We climbed a stile to get to it. There are not enough stiles in my life. The magic passage through a ditch that seems very much out of favour these days. Fields are fenced and gated and generally discourage rambling. I don’t blame farmers. As a nation we are still incapable of passing through somewhere without falling and claiming compensation for it, or letting previously placid Bonzo the Dog go tearing off after the sheep or the in-calf heifers.
But there must be some sort of agreement at Hore Abbey near Cashel, because you can get to it over a stile and…across someone’s field. You mightn’t be familiar with Hore Abbey. It is very much the after-show party, the Big Brother’s Little Brother to the more celebrated Rock of Cashel.
The Rock of Cashel has the toilets, the signs, the Careful Nows of a Big Tourist Thing. It also has the more colourful origin theory. It’s the standard ‘Devil takes a bite out of a mountain twenty miles away, breaks his tooth and spits out the rock at Cashel’ kind of thing. St Patrick is thrown in there somewhere too. Our ancient ancestors would literally do anything to avoid Junior Cert Geography. Meanwhile, Hore Abbey is just your basic 900-year-old ruined Cistercian Abbey in a field with a cow-dung splatted path to the cloister, and a stile and a tourist-battered grass path to the eastern side. And its origin story is mainly bureaucratic (an archbishop got in a huff). Either way, Hore Abbey is a wonderful example of the way in which Ireland’s Ancient Stuff is strewn across the landscape like toys on the floor. (A bit like Grangefertagh Round Tower you can see from motorway on the Cork Dublin road. It’s looks like it’s just…like… in someone’s yard.)
And it was when watching the Two clamber over a stile galumph across clumpy field towards this magnificent ruined abbey which looked like it had landed out of the sky, that my wife said “It’s like the Hounds of the Morrigan” and I knew exactly what she meant.
Nearly 700 pages long, the fantasy book written by Pat O’Shea, published in 1985, HOTM was a book you didn’t want to end. Written for children, re-read by them as adults. It’s about a boy called Pidge and his five year old sister Brigit who go on a save-the-world adventure through Irish mythology. It’s funny, scary, exciting, thought-provoking and it brings you on a journey where you meet Dagda, Queen Maeve and Ailill, the goddess Brigid, Angus Og, The Morrigan, a triple goddess made of herself and Bodb, the Scald Crow, Macha, the Queen of Phantoms. There’s just not enough Scald Crows on the go these days.
Scarcely more believable is the idea that children just go wandering across the Irish countryside hopping stiles left right and centre and completely unhindered by gates with remote controls. The book opens with Pidge cycling into Galway by himself. Honestly where do they get these ideas?!
It’s that most tantalising of dreams – to just ramble. Imagine the whole countryside opened up and you just adventure! (Obviously not on our farm. The hoors would leave the gates open. Guaranteed.)
But in the absence of that, I desperately want someone to make The Hounds of The Morrigan into a film. If Marvel can make fifty four films about Thor, surely we should have our own blockbuster here about a character for whom a lump hammer is not their main character trait. If nothing else it’ll get the book into the hands of thousands of children who were born too late to read one of the greatest stories written here.
I’ll crawl over stones to get to it. Or at least climb over a stile.