Shee Mor | Mysterious Ancient Royal Burial Site?

Click the video below to listen to the hauntingly magical strains of fairy harp music by blind Irish harper, Turlough O’Carolan (1670 – 1738) as you read about the site the music was named for.

On Friday, I visited the ancient sites of Shee Beag and Shee Mor in Co. Leitrim. What I found just blew me away!

Shee Beag and Shee More, (in Irish, an Sí Bheag an Sí Mhor, meaning little and big fairy mounds, respectively), were immortalised by the blind Irish harper, Turlough O’Carolan (1670 – 1738) in his composition of the same name.

O’Carolan was an interesting character, one of the last wandering harpers of old, making a living by travelling the land with his horse and his harp, composing songs (in Irish…he didn’t speak English) and music in honour of his patrons.

When I arrived at the locations featured in this particular song, I understood why he had felt so moved to compose word and music about them. We (my husband Conor and I) went first to Shee Beag, and I’m glad we did it this way around.

I was so delighted to see a stile built into the stone wall, and a signpost inviting us to visit the site, even though it was clearly on private land

I was so delighted to see a stile built into the stone wall, and a signpost inviting us to visit the site, even though it was clearly on private land

In mythology, this site is the resting place of Grainne, daughter of High King Cormac mac Airt, wife of Fionn mac Cumhall, and most famously, lover of Diarmuid.

The story goes that she did not wish to marry Fionn, whom she considered an old man like her father. On the night of their wedding, her eyes fell on Diarmuid, warrior of the Fianna and Fionn’s right hand man. They eloped, and enraged, Fionn chased them the length and breadth of Ireland.

In the end, he let them be, and they went on to have four sons together. However in time, a reconciliation was sought, and Diarmuid joined the Fianna in a boar hunt.

Diarmuid was grievously wounded by the boar, and Fionn, who had the power to heal him, came to his aid too late. Thus Diarmuid died, and Graine returned to Fionn as his wife.

Shee Beag lies within a shroud of trees and gorse.

Shee Beag lies within a shroud of trees and gorse.

Shee Beag is an average sized mound covered with stunted trees and gorse bushes. There is a large depression in the top where the site was excavated in 1931 and never filled in.

During the excavation, two skeletons were said to have been found, buried standing up and facing east. One was female, the other large and male. These were claimed to have been the remains of Grainne and Fionn mac Cumhall. What became of them, I have yet to find out.


You can clearly see the depression left by the 1931 excavation in this image

You can clearly see the depression left by the 1931 excavation in this image


Shee Mor can clearly be seen from here;  Sliabh an Iarainn, also known as the Iron Mountain, a big, dark brooding mass on the horizon, which has a history of iron mining is dominant on the horizon.

In mythology, one version of the Tuatha de Danann invasion story claims that the Danann arrived on dark clouds in the sky, which set them down on the summit of the mountain, from which they extracted their iron and forged the weapons for their attack.


The Iron Mountain

The Iron Mountain


The guardians of Shee Beag were very curious about our arrival; a small herd of cattle greeted us at the stile as we climbed over. They had no respect for personal space, in my opinion; Conor had to wave them away, as I have been unable to get over my fear of cattle after being chased by a whole herd as a youngster. They were after my mum’s small dog, not my mum and I, but I’m sure they would have trampled her to death if she had not managed to escape through a small gap in the hedge.

Cattle are not as docile and placid as one would assume, and as with all animals, must be respected. This particular group would not be deterred, however; they followed us the whole time, and escorted us back to the stile after. It was a nerve-racking experience for me!


You can see the cattle here peeping over the brow of the hill, before following to make sure we had really left

You can see the cattle here peeping over the brow of the hill, before following to make sure we had really left


We then headed for Shee Mor. I began to feel very excited at this point. Sidhe Mor is located on top of a large hill, much the same size and shape as Almu. The summit is very distinctive, and dominates the local landscape.


 


Shee Mor is one of the most impressive ancient monuments that I have ever seen, and totally exceeded all my expectations. The large central mound was accompanied by two smaller mounds which had both either collapsed or been raided at some point in history.

