Moytura; Battle Ground of Irish Gods and Demons

My family standing beside an unidentified ancient monument on the Plain of Moytura
My family standing beside an unidentified ancient monument on the Plain of Moytura

Moytura is where the Tuatha de Denann 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 Pillar’. The Denann won. 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 Denann won.

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 Denann, and I would like to tell you about some of them.

Shee Lugh

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The Seat of Lugh

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. It is a vast plain, an upland, with a sharp drop down into the valley containing Lough Arrow. Lugh’s army would have been well protected to the rear 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!

The steep drop at the rear of Shee Lugh down to Lough Arrow is not so clear in this image.

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 Denann/ Fomori battle.

Giant’s Grave

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.

Heapstown Cairn

Heapstown Cairn
Heapstown Cairn

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 Tuatha de Denann 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 Denann from using it.

Eglone Stone

Although quite a famous monument associated with Moytura, this huge pillar is thought to be a glacial deposit rather than a standing stone. Mythology has it that whilst waiting for the battle to begin, the Denann held a rock throwing contest, and the Eglone Stone was thrown into its current position by the Dagda.

Lough na Suil

The mysterious eye-shaped Lough na Suil
The mysterious eye-shaped 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.

Labby Rock

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.

 

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Moytura; Battle Ground of Irish Gods and Demons

  1. Wow, very powerful post, Ali! More places I absolutely want to go see…:-) I love how the landscape still retains the memories of things that happened so long ago. I’m fascinated by the lake of the eye and why it might drain out like you described.

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  2. Wow! I can feel the magic, Ali. 🙂
    Your descriptions are as intense as the sensation you get when visiting places. Your words make your readers really want to go there, and feel it for themselves.
    Have you ever been to Beaumont-Hamel (France; WW I)? You can feel the past there, too. I associate my feelings at that location with the locations you describe: a past that has left its marks.

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    1. Thank you Karen! I hope people do get a sense of the place from what I have written about it, as you say…did you see the 360* interactive image? Isn’t it awesome?!!

      I have never been to any places associated with WW1 or 2… I think I would find it too overwhelming. Visiting somewhere where things happened thousands of years ago, and where the legends are sketchy, it’s an inspiring feeling, a sense of getting to know a place, but there’s also a sense of disassociation, because we are so far removed in time, and culture, etc So what happened there is not so awful to bear, if you know what I mean.

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      1. People definitely get a sense of the places you write about! The interactive image is truly awesome!

        Beaumont-Hamel is at the river Somme. There is a Canadian monument. There seemed to be something magic in the air. We are going to visit this place in August. My father (he died in 2012) loved to visit that site – because I deemed it magic. People should have learned by now that war does not really help the human cause.
        Ancient sites are fascinating and inspiring because of a certain vagueness, and they are less scary as such. I know exactly what you mean, Ali.

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        1. You’re right, but unfortunately I don’t think that will ever happen. My husband and sons would like to visit this place, so I am sure I will be forced to confront my fear at some point in the not too distant future. It would at very least be a mark of respect to those who gave their lives, I owe them that much, we all do.

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          1. You are also right, this isn’t going to happen.
            Beaumont-Hamel is not scary. There always seemed to be a magic haze. With the sun seeping through, awesome. Consider these sun rays as rays of hope and peace.
            People like you, kind and peaceful, should visit this location – to sense the peace that has come over it, and to be inspired. I feel the history, and I feel the hope. I’ll let you know if this location still has its magic, Ali.

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            1. Sounds lovely…I really like that comment, ‘consider these sun rays as rays of hope and peace’…good advice, I’ll do that.

              Hope you enjoy your visit, will you post about it?

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            2. It is my plan to post about Beaumont-Hamel. 🙂
              We need to visit two WW II cemetaries, then visit Beaumon-Hamel, then spend one day in Strasbourg. It is incredible how much you can do in just four days.

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    1. We live on a fascinating island Ed! We are so lucky. I doubt we’ll ever see all there is to see on it during our lifetimes…although you’re making a darn good attempt!!!

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