A Chance Encounter at “Grianán of Aileach”

November 5, 2016

During our stay in Greencastle, in the northeast of Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula, Jim and I set off one morning to visit the ancient ringfort at Grianán of Aileach, a group of historic structures atop a 244-meter hill near the Inishowen village of Burt.

Just before we reached the hilltop, I stopped to photograph the breathtaking autumn fields cascading down to the ocean loughs that define the peninsula.


The Grianán of Aileach ringfort (Stoney House of the Sun), is thought to be Ireland’s first earthen-wall enclosure. Early ruins on the site date back to 1700 BC and are linked to the Tuatha de Danann, who invaded Ireland before the Celts constructed stone forts on top of strategic hills. It was built by the Daghda, the celebrated king of the Tuatha De Danann and erected around the grave of his son, Aedh, who had been killed by Corrgenn, a Connacht chieftain.

Once we parked alongside the fort, I made a mad dash from the car to the entrance leading into the structure because the hilltop wind was about to knock me off my feet. As I neared the entrance, I was momentarily startled to hear voices coming from inside the fort. Those voices belonged to Gareth Wilkinson, a journalist from UTV, a commercial television station just over the border in Derry, Northern Ireland, and his cameraman, Ian Struthers, who was busy filming.


After a pleasant chat (shouting above the wind), the two gentlemen obliged me by standing alongside of the structure to provide a sense of scale of the fort that stands as a silent witness to the unfolding of Irish history.


Some weeks after we returned to Pennsylvania, I received an email from Gareth explaining that he and Ian had to return to the fort to reshoot the video because of the terrible wind that was whipping on the day we met. He also sent a link showing the brief clip that appeared in a perfectly wonderful UTV feature Gareth presented about a living Celtic cross planted years ago by a Donegal forester. It now stands as a tribute to his memory for the gift he has given to all who see it. At this link you can view his feature about the cross that now graces what Gareth so aptly describes as Donegal’s “majestic, mystical landscape.”


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