The straight roads of the High Man - are they ancient?
Research of old folklore and stories reveals at least some of the High Man roads are very old
One difficulty with establishing credibility for the idea that the High Man may be ancient is the lack of archaeological evidence to indicate the age of the roads which make up the giant warrior figure.
However, while there is no definitive archaeological answer as to how old the roads actually are, there is significant indication that many of these roads, although now covered with tarmacadam, may once have been ancient roadways connecting the various areas on the figure.
The "leg" road which connects Drogheda with Collon runs straight over the top of a hill called the "Hill of Rath". This was the old road to Collon - there is a more recent road which follows a course around the Hill of Rath. During archaeological work in advance of the construction of the M1 Motorway Drogheda bypass, significant finds were made at Hill of Rath which showed there was activity on the hill at least in the Bronze Age and probably in the Neolithic (New Stone Age).
This of course does not prove anything about the age of the Hill of Rath road. However, local folklore records that a large boulder at the side of this road at a place called Cloghpatrick (Patrick's Stone), in the townland of Mell, Drogheda, was the place where St. Patrick baptised the residents of Drogheda when he visited in the fifth century. There is also an old well on the other side of the road called St. Patrick's Well which is said to date from that time, but quite often wells which are named after Christian saints were normally in use in pre-christian times.
In the absence of hard dating from archaeology, it is to folklore that we must turn for information about the age of these roads. Folklore records show that people in the Collon area considered the roads to be very important because there was consistent mention of the roads in the Folklore Commission's schools archives. These records were taken down in the late 1930s, at a time when Ireland was going through enormous change and when old stories, folklore and customs were being lost forever.
One local person interviewed in 1938 said that the former roads of Collon "were all very hilly and ran quite straight with scarcely any turns". This person added that the old roads were "leveled" and new roads made "as relief works after the Great Famine".
One lane across the "chest" of the High man figure was "one of the first roads made" according to another local person. The Leaby Cross, which is located roughly where the "belt" of the High Man meets his back, was, according to some, once an old graveyard.
A Mrs. Browne from Collon claimed that the Drogheda-Ardee Road, which is the "leg" road from Drogheda to Collon which continues up the front of the "chest" of the figure.
James Maguire from Leaby Cross, Collon, recalled how his father had said the Grange Road and the Belpatrick Road were "very old". The Grange Road is the "leg" road which runs down from the belt to Slane. Belpatrick road runs north from Leaby Cross towards Smarmore. These are roads which are very straight in sections and which form the back of the High Man.
Mr. Kells from Corlis, Collon, said, "There are old roads in our district and some of them are still in use". He said many of the roads were repaired by farmers for thirty pounds a year.
Mr. Johnson from Glenmore, Collon, spoke about the Collon-Tenure road, the White River road, the Monasterboice Road, the Drogheda Road and the Glenmore Road, and said, "All these roads were made very, very, long ago. Some of these are still in use." He added there were no accounts of when these roads were made, and that before bridges were made rivers were crossed by fords.
An old story in the district told by a number of local residents was about the "Black Pig's Run", which seems to be a variant of the popular "Black Pig's Dyke" story. The course taken by the pig, according to the Folklore Commission records from Collon, was from Dunany to Lordship to Ardee, through Stickillen down the Black Road (near Garrett's Fort and Kildemock) to Belpatrick. Belpatrick is right at the crossroads in the centre of the "chest" of the High Man.
Mr. Kells recalls, "He came to a fort near Mount Oriel called the Dunmore (overlooking Leaby Cross). He stayed there for a few days. Then he went to the Leaby Cross and from there to Croch an Alluis . He lodged there for a while then he took a course by the Mattock River to Carrickanane fort and he is still there. When he begins his course again Ireland will be free."
"There is a well at Belpatrick which is known as the "Black Pig's well" because he is supposed to have drunk out of it on his race."
There are some connections with giants and the High Man roads. One story recalled how it was believed the Bleach Green at Collon was possibly the lake on whose shore Cúchulainn rested "on his way to the Boyne" and that the Phoenixtown hill was where he was "so terribly tormented by the witches". Both of these locations are adjacent to the "back leg" road of the High Man.
The largest "rath" in the Collon district was on the Dunmore. "It is situated on the top of a hill and as its name implies it is of considerable size," one resident recalled. Another said that the Dunmore hill contained "the graves of three giants". The Archaeological Survey of Co. Louth records that there is a sizeable archaeological feature on Dunmore consisting of a series of barrows enclosed by an outer bank.
Text © Anthony Murphy & Richard Moore 2004