Fantasy, Film, humour, TOLL, travel, Trickster

And drift…

County Westmeath, Thursday, 28th July 2022…

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‘Place of the ford of Luan’

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Athlone on the Shannon.

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It did not always look like this!

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For one thing,

it used to be a lot greyer.

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But gradually, along with the boats,

colour started to seep into the area.

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If only, for a long time,

a sort of mucky brown.

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Athlone castle is already present in this picture,

and probably had been for quite some time.

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It is just visible on the left.

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At some point a garrison was stationed there,

whose efforts, so the story goes,

finally brought to an end the endeavours at Clonmacnois,

and it would still not be inappropriate to regard the building as a fort,

and a very formidable looking fort at that.

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However, it is now a museum and there were rumours

that a couple of Sheela-na-Gigs are now housed there.

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Or at least, they once were,

the tourist guide made no mention of them,

and instead extolled the virtues of the very latest

interactive experience…

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The museum, though, for all its hype,

still has the air of the sort of place

that once entered might be very difficult to exit.

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Apart from the foreboding cast

of the new museum

Athlone, is a very pleasant,

and suitable hole-up in which

to enjoy a well earned rest-day…

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There was something else though…

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We may have found the Ent-Wives!

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From Ent-Wives to Hobbits…

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This photo for was taken on the edge of the south Yorkshire village of High Bradfield. The village is perched upon a hill and its most prominent feature is the church. Beyond the churchyard… whose walls we had to climb until we finally found a legitimate pathway on a later visit… is a mysterious mound.

It is not just we who think it so… and there is not just one of them, but two. The jury is still out on their origins. The tallest of them is a conical, man-made hill some thirty four feet high. That doesn’t sound a great deal… but when you stand in its shadow, you see just how big that really is. The lower hill is surrounded by an earthwork over three hundred feet long. It is not an insignificant site.

The first time we climbed the hill with a friend, not only marked a total fall from dignity on my behalf, but showed us that at least one of the theories about the place made little sense at all. The last time we were there, we had an odd encounter with the sheep who ‘cut’ the churchyard grass.

The most prevalent theory about the mounds is that they are a Norman motte and bailey castle. And that may well be true. You have to imagine the place without the trees that have colonised the mounds in recent centuries. There is an undoubted resemblance to other well-preserved Norman mounds, and in particular the twin mounds of the Bass of Inverurie. The lower mound could have served as the bailey, the palisaded compound where food, horses, servants and beasts were protected. The taller mound would therefore be the motte upon which the fortified wooden castle would have been built.

The problem is that the hill is conical… there really is no room for a castle, even the smallest, on the top. You would barely get a garden shed up there… let alone a wooden fort.  And anyway, why build it right here when there is a far more commanding position overlooking the whole valley below, the moorland and all the approaches not half a mile away on the rocky escarpment called Castle Hill, where there is a stone enclosure of ancient date?

Defensively, it makes no sense. Politically it might, if the Normans took over and imposed their presence on a pre-existing site that held some importance for the local people, stamping their own authority on the landscape.

Another theory suggests it may predate the Normans, who turned up here nearly a thousand years ago. It might be Saxon, which would fit as there is a Saxon settlement site below the village. That could push it back a further five or six hundred years. Or it could be even older… a local ‘meeting place’… a sacred site perhaps… a place of importance to the local population. Considering that we know that the Church took over ancient sacred sites to impose their presence on the community, following Pope Gregory’s instructions to Mellitus, that would make sense too.

Our thoughts are that this may have been an ancient and sacred site, subsequently taken over by the Saxons, the Church, and the Normans… thus maintaining its place at the heart of the community while imposing their presence on its people…

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 ‘Doomsday: The Aetheling Thing’  – Stuart France and Sue Vincent.

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