About three miles from Derry, on the summit of a small mountain eight hundred feet high, overlooking the Foyle and Swilly, and commanding a magnificent view of the hills and valleys of county Donegal for miles around, has stood for several centuries the ruins of what was once the grandest palatial residence in Ireland, and supposed to have excelled the regal abode Tara. For at least one thousand years before the introduction of Christianity into this country the Grainan of Aileach was first erected by the Pagan Irish, and the Druidic priests, no doubt, celebrated their mystic rites on the spot that afterwards was the site of regal splendour and martial display. Since the twelfth century, however the massive structure has fallen into decay, and only a portion remained to lead the antiquary and historical student to contemplate
“How many different scenes Has the grey old buildings known! To the mind what dreams are written In these chronicles of stone“
Until Dr. Walter Bernard, of this city, with the consent of Lord Templemore, the lord of the soil, and J. J. Bowen, Esq., his Lordship’s agent, undertook, some five years since, the erection on the ruins a building similar to which existed in pristine times.
To celebrate the completion of this great work a demonstration took place on Grianan Hill on Saturday last, when, it will seen from the following account of the proceedings, the event was observed in an enthusiastic manner which must have gratified Dr. Bernard and the large assemblage.
The fort, as it now stands, is perfectly circular. Looking at it externally, its wall is massive, gradually narrowing, bee-hive-like towards the top, and is some twenty feet high. Its breadth at the base is about twelve feet. The masonry is dry, the larger stones being wedged in with smaller ones, in the style of old Irish buildings. Internally, the wall (the fort is some 76 feet diameter) is composed of three tiers or platforms, surrounded by a parapet wall, which is covered with 181 large coping stones.
The first platform is reached from the ground several sets of stairs; the second is approached from the first in the same way ; and so on. There is only one entrance, which faces the east. There appear to be, on the inside, small open doorways leading to narrow-looking subterranean passages, but it does not seem that any one was bold enough to attempt exploring them.
Dr. Bernard has been engaged in the labour of restoration for the past four or five years, and, having at last concluded his arduous task, he desired to celebrate its completion day’s rejoicing. He wished also to pay some compliment to the people of the locality who had come forward to assist him so heartily throughout his arduous work, and he accordingly asked them to assemble at the fort on Saturday, and witness or participate series of amusements.
A varied programme had been prepared, and a few friends from Derry and the surrounding neighbourhood were also invited to be present. The weather was everything that could desired, and the proceedings were of a highly enjoyable character. Amongst those present during the day were Dr., Mrs., and Miss Bernard; Mr. Win. J. Foster. JJP,. and party ; Rev. Canon Stack, Mrs. Stack, and party. Colmore; Lady Edward and party; Mrs. F. Reid, Miss Sayers, and party. The Elms; Captain and Mrs. Smith, the Misses Smith, and party, Bathmullan; Mr. Brownrigg, C.I., and party ; Rev. Bichard Bennett; Mr. Joseph Dysart and party, Carnamaddy ; Miss Greer, Crawford-Square ; Mr. Young, P.& 0. Company’s s.s. Cathay ; Mr. and Mrs. Harvey, Queen-street; Mr. Ogg ; Mr., Mrs., and, the Misses Macdonald; Miss Miller, Linsfort; Mr. John Darling, editor Derry Sentinel.
As is almost unavoidable on such occasions, proceedings did not commence for a short time alter the appointed hour; but the delay was soon forgotten in the participation of a really substantial and enjoyable lunch, provided Dr. Bernard, who, with Mrs. Bernard and Miss Bernard, were most kind and attentive to their guests, for such those present were in reality. Lunch having been disposed of, the amusements were entered upon, the company arranging themselves the various platforms around the interior of the fort.
The following is the programme issued:-
1, Brian Bora’s March;
2, Dr. Bernard’s Address;
3, Song, The Grianain of Aileach;
4, Song, “The Harp;”
5, Charade 1;
6, Glee, “Chough and Crow;”
7, Song by Miss Macdonald ;
8, Recitation,”The Arab Steed”;
9, Song, “Kathleen Mavoureen”;
11, Charade 2
12, Smith’s Amateur Band;
14, Duet, “I Know a Bank;”
16, “God Save the Queen.”