The remains of what appeared to be a stone walkway led in a straight line between the mounds, so connecting them. The whole hilltop is encircled and criss-crossed by what looks like the stone foundations of many walls or boundaries of some sort.


 


As you will have realised by now, Shee More has not avoided suffering the effects of Christianity. A HUGE, ugly concrete monstrosity of a cross,which lights up at night, has been erected on top of the main, central mound.

Not only is this an eyesore and an affront to nature’s beauty, but it speaks volumes about Catholic attitudes. The existence of this cross smacks not of religion or faith, but dominance, control and power.

It is not a thing of beauty or grace; it is not in harmony with its surroundings; no finer thought or workmanship has gone into its creation. Its positioning is completely disrespectful of the historical, mythological and archaeological remains of this site.

A close up of the monstrosity crowning the central mound. Beautiful, isn't it?

A close up of the monstrosity crowning the central mound. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Despite this, I found my visit to Shee Mor to be the most extraordinarily peaceful experience. I have rarely felt such a deep feeling of serenity and contentment.

I sat on a rock (with my back to the cross), and just absorbed it all for ages. All I could hear was the sounds of nature; birds, sheep, a cuckoo and the sigh of a light breeze. I could happily have stayed there all day.

I took a video to try and capture some of that for you, but unfortunately, my filming techniques are not great, and it sounded far windier than it actually was.



This was obviously a site of great significance to our ancient ancestors. Who might have been buried here?

Shee Mor – Burial site of a great King?

Well, only someone very important could possibly have been laid to rest in such a place. Given the proximity of Grainne’s grave, could it be someone linked with her? Perhaps her father, the High King Cormac mac Airt… such a site would certainly be worthy of a High King.

Dare I even suggest Fionn mac Cumhall himself? The two lesser mounds could have been raised over the bodies of his two noble hounds, Bran and Sceolán, whom he loved so well.

Of course, all this is just speculation. If future research yields anything interesting, you can be sure I’ll let you know.


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45 Comments on “Shee Mor | Mysterious Ancient Royal Burial Site?

  1. Not sure this might end a double post. If so, sincere apologies! I tried comment, but can not see that the comment was posted, so trying again.
    ———–

    I did not see that stone with a hole. I have to get up there again, dearly hoping it was not destroyed. I claimed last year, so 2016. A few years ago I bought my property on the slops of Sliabh an Iarainn. I have the most amazing view upon Sí Mhor, I don’t think any other property can rival my view. Yet believe it or not, none here knew anything about the hill I so strongly felt had to be special. Not even the name. All I got told was it has an ugly concrete cross on top, and that the electricity to light that monstrosity up is payed by someone in the States. When I climbed Sí Mhor, I was so shocked by that cross, and I so agree with all you noted about that thing.

    It is heartbreaking how little protection these ancient sites are receiving, even one as important as Sí Mhor. Also no will, it seems, to find out more about them, and no education on them. Very saddening 😥

    I feel so blessed to have found my home, and this with not having known anything about the hills surrounding me. I picked this spot, so deeply entwined with mythology, by intuition. Have traveled much, seen many places, but this area here to me is the most beautiful on earth. Thank you for your wonderful article. Due to you I just learned about the link between the Tuatha de Dannan and Sliabh an Iarainn. It can be difficult to hunt down information, and as I said, most living around here have little to no knowledge about its history at all, it appears.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment. I am in the airport about to get a flight so I will reply properly later. But I will say trust your intuition. 😊

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  5. Hi Ali, great post. I am currently writing an article about ancient mining. You mention the legent about Tuatha de Denann landing on the Iron mountain, and digging iron there. Could you give me the link to any online resource which contain this legend?

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    • Hi There! Thanks for your comment. I think I read it in the Lebor Gebala Erren… I will go back through my notes, and find a good link for you, but it may take a couple of days, is that ok?

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    • Indeed there’s still a lot of iron in the water of the wells in that area, tastes like rusty nails. The idea of digging iron there seems quite definite from that alone. However, any story of iron mining must come with smelting and the vast amounts of native forest that needed to be cleared to create the charcoal to smelt the iron.

      I am sure that there was some replanting done, though, to replenish supplies of wood to expand the iron industries … but how did that compare to the grabbing of felled land to convert into farms, especially for grazing cattle, especially at higher levels.

