Fourknocks Megalithic Tomb

Amongst the various megaliths we’d plan to see on our trip in 2016, Fourknocks was probably one of the most remote.  Since its tucked away in the Boyne Valley region like Loughcrew, it made sense to see both at the same time.  However, with GPS difficulties rearing its ugly head again, our plans were quickly dashed and we gave up, ready to reach our bed and breakfast in Kells.


Aerial view of Fourknocks.  Image Credit:

Dating back around 5,000 years, Fourknocks (from Fuair Cnocs, or “”Cold Hills”) is another example of a cruciform passage tomb with its short entry passage, big central chamber, and three smaller side chambers.  At 42 square meters (around 452 square feet), its central chamber is more than double the one found at Newgrange, and it’s probably for this reason the original tomb lacked the roof seen today.  Its believed that, if anything, Fourknocks had a wooden roof supported by a central pole.

The National Museum excavated the site from 1950-1952 and found numerous human remains of all ages and sexes.  Grave offerings were also found, and are now in the side chambers, and are now on display at the National Museum.  After the excavation was complete, the dig team created the current roof from concrete.  Some holes were left to allow sunlight to filter through, illuminating the different carved designs.


Carving believed to be the first depiction of a human face in prehistoric Irish art.  Image credit:  Megalithic Ireland.

Fourknocks is only 10 miles southeast of Newgrange, and the two sites are actually in alignment with each other. But unlike Newgrange, Fourknocks is not illuminated during the winter solstice; though in line with the sun’s path, it’s too far north for any light to enter its chamber.   The site did once align with an astrological feature however.  Astronomers know that, when Fourknocks was built, Cassiopeia’s “W” shape would have been in perfect alignment with the four mounds.  It’s been suggested this is why a “W” motif commonly appears in the site’s carved stones, and that perhaps the roofless design was intentional for stargazing.


Lintel stone with “W” motif.  Image Credit:  Megalithic Ireland.

Directions to the site can be very complicated, especially since signs telling you where you are aren’t very common.  But if you can find it, Fourknocks is said to be a wonderful, secluded site.  The mound is on private property, so visitors need to stop by Mr. Fintan White’s house roughly 800 meters away from the tomb to get a key.  He asks for a 20 euro deposit, to ensure you’ll bring the key back before 6pm, and his phone number is easily found across various websites.  Perhaps I’d written the number down while preparing for our trip, but I was unable to reach him.  If you do try calling him, I wish you better luck!  The number is 353 (0) 1 8354722.


Front view of the main mound.  Image Credit:

I definitely still would love to see Fourknocks someday, though I’m a bit wary of trying to find it on my own after our experience.  Since coming back to the States, I have found private tours of the site, including other Boyne highlights, exist.  But the price is steep – €380 after a direct booking discount, for 1-3 people through Boyne Valley Tours.  Mythical Ireland offers tours as well, though they do not quote a price on their website.

Still, it might be worth considering, depending on what other sites could be combined with Fourknocks for this personalized tour.  Avoiding the nerve-wracking hunt for the site would definitely be a nice refresher!

Have you been to Fourknocks?  If so, what do you think, and do you have any tips for someone like myself who had difficulty finding the site?

Additional Links & Resources:

Boyne Valley Tours: Fourknocks

Directions to Fourknocks – Fourknocks

Meath Tourism

Megalithic Ireland

Mythical Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway

As I mentioned in my last post, my family and I went to the Giant’s Causeway with our tour group back in 2011.  As was the case at Dunluce Castle, the views of Antrim’s rugged coastline were spectacular, though because of the Causeway’s nature, we were able to get a lot closer to the water’s edge.


The Giant’s Causeway is a modern day UNESCO World Heritage site, but its natural beauty has drawn in visitors for centuries.  Its iconic hexagonal basalt stacks were formed by rapidly cooling lava 60 million years ago, but that hasn’t stopped the human imagination from coming up with other theories for their existence.  Some of the first visitors believed it had to be the work of men armed with picks and chisels or even Finn McCool, giant and hero of the Fenian Myth Cycle.

Finn McCool is described in many different myths, but one of the first I heard was of his role in the Giant’s Causeway’s creation.  The story goes that Finn and the Scottish giant Benadonner hated one another, and after another day of exchanging insults, Finn tore up chunks of land to build a stepping stone path to reach Benadonner.  The latter quickly destroyed the path, separating the two countries once more and creating what we know today as the Giant’s Causeway.  Interestingly enough, the same basalt pillars can be seen in Scotland, too, on the Isle of Staffa.