Some of these items were performed with much skill and taste. The band belonging to the staff the Londonderry Militia, under the mastership of Mr. Chippington struck up “Brian Boru’s March,” a procession entered the fort from a neat tent which stood a few yards in front the entrance door. The procession represented six venerable white-bearded Druid priests, their long white robes. The leading Druid carried a large crook, and wore wreath oak leaves. The other Druids wore similar wreaths, and carried largo oak branches in their hands. Miss M. Smith, bearing the insignia, preceded the Arch-Druid, Miss Bernard, who wore elaborately wrought white flowing garment, and whose oak crown differed from the others having serpent entwined in it. The other five Druids wore white garments also. The long white beards were in good character with the Druidical costume. The procession marched three times around the inside of the fort, and then mounted the top platform round which they also marched.
The following verses, on canvas, in parti -coloured letters, vent displayed around the interior’ of the fort:-
*** Lonely mansion the dead, Who can tell thy varied story ? All thy ancient line have fled, Leaving thee in ruin hoary.
*** God bless the grey mountains of dark Donegal, God bless Royal Aileach, the pride them all; For she sits evermore like a queen on her throne, And smiles the valleys green Inishowen.
*** Bring out a slowly dying cause, And ancient forms of party strife ; Ring in the nobler modes of life. With sweeter manners, purer laws.
*** Hark yonder milkmaid singing, Cheerily o’er the brimming pail; Cowslips all around her springing.Sweetly paint the golden vale.
This inaugural ceremony having concluded Dr. Bernard addressed the meeting. He said – The most distinguished antiquarians look upon stone circles, mounds, and standing stones with much veneration, and have succeeded in procuring Act of Parliament for their preservation. A circle, standing stone, a stone circle itself, is an emblem of a thing without an end. You will see one of those very ancient standing stones behind Mr. Marshall’s house, near Ballybrook, and not far from Manorcunningham with its circle in the centre. It is well worth visiting. Take out of your pocket the lowest coin in the realm, and you will see the stamp of Britannia sitting the circumference of a circle, and leaning on it with with her right hand, while her left she holds a sceptre. These representations are of higher antiquity than the Crown itself. Though not antiquarians, most of you have certainly read of a stone being put under oak tree in testimony of well-known laws ; of One that sitteth the circle of the earth; and of knives of stone. Down below you, some yards from where you stand, is circular mound with stones surrounding it. Probably some great man was buried there, for mounds of earth stones were piled in ancient times over the dead. Facts verified this tradition. I will give you one example. I quote from a distinguished antiquarian who proceeded himself to certain plain in Mayo, and “told that was said long before the Christian era a great battle was fought there, and that a king was surprised in early morning, while performing his ablutions at a deep well, by three warriors of the enemy, who came upon him unawares. By the prowess of his attendants, who killed his three assailants, he was saved, the servant died upon the spot. Hundreds of years passed by, the locality around had been cultivated and grazed upon again and again ; still the valley, the well, the subterranean water-course, with its fairy legends, the hurling field, the cairns, circles, pillar stones, and other surrounding topographical features remained; not one was ever touched (not even injured) through all those ages, for the gallant soldier’s dust was there : he who laid down his life for his royal master was buried where he fell; and the army (stated to have been thousands strong) passed by, each man, as was the custom of the day. threw pebble his grave (then called, and is still known as the cairn of the one man).
This tale told to many was sneered at, but was afterwards shown to those who think they are too wise and learned to be credulous that there was really some colour of truth in the story, for when the great heap of stones were removed a small chamber was come upon under large flag, wherein was found deposited a beautiful cinerary urn, containing some black earth and fragments of burnt human bones. The sepulchre, with it’s surrounding circle, still exists on the battlefield of Moytura Conga, and the decorated urn is in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy.”
This is proof that tradition is not always a mere myth, and although the Irish, like the father of history, not infrequently drew on their imagination, their written traditions are found to carry more weight than those of many countries. (Applause.)
