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 Location: County Sligo, Near Standhill, Ireland.  Grid Reference: 54° 15' 28" N. 8° 34' 32" W.

 

      Knocknarea: (Passage Mound).

The translation of the name of this hill 'The Hill of the Moon', reveals a connection with astronomy, which is supported by its position in line with the Carrowkeel passage mounds, suggesting that this hill was likely once a significant part of the prehistoric landscape.

This large cairn on top is suggested to be the remains of a passage-mound similar to those of the Boyne Valley. 

Knocknarea is said to be the burial place of the wild Queen Maeve, one of the major figures in the Irish saga, the Tain Bo Cualnge.

 

 

   Knocknarea: ('Cnoc Na Ri', ' Hill of the Moon').

This striking mountain dominates the landscape of the west of Sligo.

Maeve's cairn, by far the largest, is only one of a number of monuments on the summit of Knocknarea. In general the tombs are lined up North/South, they may have been constructed facing Carrowmore in the lowlands. Many of the smaller tombs seem to have been small passage tombs; they were severely damaged by the excavations of antiquarians in the 19th century.

Knocknarea Mountain seems to have been a major place of ritual and meeting in the Neolithic era. The entire top of the mountain on the eastern side is circumscribed by an 1k long embankment, 2 m wide and 0.8 m tall. Hut sites have been located on the inside of this area. A large amount of debris from making stone tools have also been collected. (See: Bergh: Landscape of the Monuments)

Warning: The climb to the top is not for the faint hearted and can take up to an hour each way.

 

Maeve's Cairn: ‘Miosgán Medbha’ 'Maeve’s Lump of Butter' - This cairn, also known as Misgaun Maeve, is 10m high and 55m across at the base. It probably covers a passage tomb similar to those at Carrowkeel and in the Boyne valley. It would have been built by Neolithic peoples about 3.000 BC. Around the cairn there are a number of other tombs, probably of the same period, in varying states of destruction. It remains unexcavated.

Queen Maeve's cairn measures around 55 meters across and 10 meters high, making it the largest such tomb in Ireland outside the Boyne Valley. It is estimated that the stones used in the construction would weigh approx' 40,000 metric tons. Archaeologist Stefan Bergh, in his book Landscape of the Monuments Stockholm (1995), suggested that the large depression to the back of the hill on the western side was the quarry from which the limestone for the monument was sourced.

The association with Queen Maeve is purely speculative as the mound has yet to be investigated properly.

 

Connections with other sites: The Prehistoric Landscape.

The entire region around Sligo Bay is very rich in pre-historic remains, and interconnected by a visual 'language' of monuments and natural shapes. From Knocknarea can be seen other important Neolithic sites such as Carrowkeel, Cairns Hill and Carrowmore cemetery which is located at the eastern foot of Knocknarea.

Carrowkeel: A congregation of 14 passage mounds, at least on of which (Cairn G), has a light-box, similar to that at Newgrange. The passages of several of the passage-mounds align with Knocknarea at the maximum setting of the moon's 18.6 year cycle. Other observations have shown that the summit of Maebh’s Cairn was at the same altitude as Cairn K at Carrowkeel, which is oriented to Queen Maebh’s Cairn. “If you draw a circle from Cairn K which touches Maeve’s Cairn on Knocknarea, you would find that it also touches Maeve’s Palace, the mound of Rathcroghan in Roscommon.

(More about Carrowkeel)

Carrowmore:  Arguably one of the oldest cemeteries in Ireland - Even from the cremated remains it is apparent that the dead underwent a complex sequence of treatments, including excarnation and reburial. Grave goods include antler pins with mushroom-shaped heads and stone or clay balls, although other tombs outside Carrowmore held entirely different assemblages of items. The setting of the graveyard suggests a careful selection, in which the dead were seen to be sleeping in shadow of the goddess, who herself was placed into the sacred landscape.

(More about Carrowmore)

Cairn Hill: The documentation handed out in the visitor centre stated how “the viewer who stands on Maeve’s Cairn on Knocknarea can watch the sun or full moon rise over Lough Gill, which translates as ‘The Lake of Brightness’ at the equinox. Then at sunset, the observer may stand on Cairns Hill, another important megalithic site just south of Sligo Town, and watch the Knocknarea alignment.” Other observations have shown that the summit of Maebh’s Cairn was at the same altitude as Cairn K at Carrowkeel, the other megalithic cemetery, which is oriented to Queen Maebh’s Cairn. “If you draw a circle from Cairn K which touches Maeve’s Cairn on Knocknarea, you would find that it also touches Maeve’s Palace, the mound of Rathcroghan in Roscommon.

 

Astronomy:

The name Knocknarea means the 'Hill of the Moon'. An association which may be due to the orientation of the nearby Carrowkeel Passage mound (G), and its recently realised 'light-box', towards Knocknarea at the maximum setting of the moon, over its 18.6 year cycle.

(More about Light-boxes)

It is clear how the interplay of solar and lunar phenomena was transposed on the landscape, which was woven together through sacred hills, on whose tops were cairns, who were later identified with the tombs of gods, particularly linked with the moon and the sun.


As such, Knocknarea (Knock na Ré in Irish) is known as the “Hill of the Moon” and Maebh must be seen as the moon goddess.

 

Tradition and Myth:

Knocknarea is said to be the burial place of the wild Queen Maeve, one of the major figures in the Irish saga, the Tain Bo Cualnge. She is said to be buried upright inside the cairn, in full battle regalia.

 

(Other Prehistoric Irish Sites)

 

 

 

References:

 

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