Finn’s folkloric touch on the landscape can be seen in the names of different formations too, from the Giant’s Boot to the Wishing Chair, and the story of his fight with Benadonner is commemorated with a sign post at the main site.


Of course, the Causeway also holds a special place in my heart due to a friendly argument my eldest sister and I still bring up every once in a while – whether or not to walk on the black rocks.

When our tour group arrived at the Causeway, we dispersed quickly.  I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but my sister and niece ended up well ahead of our parents and me, while the three of us took our time and kept pace with a few other people, taking in the sights and reading over the travel brochure.  The brochure mainly served as a map, for anyone interested in pushing past the main site, but it also offered a warning – don’t walk on the slick black rocks, closest to the water’s edge.  Signs along the path reiterated this – walking on the black rocks made it easy to slip and fall, possibly into the ocean’s hard surf.

Then one of the people in our makeshift group noticed two small pink dots, way off in the distance, right on the black rocks.


Guess who?

We jokingly pretended we didn’t know who those people could possibly be, though we knew right away from the raincoats it was my sister and niece.  And soon enough they wandered back our way, joining us up on the path to the main site with a laugh about not seeing any signs warning about the black rocks, insisting the warnings just weren’t there.

Even with the warnings though, it ended up being perfectly fine to walk on the black rocks when we were at the Causeway.  The sea wasn’t as rough as it could have been, and we were careful to watch our step whenever we did wander closer to the water’s edge.  But it’s still a fun joke to bring up every now and then when we look back on the trip, especially since she still insists there were no signs.


Our time at the Giant’s Causeway felt all too short.  We only had a few hours to explore and eat before getting back on the road, so we were confined to the main spread.  Even then, I would have loved to spend more time walking along the stacks, just reveling in what nature can do.

My mom and I both want to visit Scotland someday, to see the Scottish side of the Causeway at the very least.  By the sounds of it, if we went, we’d be in for a very different experience…

NTSDOGp00010 Dollar Glen

Isle of Staffa.  Image Credit:  The National Trust for Scotland.

The Causeway itself is open from dawn to dusk daily and is free to visit on foot.  However, if you wish to visit any of the facilities or park at the center, you will be charged an admission fee.  This fee is £9 for adults and £4.50 for children, but discounts are available by either booking in advance or arriving by public transit.  The visitor center itself opens at 9:00 am, with closing times varying by season.

A shuttle bus is also available on site, making runs between the main site and the visitor center.  I personally recommend walking at least one way of the trip, both to enjoy a slower pace and to cut down on costs – it’s £1 per adult and 50 pence per child, each way.

Additional Links & Resources:

Discover Northern Ireland: Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway official guide

The Golden Book:  Ireland, pages 105-107  The Giant’s Causeway

Ireland Legends & Folklore, pages 34-35

The National Trust:  Giant’s Causeway

The National Trust for Scotland:  Staffa National Nature Reserve

Visit Scotland:  Isle of Staffa

Dunluce Castle

After getting helplessly lost while leaving Sligo, my mother and I were quite eager to get back to sight seeing.  Thankfully, our bed and breakfast in Portrush wasn’t too far away from our first site of the day, Dunluce Castle.  After a mere 15 minute drive down a road hugging Antrim’s beautiful coastline, we reached the castle before the large tour groups had begun to arrive.


Perched on one of Antrim’s cliffs, the castle has a very iconic look and has been called one of Ireland’s most romantic castles.  Parts of the castle were first built in the 1200s, but most of what remains today is much more recent – major additions were made through the 1600s.  But by the mid 1600s, the castle was abandoned by its last resident, the second Earl of Antrim, Randall McDonnell.  Story has it that in 1639, part of the kitchen fell into the sea during a storm, taking part of the kitchen staff along with it and prompting the Earl and his family to move first to Ballymagarry, then to Glenarm Castle when it was rebuilt in 1756.


Our time at Dunluce stood out most for its beautiful views of the ocean and Antrim coastline.  Since we arrived at the very start of the tourist season, the visitor’s center hadn’t gotten any postcards or brochures in yet, leaving us with little to go on aside from signs posted around the site.  I had downloaded a companion app for the site, but we found it more enjoyable just to take in the rugged beauty of the place and wander where we will rather than follow a structured tour path.