Moreover, the Irish were celebrated all over Europe for their learning and lore. (Hear.hear)
It is on record that Grianan existed seventeen hundred years before the Christian era; that it is marked on Ptolemy’s map in the beginning of the second century, and that this was a copy of much older map found among some records in Alexandria. In our explorations it is left for what we found to verify in some degree this great antiquity. The bones and teeth found on the evening of the 2d of August by myself, Robert Ore, Humphrey Campbell, George Stewart, David Glass, John McDowall, and others, have marked a point of great age in its history. Again, let me recall to your minds the objects met as we excavated from downwards through the rubbish, and after the fallen stones were replaced. The defaced coins, the button, and the old socket of the plough, mark the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Next, coming to a level with the foundation, we found objects belonging to a far distant period. The round stones with holes in the centre, of various sizes, the warriors’ clubs, sling stones, the stone found in the ashes marked into squares, the dark heart-shaped, the one with the fluted columns, and the polished cone, with flat base. Some of you can well remember with what interest my wife and daughter watched them coming to the surface. All these, as well as others, are familiar to you. Probably the Irish Academy may be able to throw light on some of their uses, and, to re-echo the words Shakespeare, “Find sermons in stones.”
To that body I will give account in detail of our explorations, and the preservations of this interesting place. You know when we had it partially cleared out came on flights of steps and one platform 39 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 5 feet from the ground, and in the diminished, almost obliterated wall, ascending from the platform, Robert Ore, Humphrey Campbell, James Campbell, Geo. Stewart, and myself found five steps, three on one aide and two on the other, looking out exactly in a direction towards the mouth of Lough Swilly. These, we inferred, led to another platform, and therefore laid it down something after the plan of the one beneath, and again another, with its parapet wall and coping stones, came in well, and bound our work together into finished unity. There could have been no platforms immediately over the galleries, for the interior wall, as shown by the tar marks, although very much dilapidated, ascended beyond the height of the galleries; besides, platforms here would have been impracticable, as the wind and rain would find a ready access to these passages. It is also very possible the steps the entrance north of the doorway, starting from the ground, did not stop till they reached the level of a second platform, ten feet high, and is not at all likely there was any intermediate platform at this point, as the height the entrance doorway will show. All the fallen stones worked it up to its present height, with exception of 181 coping flags, which we had to quarry, and seven or eight hundred building stones, picked up about the hill – certainly, as you all very well know, I believe am beyond the mark when I say 800. These compensate for the stones Murtagh O’Brien, who demolished Aileach in 1101, ordered each of his men to carry back with them – one stone of the building in every sack, which had been emptied of its provisions upon the march, and with these stones he afterwards built a parapet upon the top of his royal palace (which was situated on the site of the present cathedral of Limerick). And, further, as John Boviard and William Barr witnessed few drawn out of it for coping Manistown Bridge. In opinion, other stones were removed from it for building purposes; far, as some you say, you have too many stones already on your farms, and around you quarries on every hill-side. Moreover, as you yourselves remarked, when you begin to count the cost, it would not pay to draw heavy loads from the top and stones in abundance all round. To see if any had been removed I examined your buildings, and the irregularities are not chipped off the stones as they have been taken off those have here, and, matter of fact, not even pig-stye is built out of stones of Aileach. Look and judge for yourselves if this is not so. (Hear. Hear.)
Besides, the oldest man in this country never saw any stones drawn away except the coping for the bridge. When you look upon the enormous mass of stones here you must say the few we drew to it were only mere drop in the bucket. The fort is now about the same height as a similar fort the South, Staigne Fort, in Kerry, and differs very little from it, with the exception of platforms being a little larger and longer. Compare the building now with what it was in 1878. It was then heap of circular stones, with its grey, fallen masonry scattered over the interior—not a vestige to be seen of entrance passage, or central building. Annihilation, apparently, was complete, so that of the once solitary grandeur of its ruin and desolation no adequate idea could be formed. Not so now. It was not the hand of time nor strife of battle alone destroyed this interesting work of antiquity. No doubt suffered, as the writer states in the April number of the Architect for 1872, from the invasion of summer visitors from the neighbouring city, and the meddling and muddling permitted to such extent that the drawings taken by the Ordnance Survey have literally became matters of history, for the entrance, with its inclined jambs, the interior terrace, and many other features which existed are now no more. One the spoilators was known to some of you. I mean the late Colonel Blacker, who wrote in the May number of the Dublin Penny Journal (in 1835) an absurd account of its interior. I may mention here we did not touch single original stone that was in position. simply replaced the fallen ones, and imitated the way in which the old ones were laid, taking care to work up the rest of the building from what was unearthed of its ruins. Of course we had not the original plans, therefore could not restore it, and only preserved the vestige its ruins. The last stones this vestige are tarred, to show where we began, and if we touched one of the blocks it was only to prop it up or replace it when altogether out of position, and could not possibly bear superincumbent weight unless re-arranged. This is the sum and height of our offending. Now that the work is completed, I cannot avoid thinking how I managed to get you who assisted me to come and work here year alter year, month after month, and week after week, without pay. If I offered daily wages I could not have succeeded, for the men were not to be had, and those who did come had enough to do at home, apart from being employed by others. Contractors are surprised at your well-executed work, and how you managed to get the time to it. feel very grateful to you, and as long as I live I will never forget your kindness in all times acting in accordance with my wishes, coming to work here when you had many weary and sad realities to occupy your minds and bodies home. Best of all, no accidents or ill-feeling marred our progress, and want of courtesy and consideration from any of you towards myself personally occurred while together from time to time, now nearly five years. (Hear. Hear.)
