The place name “Dungannon” is from the Irish Dun Geannun, or the Fort of Geannun. This Geannun was the son of Cathbad, the chief Druid and counsellor to Conor MacNessa, King of Ulster and leader of the Red Branch Knights. The family headquarters were at Emain Macha or Navan Fort in Armagh. Geannun was also a druid, and so would have been very well connected with the top people in Ulster, His connections and position as a leading druid confirms the ring fort site in Dungannon to have been a sacred place of power and importance, and from which he would have wielded great influence.
There have been many other occupations and uses for the site since the time of Geannun. They have been principally military in purpose, no doubt due to the strategic position of the site, with its commanding view of all nine counties of Ulster. The O’Neills came to this place in 1305 to build the first stone castle here, recognising possibly the prestige of the site and then its military advantages. These military installations continued up until recent times. ‘Castle Hill’ as it was known locally, was a base for the Territorial Army, and during the Troubles, the British Army.
In 2006, the site was handed back to Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council, who, respecting the enormous historical, cultural and political significance of the site, have restored it as a people’s park, with a visitor centre on site.
And so, perhaps we have come full circle, turning this place away from its years of military functionality, to one of peace, growth and learning. For Druids were the possessors and disseminators of much knowledge. They combined in themselves all the learned professions: they were not only druids, but judges, prophets, storytellers, poets, and even physicians. They were the also intermediaries with the invisible world.
A most important function of the druids was that of teaching: they were employed to educate the children of kings and chiefs—they were indeed the only educators; which greatly added to their influence. Geannuns father Cathbad advised King Concobar mac Nessa on important matters, and taught the Kings children. Geannun would also have served these purposes; teaching and providing guidance and leadership to the people of the area in which he came to reside: Dungannon and the surrounding lands.
Today, there are few visible physical remains of Geannuns presence, aside from the town name. Standing on top of the hill though, it is possible to sense the peace and tranquillity that he would have felt when taking in the beautiful views of Lough Neagh and the distant mountains, largely unchanged since those early days of his life. On the hillside sits Geannuns well, still protected, fed by an underground spring, signifying power and renewal; for water is an ancient sign of life.
Geannuns Fort; a place of peace now, a place being renewed and revived, and where visitors can relax and take in the tranquil views, just as he did. The power of an ancient Druid and his fort perhaps returning to its original intended function, an inclusive place for all people to learn and grow.
Throw a coin into the well, ask Geannun and the universe to bring you peace and prosperity.