With a clear sky above and cool breezes coming in off the ocean, it was the perfect way to start another long day.  And though it was one of the busier sites we went to, it was easy to lose ourselves in both the moment and memories of our previous trip.  We’d seen a different part of Antrim then, with no idea how close we’d been to the castle – merely 15 minutes away, at the Giant’s Causeway.


Looking from the castle toward Portrush, where we’d spent the previous night.

Both sites are truly fantastic, and I highly recommend seeing them at the same time, if you can.  Along with the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Dark Hedges farther inland, they make a fairly nice cluster of sites that give a good sense of Antrim’s beauty.  But as a word of warning, plan on dedicating a full day to see them all – it’s a long drive back to the Republic.  My mother and I learned that the hard way.

Dunluce Castle is open daily from 10:00am onward, with closing hours varying from season to season.  Admission is £5 for adults and £3 for seniors and children.  The site also has a small tea room with bathrooms and souvenirs different than what you can find in the true visitor’s center.

Additional Links & Resources:

Discover Northern Ireland:  Dunluce Castle

The Golden Book:  Ireland, pages 107, 109

Parks & Gardens UK:  Dunluce Castle

Black Dogs of the British Isles

Like stories of changeling children, stories about phantom black dogs are hard to miss.  From Padfoot in the Harry Potter series to appearances in webcomics and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, phantom dogs are simply everywhere you look, with myths and legends varying slightly across the British Isles over time.  And even though a simple google search yields over a dozen names for these hounds, many share some common features.

Traditionally, these black dogs are seen as ill omens, bringing with them death and bad luck.  It’s no wonder, then, that many are often lumped under the umbrella term “hell hounds” without further distinction.  And physically, they are very similar – the most common description is simply a large dog, often the size of a calf, with shaggy black fur and “saucer” eyes.  Often, it’s only when the hound disappears that witnesses realize they’ve seen a phantom at all.

When the context of these sightings is taken into account, some differences begin to emerge.  Many appear firmly rooted in spaces closely linked to the dead and the past, such as graveyards and ruins.  But others are found in lonely places, ancient paths and crossroads, reportedly either protecting those passing through from thieves or serving as visible guardians of the unseen world.  It’s these more benevolent cases that makes it difficult to justify, in my mind, lumping all phantom dogs into the “hell hound” category, and indicate appearances can often be deceiving.

Black Shuck


The stylized depiction of Black Shuck made popular by a weather vane in Bungay Market.  Image Credit:  Mysterious Britain & Ireland

The Black Shuck was one of the first Phantom Dogs I stumbled upon when I started sifting through accounts years ago, and its legacy still persists in modern times.  Hailing from East Anglia, the hound fits the typical Black Dog description, and is believed to have stemmed from a mix of Norse and Celtic myths.  This hound is certainly one of the more malevolent ones, with glowing red eyes and reported supernatural abilities.

The best known account of the Black Shuck comes from Bungay, England in 1577.  As parishioners gathered for service one Sunday in August, a large black dog appeared in the midst of a violent thunderstorm.  It burst into the church, stirring panic in its wake, and reportedly killed two men kneeled in prayer instantly when it passed between them.

Later that day, the hound was seen again at a second church, roughly seven miles away in Blythburgh.  During this second incident, two more men in the belfry were killed when the church tower was struck by lighting.  To this day, scorch marks can be seen on Blythburgh Church’s door, reportedly from the incident.

Moddey Dhoo


Moddey Dhoo, artist unknown.  Image Credit:  Cryptid Wiki.

The Moddey Dhoo comes from Peel Castle on the Isle of Man, and is mainly associated with one story from the castle’s past.  Legend has it a large black dog would appear after the guards locked the castle gate each evening.  But unlike the Black Shuck, its presence was peaceful – it merely walked into the guards’ room of a night, curled in front of the fire, then rise and exit by the same passage shortly before the gate was unlocked at dawn, oblivious to the guards’ terror.  After its first appearance, the men decided that, when they walked to the captain’s chambers to return the gate key each night, two men should go rather than let any one of them make the trip down the passage alone.

