Just outside of Tulsk, as part of the Rathcroghan royal complex, sits the holy well of Ogulla.
This place has been a sacred site well back into pagan times, and so of course has been coopted by the Catholic church.
This, however, did nothing to diminish the powerful experience I had there.
The Official History
According to legend, Laoghaire was the last Pagan high king of Ireland. His two daughters, Eithne and Fidelma, were studying at the Druid school Cashel Manannan in the Rathcroghan complex.
They were bathing in the spring one day when a band of priests – possibly including Patrick himself – observed them.
Yeah, nothing creepy at ALL about Catholic priests watching two young women bathing.
Nonetheless, according to the story, the Princesses/ Druids-in-training were quite fascinated by the priests and their stories of the “One True God.” So much so that they begged to be converted and were baptized right there in the springs.
Once baptized, the Princesses wanted to see this amazing God, but were told He can’t be seen by the living. Their insta-conversion being so strong, and their hearts so pure with holy longing, the Princesses immediately fell dead in the perfection of their new faith. They were buried near the well, but later transported somewhere else so as to be divided up as holy relics.
The Site Today
Today the site is completely covered with Catholic iconography. For a while it was at least dedicated to Mary, keeping the feminine spirit, but has since been taken over by Patrick.
And of course there’s a giant glass gazebo where the actual Pope once conducted mass.
One remnant of Ogullas pagan past is a rag tree. In a tradition that well predates christianity, tying a piece of a sick person’s clothing to certain holy trees is supposed to allow the tree to absorb the sickness and heal the person.
My Experience: Powerful Voices From a Violent Takeover
This was the first site in the Rathcroghan complex that my friend and guide Lora O’Brien brought me to. She had us clean out some of the weeds growing in the spring as an offering, but kept her own thoughts to herself at first, letting me experience the spirit of the place for myself.
And boy, did I.
After cleaning out the weeds, I knelt down to wash my face and hands in the holy spring water. And that’s when it hit me.
I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Eithne and Fidelma did not convert willingly. Nor did they die peacefully.
My mind was filled with horrific flashes. Men who saw native pagans as devil worshipping savages, and women as barely better than livestock.
Young, proud princesses caught in a vulnerable moment with no clothing or weapons to defend themselves.
Rape. Murder. Proud and defiant women refusing to surrender despite horrible violent degradations.
And a fantastic story of the miraculous spun to cover evil deeds.
I’m Not Alone
When I told Lora what I was getting she agreed. Apparently Eithne and Fidelma tell their story to as many visitors who are sensitive enough to hear it.
It made me wish I’d brought something, some flowers or something to offer them. To show remembrance. To acknowledge their pain.
But these women are far from alone. All of Ireland didn’t convert peacefully, and even today the Catholic church has a theocratic boot on the necks of the people.
Don’t believe me? Look up the Magdalene laundries. The Tuam baby murders. The 8th ammendment. Yes, it’s getting better. But not soon enough for the women and children who, like Eithne and Fidelma, have died at the hands of this church.
May they never be forgotten.