It often surprised me how patient and for-bearing you were with me, and how cheerful yon obeyed orders from one who had no right to have authority over you. I doubt if employers could have commanded you in the way I did. The fact is you would not have put with it. I have also to thank the landlord, Lord Templemore, and his courteous agent, Mr. Bowen, for not having given me notice to quit. (Hear. Hear.)
We will now take leave this vestige Pagan art and leave its one entrance passage to look in solitary magnificence the rising sun, certain that each man will be his own constable, and what he can to insure its preservation. All classes and creeds ought to help in tins, for we are one family called Kelts, inasmuch we came from the East to South-West of Europe, peopling Italy, France, Spain, and three kingdoms. “Saxon and Irish and Scotch are we, but all us Kelts in our veneration for thee, Grianan.” (Loud and enthusiastic applause.)
The programme was then proceeded with.
The two acting charades afforded much enjoyment, particularly as they were very well performed. First charade, First scene ; A dance of witches and song (in character) round the blazing cauldron, as in Macbeth ; second scene a mother weeping over her babe, and singing “The Angel’s Whisper,” to wile back to her her husband, who enters ; finale – A group gypsies in forest telling fortunes. Answer – Witch craft. The witch scene seemed to amuse the country people very much, the dresses were so grotesque, and the acting was well done, Miss Bernard was the first witch. Miss Mary Smith second. Miss Smith third, and Mrs. Bernard’s imposing figure, as Hecate, contrasted admirably with the crooked, bent-up appearance of the rest. The other witches who took part were Mias Edmonds, Miss Alice Smith, and Miss Ada Smith. Second charade; First scene; A group of vocalists singing “The Elfin Call”, band accompanying, and a party of fairies, gaily dressed, dancing to the music; second scene; A school, the mistress, and number pupils deftly sewing, but who had no thimbles; finale – A group partly decorated and being decorated with fox glove, and the lover choosing ono group (amidst much laughter and some jealousy) as his ” flower.” Answer, Fairy-thimbles. The “Amateur Band” was also amusing, two of the young ladies composing it performing effectively on tin whistles, and all occasionally uniting a song. The “Chough and Crow” was admirably rendered by Mrs. Stock, Miss Mac-Donald, Mrs. Bernard, Miss Hogben, Mies Miller, the Misses Bent, and Mr. Mac-Donald. Mrs. Stack’s singing “Kathleen Mavourneen” was deservedly applauded, as was Miss Mac-Donald’s execution of “The Harp.” Miss Bernard recited “The Arab Steed” (in character), with a good voice and agreeable modulation. The new song, “The Grianan of Aileach” by Mrs. Bernard, Mrs. Stack, and Miss Smith, also attracted well-merited attention. The young ladies who acted in the charades and Smith’s band were—Miss Bernard. Miss Smith, Miss Mary Smith, Miss Edmonds, and Miss Ada Smyth, with Mrs. Bernard. Between seven and eight o’clock a plentiful supply further refreshments were served to the company, after which Rev. Canon Stack, addressing the assembly, said there was one item which was not the programme, but which, he was sure, would be received with as much pleasure as any of the other items. It had fallen to his lot propose a vote of thanks for the attention and kindly thoughtfulness which Dr. Bernard. Mrs. Bernard, and Miss Bernard had that day exhibited; and it would, indeed, be quite impossible to leave Grianan without cordially expressing the grateful of all to the prime mover in the work they saw around them. (Hear, hear.)
