Ireland’s Gate to Hell: Oweynagat (The Cave of Cats)
At the end of a country lane in Ireland is Oweynagat, the Cave of the Cats, an entrance to another world. That world is full of werewolves and other monstrous creatures including terrifying cats, rampaging pigs and malevolent birds.
Described in medieval texts as the “hell-mouth of Ireland”, this is one of the most important sites in Celtic mythology but one of the least visited. Located on a privately owned farm full of brambles and cowpats, this unremarkable looking cave is almost hidden from view. Yet it is in this spot that Halloween was born.
Although you could be forgiven for thinking Halloween is an American tradition, it has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of the dark cold winter.
The Celts believed that at sundown on October 31, the border between the world of the living and the dead became blurred, allowing spirits to pass through. All the goblins, monsters and werewolves that were normally trapped in the other world came out on this one night of the year. By disguising oneself as a harmful spirit, it was thought that you could ward off the harmful spirits.
According to the legend this is what happened at the cave:
At Oweynagat that various destructive creatures emerged. The Ellen Trechen was a triple headed monster that went on a rampage across the country before being killed by Amergin, the father of Conall Cernach. Small red birds came from the cave withering every plant they breathed on before being hunted by the Red Branch, also herds of pigs with similar decaying powers emerged from the cave with Ailill and Medb themselves desperately trying to hunt them but having to deal with vanishing powers and an ability to shed captured flesh.
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.
Oweynagat is a small, uninviting cave out in the fields of County Roscommon, Ireland.