Thursday 23 November 2017

There are midland kings buried in our raised bogs, say experts

Sacrificed: This bog body may be that of an ancient king who was killed and offered up to the gods
Sacrificed: This bog body may be that of an ancient king who was killed and offered up to the gods
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

There are bodies of "midland kings" yet to be discovered in raised bogs throughout the centre of the country, according to Ireland's foremost expert on bog bodies.

Over the last two centuries, over 150 bodies have been found in the boglands of Laois, Longford, Kildare, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Roscommon, Longford and other counties.

Although it is widely suspected that many of these people were victims of murders or had vanished after falling into bog holes, Ned Kelly, former Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, believes up to 50 could be bodies of kings that were sacrificed to their "goddess of the lands".

"Judging by reports a number of these finds occurred in boundary areas, there is a likelihood that they are ancient bog bodies," he said.

In many cases, the forensic examinatons of their bodies have revealed fascinating details generally associated with ritual killings.

"The midlands are where all the really important kingdoms were, it was the central plain and had the richest grasslands in Europe. It formed a key aspect of the economy in the early medieval period," he said.

Although the violence tends to be excessive, he said the cuts and wounds on the bodies "tell stories".

"More is done to the bodies than would be required to bring about their deaths. Bog bodies may have their throats cut, been stabbed in the heart and have other cut marks. However, it is absolutely not torture, but a form of ritual sacrifice," said Mr Kelly, adding that their last meal, often still preserved in their stomach, backs up his suspicions.

The cutting of nipples - as allegedly occurred in the death of Old Croghan Man, found in a Co Offaly bog in 2003 - was a method of torture used to "dethrone the king".

Human sacrifice was apparently a normal part of the Celtic rituals, especially of kings in hard times.

"The killings tend to be excessive," Kelly, said "in that more is done to the bodies than would be required to bring about their deaths.

"Bog bodies may have their throats cut, been stabbed in the heart and have other cut marks. However, it is absolutely not torture, but a form of ritual sacrifice."

The 4,000-year-old remains of Cashel Man, found in a bog in Co Laois in 2011, also suggest that he met with a violent death in some sort of ritual sacrifice.

Speaking as part of a series of 'Genealogy at Lunchtime' talks, running at the National Library of Ireland (NLI) this month and next month, Mr Kelly said he is convinced that more bodies of "midland kings" will soon be found.

"Undoubtedly, there are more out there. There was a big, big gap between some of the finds but there have been a number since 2003.

"I think Bord na Mona are going presently through parts of the midland bogs, so I wouldn't be surprised if there was another find before the end of this summer and the next couple of turf-cutting seasons," he said.

However, it is unlikely that forensic scientists will be able to fully identify the bodies as the acidic bog soils destroy DNA.

The year's summer talks at the NLI will focus on family history.

Fiona Fitzsimons, genealogist, writer and historian, said there has been "a surge in interest" in family history this year due to the centenary of the Easter Rising and the availability of records online.

Over the next eight weeks, guest speakers will discuss Irish surnames, family photographs, and the census among other topics every Tuesday and Thursday at lunchtime. The summer talks are organised by Eneclann and Ancestors Network in partnership with the National Library.

Sunday Independent

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