This continued for some time, until one of them guards got drunk one night and decided he’d return the key by himself, even though it wasn’t his turn and his companions begged him not to.  He challenged the dog twice to follow him and reveal itself as either a flesh and blood creature or a phantom, and sure enough, it silently rose and followed him.  The other guards heard his screams, but when he staggered back minutes later, he never revealed what had happened in the passage.  He died three days later, still without uttering a word about the ordeal.

The dog didn’t appear for the guards again, and the passage, reportedly once part of an ancient church, was later sealed.  And ironically enough, the remains of a large dog were found on the grounds, buried at the feet of a bishop who died in 1247.

Church Grim


Artist unknown.  Image Credit:  sleepingmoon333 on Tumblr.

Church Grims perfectly fit the black dog archetype, but are generally less malicious than the Black Shuck.  They actually have more in common with the Moddey Dhoo, as they’re always connected to old churchyards and cemeteries.  Grims are generally considered guardians, tasked with protecting the souls of those buried in their domain.

How these spirits assumed their role, however, isn’t pleasant.  Different traditions at the time held that either the first or last being interred in the cemetery would be forced to serve as its guardian for all eternity.  To prevent this burden from binding a human soul to a purgatory-like state, an animal (usually a dog) would be sacrificed and buried, often while still alive. 

Cu Sith

From the Scottish highlands comes the Cu Sith, a bit of an outsider among Britain’s phantom hounds.  Unlike the other dogs discussed here, its shaggy fur is green rather than black.  It’s believed this is because the Cu Sith is, quite literally, a fairy dog.  These are the silent hunting hounds of the fae, often said to be “as large as a two-year old bull … [with feet] as broad as a man’s chest.”   Their sharp barks are said to be heard for miles, but they only call three times – twice as a warning, but to hear it a third time is believed to herald death.

My own stories feature different nods to Britain’s hounds – Sheridan, a constant companion throughout the series, was heavily influenced by tales of the Black Shuck in his first incarnation.  Through rounds of rewrites, he’s adopted more Cu-Sith influences, but his character’s old ties to Britain’s other hounds is still evident in his coat color, something that will become more evident as the series progresses.

Additional Links & Resources:

“The black dog that worries you at home”: The Black Dog Motif in Modern English Folklore and Literary Culture

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology, pages 92, 137

Modern Farmer: “Devil Dogs: The Mysterious Black Dogs of England”

Mysterious Britain & Ireland:  Phantom Black Dogs; The Cait Sith & The Cu Sith

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher are probably one of Ireland’s most iconic sites and a true natural wonder.  With evidence of human activity stretching back at least two thousand years and the recognizable backdrop appearing in films such as The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, it’s easy to see why this landmark’s a must see for anyone exploring Ireland’s County Clare.


North branch of the Cliffs, August 2011.

At their highest point, the Cliffs reach 214 meters (702 feet) before plunging straight down to the Atlantic Ocean.  But as one would expect from a signature point along the Wild Atlantic Way, the Cliffs are in a constant state of change – constant waves erode the mix of sandstone, siltstone, and shale at the Cliff’s base, causing higher levels to crumble and fall away.  For this reason, the very edge of the Cliffs is considered a protected area, and stone barriers have been erected to help prevent visitors from venturing too close to the edge.

The Cliffs are also home to mainland Ireland’s largest seabird colony, attracting thousands of pairs of breeding seabirds representing more than 20 species during the summer months.  Many of the seabirds have declining populations worldwide, further prompting sections of the Cliffs to be designated a protected area.  A worn footpath does extend past the barriers into this protective area, and visitors can cross over the barrier to reach it with little difficulty, but doing so is generally discouraged for both safety and conservation reason.


The Cliff’s edge.  The dirt path on the left side of the shot is what we were walking on once past the barrier.

On the southern branch of the Cliffs, O’Brien’s Tower serves as a viewing platform.  Built in 1835 by Cornelius O’Brien in the hopes of bringing tourism to the area, the tower offers one of the best views of the Cliff’s northern branch, and on clear days, allows visitors to see as far as Connemara to the north and county Kerry to the south.

Hag’s Head, the Cliff’s southernmost point, is also visible from the tower, as is Moher Tower, built where a 1st century BC fort once stood.  It’s from this fort the Cliffs get their name – “mothar” means “ruined fort” in old Irish.


View of O’Brien’s Tower from the Cliff’s Northern branch.

