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Uisnech


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Hill (602 feet) in Co. Westmeath, 12 miles W of Mullingar, that has played a significant role in the Irish imagination. Long thought of as the centre, navel, or omphalos of the island, Uisnech contains a stone [Ail na Mírenn, stone of divisions] marked with lines showing where the borders of the five provinces (Connacht, Leinster, Ulster, and Munster considered as two) met; most of the hill was thought to be in the Connacht portion. As a ceremonial site Uisnech is second only to Emain Macha. Although far from lofty, the top of Uisnech can be seen from great distances, which partially explains its continued use for the burning of ritual fires. In the pseudo-history Lebor Gabála [Book of Invasions], the Nemedian druid Mide (eponym of Meath) is credited with lighting the first fire there. Excavations in the early 20th century revealed huge beds of ash. Evidence from literary and oral tradition testifies that Uisnech was a favoured site for Beltaine fires and druidical ceremonies, especially the driving of cattle. The legendary Tuathal Techtmar (1st–2nd cent. ad) was thought to have founded the annual fair or óenach that continued to early modern times, which was also attributed to the goddess Ériu. At its peak this was one of three great festivals of Ireland, along with Tailtiu and Tara. At Uisnech Lug Lámfhota was killed by Mac Cuill, Mac Cécht, and Mac Gréine, the sons of Cermat. Although Uisnech is always a place, not a person, Noíse and his brothers Ardan and Ainnle are called the ‘sons of Uisnech’ in the Irish title of the Deirdre story, Longas mac nUislenn [The Exile of the Sons of Uisnech]. Nevertheless, James Macpherson based the character Usnoth on Uisnech. See also KERMARIA of BRITTANY; PUMLUMON of WALES.

Subjects: Religion.


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