      Tough to have any documentation on all of this I suspect, and I am sure any would be biased due to the elitism of both education and the biggest traders in the Iron Industry … who I suspect would have been the nearest to far right politics at the time.

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      • … There is one complication, though. Just about all of the Tuatha De Dannan stories I have heard align them to being bronze age people, though some make them new stone age. I don’t think I have heard a story of the Tuaths De Dannan linked to iron ???. Maybe someone can surprise me with one or two>

        Within tales told to me the Iron industry seemed to kick up dust around the time of the Milesian stories.

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      • Everything I have read about the Tuatha de Denann claims they had swords of iron and iron tipped spears. Of course, you can’t believe everything in these old records, much of it was invented or twisted to suit beliefs at the time of writing, but I don’t see what the writers would have gained by inserting this fact at a later date.

        The Denann were supposed to have come to Ireland in 1776BC, which puts them in the early part of the Bronze Age. The Milesians were said to have invaded in 1268BC.

        In Ireland, the Iron Age didn’t get going until about 500BC, but this was much later than the rest of Europe, where the working of iron and steel began around 1200BC.

        However, further afield, archaeology has shown that iron was being sytematically produced in Angolia in 2000Bc, and in India by1800BC. In fact, iron artefacts dating back to 3200Bc have been found in Egypt, and fragments of steel dating to 1800Bc, although I don’t know where they were found.

        No one really knows where the Denann came from, but it is quite likely that they may have encountered and learned the way of iron working, and brought that knowledge with them when they came to Ireland. So yes, a lot of guesswork and supposition involved, but at the end of the day, we don’t have much to go on, do we?!!

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  6. Hi Ali, You’re right, I really enjoyed reading your post! It definitely seems like someone or many are guarding and looking after both these places. You probably already know but white cows were very important to Brighid. Did you see any white ones? I don’t think I’d like being that close to cattle either, even if they were just there to keep an eye on things. 🙂 I hope I get to see these places one day. I’m glad you got some time to just sit and be, and take in the surroundings and listen to the birds and the music. It sounds wonderful. That and being so near to places still sacred to those who have gone before.

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    • That stone you spoke of that has the round hole in the middle through which you can watch the mountain, I would bet many important things on it being deliberate. I could see it very clearly in my mind’s eye. You can see a great distance, right? I’m picturing medium sized squarish with the hole in the middle? It could make a very good lookout, and I’m fairly certain that’s what it was.

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      • Yes, that’s it exactly! Are you sure you haven’t been there before lol? Or maybe you’ve seen something similar elsewhere. It was leaning at a bit of a crazy angle, but it definitely focused your attention on the mountain.

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        • Sometimes I ask myself the same question, lol. No seriously I don’t know if I had the benefit of eyes elsewhere or if I am just very good at visualizing. I used to have to keep complex 3d models of things like the structures of molecules in my head to get through classes at school. Perhaps, in a way, both possibilities have some truth to them. But no, I’ve never been there. At least, I don’t think so! 🙂

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    • Hi Éilis, yes it really was a lovely day, and two lovely peaceful places. The cows were white and light brown, no all over white ones.

      I couldn’t have sat like that if the kids were with us, so I really appreciated the chance to just sit and be. trouble is, I didn’t want to leave!

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    • I certainly do…I’m very lucky, but I know they are not everyone’s cup of tea. As for photogenic, I am ashamed of my poor photography skills when I know there are several photographers, inc you, who will be looking at them, but if you can still get a sense of the places from them, then I am content.

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      • I think they’re great! Anyone who does a lot of photography knows that the internet compromises the quality of the photos. They certainly do their job. Between those and your writing, I want to visit! 🙂

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  7. wow, I think you are the first person, other than myself, I have heard or read mentioning that Diarmuid and Grainne buried together at Sí Bheag. Most stories seem to tell of Finn and Grainne buried together there. I did read some time back, lost the link, and it may have been in Archaeology Magazine that two skeletons were found at Sí Bheag, one man and one woman, standing up and facing Tara. The intriguing thing is the claim in that report that the female skeleton was older.