The hours my family spent at the Cliffs back in 2011 was definitely a highlight of our trip, even if the second half of our walk was nerve wracking for me.  I’m afraid of heights and prone to moments of vertigo, so when my family followed other tourists past the walled region of the cliffs to the protected area, I was a bit uneasy.

We didn’t push too far into the protected area, mainly due to time constraints, so I can only imagine what the views would have been like from farther out.  No matter how far we walked, the Cliffs stretched on and on, remaining hazy in the distance even though my telephoto lens.  And looking out at the Atlantic Ocean with its strong breezes, the Aran Islands clearly visible in the fair weather…  It’s a treat a landlocked midwesterner such as myself holds close to their heart, even long after the moment’s passed.


Looking out at the Aran Islands from the Cliff’s North branch.

Admission to the Cliffs of Moher and visitor center is 6 for adults, but free for those under 16.  It’s an additional 2 for adults and 1 for children to visit O’Brien’s Tower on the south side of the cliff range.  The site is open year round from 9:00 am onward, with hours extending to 9:00 pm during July and August.

Additional Links & Resources:

Cliffs of Moher official site

Discovering Ireland:  The Cliffs of Moher

The Golden Book:  Ireland, pages 80-81  Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way

Mountains of Mourne

But for all his great powers he’s wishful like me / To be back where the dark Mournes sweep down to the sea…”

Sometime before my first trip to Ireland back in 2011, I remember stumbling upon Celtic Thunder’s version of “Mountains of Mourne.”  Like many other songs, the words captured my imagination and even inspired my senior quote in high school.  I became overjoyed, then, when our tour guide told us we’d skirt them on our way south from Belfast, quoting the song with a grin in my direction.

Unfortunately, we did exactly that – we skirted the mountains, avoiding the more scenic routes in order to make good time.  So when my mother and I visited again this summer, we made a point to see the Mournes up close.


Situated in County Down, the granite mountain range provides beautiful views of both the sea and forest protected by The National Trust.  Many hiking trails exist, some gentle enough for a relaxed afternoon stroll versus a more grueling endeavor.  Its tallest peak, Slieve Donard, stands at 850 meters (2,789 feet), making it the tallest point in Northern Ireland and the 19th highest peak on the island.

The Mournes have also served as inspiration for writers for centuries, ranging from Percy French’s song to the well known Narnia series by CS Lewis.


With time getting away from my mother and me on our second visit, we ended up taking the costal route rather than a road through the mountains themselves.  Shortly after leaving Ballynoe for our bed and breakfast in Carlingford, we found ourselves sandwiched between the Irish Sea to the left and the mountains to the right.  Even when the sea gave way to Carlingford Lough, the mountains remained, dominating the landscape as we drove around their base.

And looking across the lough, at the southern arm of the mountain range, it was impossible to conjure any description better than that first penned so many years ago. 


Additional Links & Resources:

Discover Northern Ireland

Down District Council:  Scenic Drives

The Golden Book:  Ireland, pages 123-124  The Mourne Mountains

The Best of Plans…

Sometimes, even the best of plans fall to the wayside when things hit the fan.  That’s definitely what happened to me, and to the blog these past few months.

October brought illness – respiratory issues that still haven’t fully cleared, but I’m at least able to breathe somewhat easier and have some strength back.  Turmoil in the personal sphere quickly followed and still clings on, morphing from one form into another in a seemingly endless cycle.  It’s been a hard, hard year for my family, especially this holiday season.

I’ve spent most of the past few months back at the farm with my family as we all try to just hold on until the chaos passes.  Editing and writing aren’t at the forefront of my mind right now, but I feel that’s to be expected – family and holding on to sanity are far more important than a self imposed deadline, or this blog.

So what if I didn’t win NaNoWriMo this year – I had fun, managed to pass 30k even when it seemed impossible, and now know I can write 11k in a single day if I set my mind to it.  So what if I’ve not made more progress on Echoes from the Past, or updated here since September – both will be waiting for me when I can breathe again.

2016 has been a cruel year to many, not just me and mine.  Let’s hope 2017 is kinder, for all of us, and we can somehow fight back against what seems to be coming darkness.


PS – I thank all of you who have stuck with me since this blog started, and everyone who entered the fantasy book gives way.  I’m happy to announce that I do have a winner to announce for an ebook copy of Whispers on the WindTara S, please be on the lookout for an email from me, with your prize attached, and forgive me for taking so long to deliver it to you.