Eochy's Cairn and the everliving well

On a quiet afternoon, you can hear the games in the distance

Eochy’s cairn stands on the prow of a long gentle hill with a majestic view to the west, often with a cloud emptying rain into one of the basins of the Connemara mountains. Walking north to the location, it’s a country lane that suddenly opens out on a vista over the islands in the lake, the mountains beyond, and the invisible presence of the Atlantic. 

Three kilometres to the northeast of the Long Stone, it’s most easily reached by taking the last right on the road into Neale from Ballinrobe, and then turning right again after about one kilometre. Eochy’s cairn is not really visible until one arrives right beside it, but from the cairn, there’s a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside.

It’s possible to see the remains of two avenues, now barely visible, continuing from the cairn to the northwest and southwest, and replicating the arrangement at the Long Stone, and here too, the sun roves the mountaintops and notches as it travels the horizon from midwinter to midsummer. To the east, it seems, a great broad avenue once swept up to Eochy’s cairn, and in the picture below, you can see Knockma to the east on the horizon.

From the ground around the cairn, it’s easy to pick out Knockma on the eastern horizon. The islands of Lough Corrib are visible to the southwest, with the islands of Lough Mask ahead to the west, and the edge of the lake little over a kilometre to the west. The Partry mountains lie between the Connemara mountains to the south and the mountains of Nephin to the north. To the northwest lie more circles, strongly identifying this line with the midsummer sunset. Off to the southeast meanwhile sits a line of mostly destroyed cairns, stretching in a line all the way back towards Ballymacgibbon cairn at the bottom of the circle. 

From the hilltop, a long field comes in from the east, like an ancient avenue, and long fields stretch to the west, looking like one of the finest hurling field of all time. It feels still now like a place where great games took place, spectators watching the sailing on the lake a few hundred metres away, or crossing the ford two kilometres north to the ancient racecourse that’s now the Ballinrobe racetrack. There was no shortage of food for the visitors: Lough Corrib to the south is still abundant in salmon and trout, while Lough Mask is a trout lake. 

Little by little, the world has closed in around Eochy’s cairn, now enclosed within a rectangular stone field. But it’s sympathetically done, and the area around the cairn is calm and peaceful, and buzzing with plant and insect life. In legend, the cairn is named for Eochaidh, the King of the Fir Bolg, who marches west to set camp at Knockma and take up the battle with the Tuatha de Danann. During the first battle of Maigh Tuireadh, the legend tells, Eochaidh is drinking at a well when he is attacked by three of the Tuatha de Danann. Saved by his soldiers but near death, he wanders the area but the druids of the Tuatha de Danann caused the mist to cover the land and Eochaidh, unable to find water, dies of thirst. 

Between Eochy’s cairn and the edge of the lake is a place known as Killour, or Killower, visible in the first photograph as a large circle across the road at the end of the long field. Local lore tells that the wells here keep flowing after all other wells have dried out during periods of drought. In the 1930s, the National Schools project undertook a huge state-sponsored project, asking children and schoolteachers around the country to record the memories of their grandparents and great-grandparents. One local man by the name of William Maguire recalled the stories of the wells in Killour.

There are three wells called ‘St. Patrick’s', ‘St. Fechin’s’, and ‘The Well of the Trout’. The names of these saints on the wells mark the place as very ancient. Two of these wells are now dry but ‘The Well of the Trout’ has a plentiful supply of water even in the hottest summer. When many of the neighbouring wells cease to flow the people come to Killour, where they are sure to find plenty of pure spring water. The place was the scene of a pilgrimage, which ceased over half a century ago, but even at present the place is believed to be blessed. People were heard saying in modern times, ‘Let us go over to Killour wells where we will be safe if ever war comes’.