    I live near Keash which carries a strong story of Diarmuid and Grainne settling there and farming, which is also the area where Cormac mac Airt was born too. There’s a different Diarmuid and Grainne story told here, a bit too long for a comment section here, but it makes sense of the woman skeleton being older.

    Oh, and the cattle. Always seem to be there. I find they usually are behind the mound, then when you are half to three quarters there they come hurtling over to see us, and just do not leave you alone. I feel for you with that one. I carry a hazel cane, and shaking that at them seems to send them away and they stay away at a distance.

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    • Thank you for sharing your story of Diarmuid and Grainne. It makes perfect sense to me, and I just like it better, at any rate. That’s exactly the kind of local story we are in such danger of losing, that connection a place and people have with their past. I feel very lucky that you found me and shared it with me.

      I didn’t know that the female skeleton was older than the male…that’s interesting! I wonder what became of them?

      I also didn’t know that Cormac came from that area…so I have learned a lot from you taking the time to comment here! Perhaps when he died, he was brought home and laid to rest on Shee Mor…its a compelling thought, but one that I’m guessing can never be answered.

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      • In the Ceis Coarran Mountain by where I live one of the caves is known as Cormac’s cave. Its quite tricky to get to but its the only cave where valuable jewellery and some human bones have been found. However, the story, as you will probably know, is that he was snatched from his mother, from beside a well, by some wolves and raised by them for a year or so and then walked out. Of course all High Kings had to have stories like that to back up their status and position. There is a well below the caves still called Cormac’s Well. There is currently a circular path being built to make access to the wells and caves easier. They are doing this without upsetting the landscape, fortunately. Other caves of interest are the great cave of Morrigan, home of the 3 hags and the web story, and Coffey Cave also known as Goll’s Cave, Goll the Sidhe Blacksmith who make all kinds of Excaliber style weapons including one for one of the Grainnes, a Tuatha De Dannan one, that slayed Dreacon the Formorian and that story has evolved into the Skull and Crossbone flag through a strange journey … and Grainne also become George … and Dreacon became Dragon. Gold rings in the stories of course too 🙂

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        • Wow! How do you know all this stuff? How do you remember it all? I’m thinking we will have a grand old chat when I finally do get down to your neck of the woods!

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  8. I think you are the first, other than myself, to tell of Sidhe Beag being the resting place of Dearmuid and Grainne. Most stories I’ve heard tell of Finn and Grainne being there. I lost the link a long time ago but did read an archaeology report of two skeletons found standing upwards and facing in the direction of Tara. The skeletons were maie and female, but the female was much older. I have an alternative local Dearmuid and Grainne story of where I live near Keash, that many claimed they farmed for many years … but too much to tell here. That story fits in with the older female skeleton though.

    Yes, the cattle at Sidhe Beag, always seem to be there, always curious and skittish, and always the other side of the mound until you are half or three quarters there, then they run around to greet you and will not leave you alone.

    I always carry my hazel cane and shake it at them. That seems to work. They go away and keep their distance then.

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    • Hello there, Woodlandbard, Thanks for your lovely comments.

      I think even Fionn, though wronged, would not have had the heart to keep the two lovers apart in death, so yes, I believe it is quite possible that Diarmuid would have been buried there with Graine.

      I would love to hear your version of the story…can you email me? My address is on my contact page. Or do you have a website or facebook page?

      Which begs the question, who is buried at Shee Mor? What is your opinion?

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      • First, sorry, I duplicated messages as my internet connection went down and I did not think my first reply went through. I have web sites but I have never got to write up that story, I do not think. I tend to tell it a lot to visitors as I have a Tree Labyrinth here that is aligned to the Ceis Coarran mountain so I tend to rattle off connecting stories when people are here.

        I have a trinity of books and music CDs in process, a bit too ambitious really, but I will put it in my third one, Tales From The Tree Labyrinth.

        I’m really a trees and wells lore person so my most active web site is http://bardsinthewoods.com.

        In the local story, Grainne was not seized by Finn mac Coill and returned to Tara but carried on to be a local chieftain, taking on the position Diurmuid had before her. It is believed the Rath Of Grainne at Tara was also her court when the chieftains all visited there. When she passed away as a senior woman, rested with Diarmuid.

