Moytura is where the Tuatha de Danann began their invasion by taking on the Fir Bolg in a battle for the possession of Ireland. It’s name in Irish is Cath Maighe Tuireadh, meaning ‘Battle of the Plain of Pillars’. The Danann were victorious.
Some thirty years later, a second battle of Moytura was fought, this time against the Fomori, whom some call a race of demons. Again, the Danann were the victors.
The question is, where did these battles take place?
Some claim the first was fought at Cong (in Irish, Conga from Cúnga Fheichín, meaning ‘St Fheichin’s Narrows’), on the border of Co Galway and Co Mayo, close to Lough Corrib.
Certainly, there is archaeology in the area with attached legends linking it to the battle and the characters associated with it.
For example, The Long Stone of Neale is the supposed resting site of Lugaid, Nuada Argetlamh’s young son, who perished in the battle. Slainge, Prince of the Fir Bolg is said to be buried within the Pyramid of the Neale, and there is even a cairn named for Eochaidh himself, Slainge’s father and King of the Fir Bolg.
Visiting Cong is still on my ‘to do’ list, and will no doubt make an appearance in a future post.
The second battle is said to have occurred in Sligo, at a place which is still called Moytirra on the maps today. There are also many archaeological sites here associated with the Danann, and I would like to tell you about some of them.
Shee Lugh, also known as the’ Seat of Lugh’, is located on the highest point of Moytura. From here it is said that Lugh sat on his throne and directed his warriors in the fight against the Fomori. The mound is set in a vast plain, an upland, with a sharp drop to the rear which leads down into the valley containing Lough Arrow.
Lugh’s army would have been well protected by this drop, and would have had the advantage of higher ground over their enemy. Even now, it feels wild and bleak, entirely befitting the horror and carnage which took place there.
To see an amazing interactive panoramic view of this site, which does it far more justice than my amateur images, please click here. Make sure to watch it in Full Screen for maximum effect!
All that remains here now is the faint evidence of a ruined chambered cairn. However, Moytura is home to at least fourteen other ancient monuments linked to the Danann/ Fomori conflict.
This is a neolithic court tomb, with a U-shaped court leading to a gallery of four chambers. The cairn material is long gone, but the stone outline still remains.
The only giant I know of mentioned in the mythology of this battle is the Fomori King Balor, Lugh’s grandfather. Lugh killed him with a spear through the eye at Lough na Suil. Perhaps it is Balor who is buried here.
Although the vast brooding landscape of Shee Lugh is breath-taking, I think Heapstown Cairn is my favourite monument at Moytura. Located near Castlebaldwin, it is a passage tomb 60 metres in diameter and 6 metres high.
It is the largest monument of its kind outside of the Boyne Valley, believed to have once been much bigger, until much of it was removed through the ages, and used to build walls and roads.
Most of the limestone kerbstones are still visible around its base.
A drawing by George Petrie in 1837 shows a standing stone on its summit, but this has long since disappeared. (To see this drawing click here, scroll to about 2/3 down the page.)
It is said that the cairn covers a well that possessed special healing powers. The Danann used this well to heal their warriors during the Second Battle of Moytura, so that they were fit, healthy and strong enough to return to the fight.
Their enemies, the Fomori, took boulders from the River Drowse and threw them into the well until eventually a huge cairn covered the pool, thus preventing the Danann from using it.
Although quite a famous monument associated with Moytura, this huge pillar is thought to be a glacial deposit rather than a standing stone. Legend has it that whilst waiting for the battle to begin, the Danann held a rock throwing contest, and the Eglone Stone was thrown into its current position by the Dagda.
Lough na Suil
In legend, Lough na Suil, which means ‘Lake of the Eye’ is where Lugh defeated his grandfather, the Fomori Giant-King Balor by throwing his spear (although some versions of the story say it was a sling-stone) into Balor’s magical poison eye. When he fell face down upon the ground, his evil eye burned a great crater in the earth which filled with water, thus forming the Lough.
Lough na Suil is situated on the Plain of Moytura not far from Heapstown Cairn. It is said that once in every hundred years, the lake mysteriously empties overnight and refills itself.
Records show that this did indeed occur in 1833, 1933, and then at intervals of twenty years or so. The reason has never been explained.
Perhaps the most famous of all the monuments at Moytura, Labby Rock is a dolmen with a huge limestone capstone weighing about 65 tons. It was probably built around 3000BC. Its name derives from the Irish word leaba, meaning ‘bed’. King Nuada and his wife Macha are said to be buried here.
The mythology of the Fenian Cycle also claims that Diarmuid and Grainne slept here following their elopement, when Fionn mac Cumhall gave chase in the hope of getting his young wife back.
I hope you have enjoyed this little tour back in time to one of Ireland’s greatest mythical battlegrounds.