named after an ancient memorial mound to the chieftain. The harp represents the long tradition of Gaelic music in the area which is now in resurgence and the triskel is a symbol used by the Ó Caoilte family to represent Niall Ó Caoilte, a local man who carved this stone.
The stone with a wolf, the hare and the eagle represents a story of the local townland ‘Alt an Mhadaidh Bhacaigh’ (The steep glen of the lame wolf). An old woman who lived in the glen helped an injured wolf, dressing his wounds and caring for him until he was well. The wolf returned to the wild and the old woman never saw him again. Sometime after, a great snow storm blocked the glen and many people starved of cold and hunger, trapped in their homes. During this time a lone wolf was seen everyday leaving a hare at the old woman’s door until the snow’s grip abated. The eagle represents the eagle of Gleann Lolair, Eagles Glen, also known as Glenullin which is only a short trip north and west over the mountain.
The stone with the hound and the stag represents the ridge running through the reserve, Drumnaph, ‘the Ridge of the Stag’. The dog is Fionn mac Cumhail’s magical hound Bran who is said to have died while hunting the magical deer. He is remembered in the Loch Bran portion of the reserve. The loch is now a very dangerous quaking bog mire having been gradually overgrown through many centuries.
The fourth stone shows Seán Crosach Ó Maoláin, a local man who lived much of his life as a ropaire or highwayman in the early 1700s. Seán’s journey from the son of tenant farmer to a life on the run started with the eviction with his family from their small farm early in his life. Like many from the Gaelic classes Seán had no option but to begin a life on the margins of the new post-plantation society, not willing to conform to the landlords who he saw as land robbers and whose families had, little more than a century earlier, seized the land in most of Ulster. Seán often gave much of what he stole to the poor of the area.
One of Seán’s most celebrated stories was one of his legendary escapes from British soldiers when being taken to Derry to be put on trial. While passing over Carntogher Mountain, Seán asked the soldier to remove his manacles and he would show them three leaps that would astonish them. True to his word he leapt three times and then disappeared down the slopes to freedom with the soldier chasing him. Later in the chase Seán made another leap across the precipice at Ness Wood, an area that is still known as ‘Seán’s Leap’.
The next stone with the Salmon, ship and sun is in sorrowful remembrance of the thousands from the area, and indeed the millions of Gaelic people who were forced to leave their lands, family, language and culture to place their hope in a better future in lands beyond the sea and sunset, never to return.
The last stone contains symbols of the ancient ones, those who invented Ogham Craobh, the ancient writing system and alphabet based on the names of trees. The notches on the side of the stone spell the name of Droim nDamh, written in ogham. The cuacha symbols are also based on ancient carvings in rock found throughout Ireland and beyond, again remembering our ancient cultures and tribes going back through time.