It was the first time (he the rev. speaker) bad ever stood there. He was a stranger to the county, but stranger the country. He came that day expecting see something grand, but he was not prepared for so magnificent inauguration of a great work as had just taken place. (Applause.) It would be an act of unkindness and ingratitude to separate without expressing the deepest thankfulness to their energetic entertainer. Dr. Bernard, who had laboured so indefatigably and had succeeded in accomplishing a vast undertaking. (Cheers.) It would not be sufficient to record a vote of thanks in any ordinary manner, but they must unite and show by acclamation their gratitude to Dr., Mrs., and Miss Bernard (Pro-longed applause.)
There was one question which had been frequently asked from time to time to that day—that was : How in the world did Dr. Bernard erect the great structure they saw before them? (Hear, hear.) That had been asked by one and another, but no answer had yet been heard. One hears a great deal these times about magnetism and electricity and all that, and would inclined attribute Dr. Bernard’s achievement to the application of some those hidden influences. (hear, hear) – but he (Canon Stack) was inclined recognise the massive building before them a testimony Dr. Bernard’s earnestness, perseverance, assiduity, and that Indomitable pluck so proverbial in Irishmen, and which, should we go war, some thought we soon might, would enable the brave young Irish General who had already gained much renown win again more victories for bis country. (Vociferous applause.)
Wherever a gallant and determined commander leads there will his men be sure follow; and to-day there was evidence that Dr. Bernard had led noble project, and he found men ready and willing to follow him. (Cheers.) The rev. gentleman soon after concluded formally calling all present to join in one loud and prolonged acclaim thanks to Dr.. Mrs., and Miss Bernard.(Continued and hearty applause)
Mr. Darling, Editor Derry Sentinel, seconded Canon Stack’s motion. He said had had the pleasure of visiting many of the interesting old ruins scattered throughout Ireland, and having that day seen the result the noble exertions in rescuing from decay the fort of Grianan, it afforded him great satisfaction to second the motion and support the remarks of Canon in offering their congratulations Dr. Bernard and his amiable lady and daughter. (Hear, hear.) Whether they considered that Cashel a testimony of Phoenician sun worship in this island, a palace of our Northern kings, one of the greatest fortresses ancient times, or in whatever other light they might view it, they must acknowledge it was a great work of antiquity-one which will enkindle in the breasts of all Irishmen a love for their ancient and interesting ruins. and cause those who visit Grianan to recall to their memory the name Dr. Bernard, the restorer. (Applause.)
The old Ivy-clad abbey, the dismantled fortress, and the Sidonian round tower—who can look upon these memorials of Keltic antiquity without emotions that thrill the heart patriotism. (Applause.)
Haying referred the labours of Mr. Caleb Palmer, of Dublin, and to that gentleman’s investigations into the Asiatic origin the Irish race, Mr. Darling concluded by calling all heartily to pass the vote of thanks acclamation. (Prolonged applause.) Dr. Bernard briefly replied. He felt quite impossible thank Canon Stack for the warm and complimentary terms he had used towards himself. Mrs., and Miss Bernard. But was grateful for the warm reception, and he would only say that was ably supported in all he had done the goodwill and energy of the good people of the locality. (Hear, hear.)
Mr. James Robinson, Toolett, in the name the builders who had aided in the erection, also moved vote of thanks Dr. Bernard and his family for their constant kindness daring the progress of the work. Mr. John McDowell seconded the motion, which was duly acknowledged by Dr. Bernard. Dancing was then indulged for a short time, and the very enjoyable proceedings terminated with the National Anthem, between nine and ten o’clock. Not the least interesting portion of the day’s business was the photographing the entire assembly, in one law group, Mr. Alex. Ayton. jun., There were between three and four hundred present, and arrange so many effectively, and, at the time, to show the internal formation of the fort required some time and skill. Mr. Ayton however managed the arrangements artistically, and secured capital picture, in which all the parties are brought out so life-like as to be easily recognisable. Mr. Ayton will have the photograph ready to-morrow, when we would advise everyone who was present to secure copy as souvenir of the demonstration at Grianan.
Londonderry Sentinel – 2nd July 1878