        Grainne also an adopted name to describe who she was, similar to Aine and Anu too, a reflecting light, just as Brighid was or Bhride.

        Just stories I pick up, history facts unlikely of course, but are still great and useful to explain modern situations.

        As for Shee Mor, never heard anyone tell a story of there, really. Finn is claimed to be buried in all kinds of places it seems. I’m not even inspired to guess that one though I do wonder about Cormac mac Airt or even his father Art mac Cuinn.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I like your Grainne and Dearmid story much better! 🙂 I’m also finding I am much happier to believe it rather than the usual, for the reason that were it based on truth, the monks transcribing stories might not want to admit to a woman having that much power. The story I read had her dying gruesomely while her son fled the fianna with her on her shoulders. And it would take me longer than the normal space for a comment to get into all I think is wrong and misguided by that sequence of events. Suffice to say your story seems to better capture the spirit and values of all involved.

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        • I like that Grainne became a chieftain in her own right. She was after all a High King’s daughter. It might be that the christian monks who recorded the story felt that returning her to Fionn as a dutiful wife fitted more with their faith and the role of women as they saw it, and so they altered the story to suit. It’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility!

          Yes, Fionn is associated with many places, I counted at least 8 possible burial sites, and then gave up! Given what you have said in a previous comment, I too am inclined to think Shee Mor is more likely to be the burial site of Cormac, or his father as you suggest, it being the locality of his birth.

          BTW I like your website and have followed it. If I’m up that way again, (and I am somehow always drawn there) I will definitely drop by and experience your living tree maze. I love trees, can’t bear to see one cut down…they do seem to be cutting down a lot of trees this year, certainly in Cavan, and walk regularly in my local forest on the shores of Lough Ramor; I have commented on this site how healing it is, but always attributed it to the presence of the water, not the trees.

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  9. Wow, it sounds and look like a pretty incredible place! 😀 It’s amazing how many sites of history can evoke that mystical feeling, especially in such a beautiful setting 🙂

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    • Yes it is…I cant stop thinking about it! Makes me realise how little I know, and how so much knowledge is lost to us.

      How are your books doing?

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      • I know what you mean. It would be nice to get to see more of the sights, especially with summer coming up 🙂

        The books are doing good, it’s nice to have them out and be concentrating on the next one, thank you for asking! 😀

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    • Thanks Rachele… it is a very beautiful piece of music isnt it? The bluebell woods reminded me of the woods here at Ramor where I often walk with Indi. How wonderful it would be to hear music like that drfting between the trees… quite ethereal and magical I think. What a great place to play a harp and to hear one!

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  10. Another fascinating post Ali, I find the veil between our world and that of our ancestors can be quite thin in these places. No doubt the Sidhe were curious as to your intentions as per the bovine encounter. 🙂
    Shame to see another ancestral site being dominated by the church. Sadly they only got away with it because the people allowed them to have power in these lands.
    I wonder if the Cross is covered under the Duchas protection notice??? 🙂 Just wondering 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well I hope they wetent too offended when Conor chased them away lol! You are quite a spiritual person, arent you? Yes, I think you are quite right about the veil being thin in such places. Im glad I felt that.

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      • I’m sure they were not, otherwise you would have known 🙂 I do have my moments. Have you ever been to Tlachtga or Uisneach? Both considered to be the spiritual centre of ancient Ireland!

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        • I have indeed been to Uisneach! Had a very intriguing experience there. Have you been? There is a sign on a gate requesting you phone the landowner for permission to visit. I called the number and the voice said “Im right behind you.” Looked out the rear view windscreen and a black landrover pulled in behind us. How did he know we were there??????? When he got out he was tall and blonde with piercing blue eyes. Im telling you he was the Sidhe guardian of the hill. My husband is not a fanciful man, but to this day even he is convinced!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Wow, have never been to Uisneach, hope to get up there this year, been to Tlaghta many times. One of those magical places. I heard that the landowners at Uisneach take their role seriously which is a rarity these days 🙂

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            • Well hopefully you will get to meet him and then we can compare notes lol!!! Ive never been to Tlaghta.

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