On the Hill of Greenan, directly above the beautiful McCormick-designed chapel at Burt, there stands a 19th-century reconstruction of a stone fort known as “Grianán of Aileach”. It was built about AD 789 by an ancestor of the O’ Neills, a clan that once ruled the whole of Inishowen. That same clan eventually went on to gain all of Co. Derry and Co. Tyrone and become one of the most powerful families in Ulster, right up to the one-time Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’ Neill.
Many colourful myths have survived describing this stone fort, who occupied it and when, but it does appear that it was constructed on top of a much earlier Bronze Age or Iron Age hilltop structure.
We know very few details about the actual people associated with the earlier fort; myths have all but obscured much of its real history up to AD 789. It’s likely too that activities and events on a nearby hill called Elaghmore – just across the political border with Northern Ireland – were somehow confused with those of Grianán of Aileach. Elaghmore was originally written “Aileach Mhór”, so one can see immediately how the two sites could easily have been merged into one mythical entity.
The subsequent history of Grianán of Aileach – from AD 789 to its demolition in 1101 by the King of Munster – is very well documented. From within those hallowed walls, so high up on the hill, sprung the great McLoughlin clan, and of course their cousins the O’Neills, but as well as that, many High Kings of Ireland.
“Grianán of Aileach” is, in effect, the Newgrange of Ulster and its astronomical significance must never be underestimated. The solstices and the equinoxes are well documented now thanks to the dedication of Bettina Linke.