In a quiet corner of County Roscommon, one of the most rural and rarely-traveled parts of
Connacht, there's a little gully leading into a small stone cave. It catches water and occa-
sionally the local sheep will drink from it, but other than that it's rarely noticed. There are no
signs or plastic fences to control visiting crowds (which, anyway, aren't congregating here
in the first place). To the uninitiated, it looks like a perfectly nondescript little hole in the
But once a year, the spirits of this cave swarm up out of the ground and walk the earth for
a single night in late autumn. For this cave, according to ancient Irish mythology, is the en-
trance to the underworld . And on the festival of Samhain (SAH-wain), its doors stand open
for a night. This pagan festival would eventually evolve into the holiday of Halloween. But
the cave at the center of it all was largely forgotten, and today you can walk right into it,
right up to the threshold of the Celtic spirit world. (The cave is called Oweynagat, and it's
located at Rathcroghan just outside the town of Tulsk, if you're interested.)
Oweynagat isn't the only mythical site in Connacht, or even in County Roscommon alone.
Seemingly every plot of land in this corner of the island is dotted with the ruined fortresses
of mythical kings and queens, or with stone rings thought to be inhabited by the sidhe , the
original fairy-folk of Irish lore.
But don't get the wrong impression - Connacht is not an antiquarian backwater. It's an ex-
tremely vibrant center of Irish cultural life, and home to one of Ireland's greatest cities. If
Dublin is the economic and social center of Ireland, Galway is its beating Gaelic heart.
Music, art, dance, food, and education are the specialties in this compact, energetic city.
That's why so many travelers fall in love with Connacht. In the heart of Galway, you can
surround yourself with raucous company and take in all the sites of a modern city - but just
a few miles down the road you can get lost in the timeless mysteries of nature, history, and