The seat of the O’Neills, Viking attacks & sun worship

Grainan of Aileach is located on a hilltop 800 feet above sea level and its name is believed to translate to ‘the stone fort with the sunny view’. Archaeological evidence shows a number of earthen mounds, now covered by heather, date the site to approximately 1700 BC in the early Bronze Age. Over the millennia it has been used as a place for tribal gatherings, inaugurations, defense, and as its name implies ‘sun worship’. In ancient Irish mythology, this was also reputed to be the location of The Seat of Daghdha, the father of the Tuatha de Danann. The first stone fort was constructed around the 7th or 8th centuries A.D by ancestors of a semi-mythical King called Niall of the Nine Hostages. In the following 600 years the descendants of Niall became to be known as the O’Neills and along with their McLaughlin cousins went on to become the most powerful and longest-lasting family in Irish history. Niall was also reputedly baptized here in the nearby well on the east side of the fort by St Patrick himself – this event started the conversion of pagans in the north of Ireland to Christianity. Grainan was designed like a Royal Palace more to impress than as a defensive structure. It, therefore, attracted many enemies over the years including Gaelic armies, Norse, Scots, and later English forces who all had a stab at trying to destroy the fort. On one famous occasion in 1101, the powerful O’Brien King of Munster ordered his soldiers to carry one stone each from the fort after defeating the great O’Neill army from Ulster. Grainan was heavily restored in 1878 ‘to its truest form possible’ after lying in ruins for hundreds of years by an amateur archaeologist called Dr. Walter Bernard from Derry.