Building Jerusalem Anew … in Ireland?

Oldcastle - Ireland's Answer to the Isle of Avalon?
Oldcastle - Ireland's Answer to the Isle of Avalon?

Paging Doctor Jung … trudging through drizzly Oldcastle in County Meath, taking a break from re-reading Phil Rickman’s supernatural thriller “The Chalice“, I was having a severe attack of synchronicity. Because, you see, there was this new, Glastonbury-like shopfront. “Witch’s Hill“, taking its cue from the nearby Loughcrew hills.

Witch's Hill in Oldcastle, County Meath
Witch’s Hill in Oldcastle, County Meath

Okay, aside from the niggle that “the Witch’s Hill” is just one possible translation of the Irish “Sliabh na Caillí” (it could also be “the Hill of the Hag”, or more neutral “the Hill of the Old Women” – maybe referring to the oldest aspect of the triple goddess), the sign-writing is more Disney-lurid and Halloween-spirited than New Age, but that might be just me. And they weren’t open, anyway … but through the windows I could see a sort of “event space”, where an art exhibition was hosted. Fair enough.

So what do they say about themselves? “Witch’s Hill Interpretive Centre is a new local business which aims to promote Oldcastle as a cultural hub through art, drama music and storytelling”. So why the Glastonbury vibe I felt? Some of the artwork certainly gave off an “Avalonian” vibe, all goddess, druids, moons, and more colours than a Hindu temple:

Oldcastle - Ireland's Answer to the Isle of Avalon?
Oldcastle – Ireland’s Answer to the Isle of Avalon?

And then there were other developments … the hills of Loughcrew certainly seem to attract more and more attention, and even a new visitor centre has been opened (also to be visited soon, time is a bit sparse right now). Well deserved attention, as the cairns on the hilltops are certainly spectacular, and the have some very fine neolithic art to boot. And what a view!

Compare to Tara, which I tend to describe as “a rather unkempt golf course” at times, but which draws millions. Mainly due to the myth of the High Kings (such as they were). Or to the expensive, and even possibly “enhanced” Newgrange. Both are crowded, not very spiritual places. Whereas Loughcrew, once you get your breath back …

Anyway … is this going to change? Is Loughcrew to be the next big thing on the Boyne Valley Drive? Will Oldcastle slowly morph into an Irish version of Glastonbury? Hey, we already have a festival here, and there even is a bona fide saint. Oliver Plunkett, reliquary in the local (Catholic, needless to say) church, commemorative plaque on the pass beneath the Sliabh na Caillí, birthplace at Loughcrew. His feet in ancient time did indeed walk upon Ireland’s mountain green.

Will a New Age inspired mix of Christianity, neo-paganism, hippy-ish art folk shine forth upon our clouded hills?

Let me be honest … it can be a good thing, it can go tits up very fast as well. I am all for folks exploring Loughcrew in a sensitive, non-intrusive way. But when exploring becomes exploiting, a sour aftertaste is left. Too quick are people trying to make a fast buck, too soon will the snake-oil salesmen and the gombeens appear, followed by the oh-so-alternative folks who try to flog off “original Celtic” stuff they bought in bulk off … remember the Cliffs of Moher in the old days?

But the Cliffs of Moher should also serve as a warning … develop something into a real attraction, and “the man” will take notice. Introducing first parking charges, then restrictions, then extortion.

Whatever, at this moment in time I feel that Oldcastle, which has been in a sort of coma for some years now, might revive itself. And that has to be a good thing. Hasn’t it?

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