The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian




Although rising to a relatively modest 1,078ft, the incredible mini-mountain of Knocknarea (Cnoc na Riabh) appears much higher to the passing traveller, the result of its isolated coastal position emphasising its full elevation literally from sea level. Indeed, water would appear to be key to its significance within the landscape, the deep incursions of Sligo Harbour (to the north) and Ballysadare Bay (to the south) combining with the Garvoge River, draining Lough Gill (to the east), to form the peninsular upon which the mountain stands, to the west of the great Carrowmore megalithic cemetery. That Knocknarea and the latter are linked, I guess, must go without saying?

Knocknarea is visible - nay, dominates the skyline - for many miles around the locality, making it a suitable spot to erect surely one of the most enigmatic pile of stones in all Ireland... Miosgan Meadhbha, or Maeve's Cairn. Unexcavated, like nearby Heapstown Cairn, the monument is on a par with the great passage graves of Bru na Boinne in terms of size, but, for me, eclipses them in terms of visual impact and siting. Although generally thought to contain a burial chamber (or two) - oh come on, it must, surely? - I suppose we could even have an Irish variant upon the Silbury theme if this was found not be the case after all? Hmm. Unlikely, I think.

The monument is bordered by a substantial bank and several smaller cairns, further emphasising its stature, as well as a small prehistoric settlement to the north east. And of course there's the sweeping sea views across Sligo Bay and beyond Sligo itself to the elegant escarpment of Yeat's Benbulben, the evocative scene enhanced by cloud swirling around the cairn and across the summit plateau. Suffice to say if there isn't a great queen buried within... there bloody well should be!

Knocknarea truly has it all, so you won't be surprised to know that there's a price to pay for an audience with Queen Maeve... that of a steep climb. I'd suggest the easiest approach is the obvious one, via a pretty rough track starting from the Grange North car park to the south east.. not easy, but within the capabilities of the average mortal, I'd have thought. We took approx 45 minutes, although this included a diversion to eulogise with a typically rosy cheeked farmer over the beauty of his two magnificent horses whilst his cattle curiously looked on. Bear in mind the aforementioned cloud, however. Although a mini-mountain, normal rules apply, so take care.
20th March 2010ce
Edited 20th March 2010ce

Comments (2)

Dear Robert, thank you for this wonderfully evocative description of Knocknarea. I have just finished reading The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry - a 'disquieting portrait of a woman destroyed by politics and misogyny ...' in 20th century Sligo. Knocknarea plays a silent but central part to the story.
Captured my imagination, wanted to find out more ... on the back of your field note, inspired now to make the visit and the climb.
tjj Posted by tjj
28th July 2013ce
Thanks tjj. I'm assuming you haven't been to Sligo before? If not, whilst in the area I'd recommend trying to get in a visit to the magnificent Carrowmore and Carrowkeel cemeteries as well. How I want to go back!!The Heapstown cairn is also pretty overwhelming. Newgrange and Knowth aside, the Irish don't exactly shout about their ancient treasures, do they?

The Mam C was pretty taken by the Yeats museums etc in town as well. Incidentally, whilst she was poking around on top of Maeve's Cairn she noticed there was a thick deposit of marine shells just underneath the surface.... too many to be the residue of seabirds' meals, so that got us thinking it might have been the result of a Knocknarea version of the Durrington Walls feasts? Mind blowing place.
28th July 2013ce
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