Dathí – Last of the Pagan High Kings of Ireland.

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Dathí – Last of the Pagan High Kings of Ireland.

The Stone of Dathí, sometimes called ‘Coirthe Dearg’ (The Red Pillar) stands on the summit of a ring-barrow mound at the south edge of the Rathcroghan Plateau. It is a red sandstone pillar, standing almost 2m high and 1.5m wide at its base. Traditionally it was thought to mark the burial place of Dáthí or Nath í (405-428 CE), nephew of Niall of the Nine Hostages and the last pagan High King of Ireland.

According to the Book of the Dún Cow, an 11th century manuscript; when his uncle (Niall of the Nine Hostages) was killed, Dathí was elected High King at Tara. As soon as he established order at home, Dathí set out for Gaul to avenge the death of his uncle (even though Niall had actually been killed by an Irishman). He led an army into Britain and across the Channel onto the Continent, “as far as the Alps.” with the intention, it seems, of crossing into Italy, to take advantage of the crumbling Western Roman Empire. It was while in the Alps that he besieges a tower in which Forménus, King of Thrace, lives as a hermit, having forsaken his kingdom for a religious life. The enraged Forménus called upon God to end the life of the Irish King, and at that moment, Dathí was struck by lightning and killed.

Dathí’s son, Aillil Molt, took command of the army and began the journey back to Ireland fighting many more battles on the way. On their return, Dathí was buried in the Royal Rath at Cruachan, and a red pillar was erected to mark the place where the last pagan High King was laid. Years later, the pillar fell over, apparently fulfilling the curse of Forménus that Dathí should have no lasting memorial. The stone did fall in the mid-19th Century and was re-erected, and its base was investigated in the early 20th Century. No burial was found but an Iron Age date for the monument was given.

In other versions of the story, Dathí never made it as far as the Alps and it was the tower of a Christian King in Scotland that he destroyed before being killed by lightning. The best way to see The Stone of Dathí and the other ancient monuments of Rathcroghan is to visit the Visitor Centre in Tulsk which will provide you with information and guided tours of the complex.