Knowth | Legend of a Forgotten Queen

I call Knowth the Forbidden Mound because no one is allowed inside. I’m not sure why this is. From my image below, you can see how safe and unrestricted the passage is. According to the archaeologist, George Eogan, who excavated the site in the 1960s, the passages and inner chambers were accessed with relative ease on the days they were discovered. I can’t help but wonder, what could be in there that no one wants us to see?

Of the Bru na Boinne complex, Knowth holds for me the most mystique and allure. Roughly on a size and scale with the more famous Newgrange, Knowth contains not one but two long passages opposite each other alighned east/ west. The eastern passage is forty metres long, while the western passage is thirty four metres long. Surrounding this large central mound are eighteen smaller ones, all facing inward.

In Irish mythology, Knowth (sounds like mouth), from the Irish Cnoc Bui, meaning ‘Hill of Bui’ is said to be the final resting place of Bui, or Buach. a wife of the God of Lightning, and High King of the Danann, Lugh Lamfhada.

I have had to piece her story together from several legends, as sadly, it seems to have been lost in time. She was the daughter of either Daire Donn, known as the King of the World, who led a great battle against Fionn mac Cumhaill in the C3rd, or of Donn of the Milesians, who later came to be known as Lord of the Dead. In terms of time periods, the latter fits far better.

She was said to have had an affair with Cermait Milbél (which means ‘honeymouth’), a son of the Dagda. Lugh was so furious that he challenged Cermait to a duel and killed him. Cermait’s three sons decided to avenge their father’s death, and killed Lugh in, or beside the lough named after him on the top of the Hill of Uisneach. A cairn was raised over his body there.

If this wasn’t tragic enough, Óengus Óg who was Cermait’s half-brother, discovered that Lugh’s poet, who is not named, had told Lugh a malicious lie; Buach and Cermait had not slept together, after all. He avenged the deaths of his brother and Lugh by killing the poet. What became of poor Buach is not known.

Knowth and the rest of the Newgrange complex are known collectively as Brú na Bóinne, which means ‘the bend in the River Boyne’; you can see this quite clearly in the map, the Boyne cradling the ancient sites like the curve of an arm.

In Irish mythology, the river Boyne is named after the Danann goddess, Boann. Her name, from the Old Irish Bo Find, means ‘white cow’. According to an ancient text named the Lebor Gabála Érenn she was the daughter of Delbáeth of the Tuatha De Danann, and she was married to Elcmar.

She had an affair with the Dagda, and thus conceived her son, Óengus Óg. In order to conceal their infidelity from Elcmar, the Dagda made the sun stand still in the sky for nine months; therefore, Óengus was conceived, gestated and born in one day, and sent to be fostered with Midir all before Elcmar came home.

Boann was killed when she went against her husband’s wishes seeking knowledge from Connla’s Well, where the nine enchanted hazel trees dropped their nuts into the water for the salmon to eat. The water rose up at her defiance and carried her out to sea where she perished, and that was how the River Boyne was formed.

The River Boyne is thought to be linked to the Milky Way; in old Irish, it was known as Bealach na Bó Finne, meaning the ‘Path of the Bright/ White Cow’. Interestingly, it was also known as ‘Lugh’s Chain’, or Slabhbra Lugh.

Could it perhaps be then, that Knowth with its many satellite mounds represents planets going around a sun? Or a constellation of stars? Perhaps it is simply the burial site of an ancient beloved Queen.

70 Comments on “Knowth | Legend of a Forgotten Queen

  1. Pingback: Descendant of Divine Hags? | Exploring the UK, Europe and Russia

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  4. It is very intriguing to wonder what might be inside such an ancient site, Ali. You may be able to get inside Knowth if you talk to the right people and let them know that you are a writer that specializes in writing about Irish mythology. Let them know that you want to write a piece about the mythology centered in and around Knowth. Don’t take “no” for an answer. If you don’t get a “yes” from the first person you speak to, ask to speak to their superior. Keep on going “up the ladder” until you get the answer you want. You could take Ed Mooney with you when you go inside Knowth so he could take professional photos. He could probably sell some of those photos to back to them to feature in their Visitor Center. Then you could shop your article around to various magazines that might be willing to pay good money for it like travel magazines. What do you think?

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    • Thank you Rachele. I’ve always just accepted that no one could go inside, but you are right. If you dont try, you dont get. Where’s the harm in asking? Perhaps I will persue this, and Ed would be the perfect photographer.

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      • Yay! This is exciting! Let me know how it goes when you ask for permission to get inside. I hope you are able to get inside and document everything in words and with photos so we can all see what is inside.

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  5. I would love to see this, Ali, but like the Lascoax cave paintings, I fear the place would be “loved” to destruction. So your post is a great substitute!

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    • I suppose it would depend how it was managed. Newgrange is doing well even though it is allowing people to get up close and personal with the stones. Stonehenge in the UK on the other hand is a travesty… you can visit so long as you only look from afar and dont defile the stones with your touch or youll be shot by guards! Only joking… the guards dont have guns. But you might get arrested!

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  6. Such a rich tapestry of history. I’m actually jealous of the legends tangled upon legends, upon legends. One photo even reminds me of the bunkers/igloos of the TNT in America’s West Virginia. No similarity really, expect for archaic history, folklore and whispered legends of things that might-be or might-have-been. Beautiful, informative post as always.

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    • Thnanks Mae! Stories like this existvin every country, just some cultures hold onto them better. Even over here though, so much has been lost. Once its gone, it can never be replaced.

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  7. I surfed back through and read the comments. You must have some pretty nice and respectful folks in Ireland. In America most of the sites are locked, shielded, or protected somehow. Those that are open are guarded 24 hours per day. People here will carve their names over ancient Indian glyphs. They spray paint gang graffiti inside and outside historical sites. Even a marvel like a limestone cave must be watched. It’s amazing how many people will break off a stalactite as a souvenir. If everyone grabbed one, there wouldn’t be anything left. I read last spring about a vacationing American who got arrested carving his name into the Roman Coliseum. Americans have a bad reputation around the world, and sadly, we earned it. It would be nice if you could tour some sites while accompanied by a guide.

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    • Ugh that’s pretty shocking CS. I don’t think it’s more than a small minority though, or restricted to Americans. If there are real treasures – carvings, artifacts etc then they would always be guarded or curated, even in Ireland. If there’s nothing to see then let those in charge tell us. Ali will find out 🙂

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      • We get our fair share of vandalism over here too. Only last year the Lia Fail at Tara had paint dumped all over it. A few years earlier someone attacked it with a sledgehammer. Unfortunately it happens everywhere.

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  8. You’d think thered be some information available, even if it was an undeveloped site, wouldnt you? Mind you, quite often I prefer not to know anything about a place before I go, so I can just enjoy it for what it is, get a feel for the place. I do my learning after, when I have more time and can concentrate on it.

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  9. Loved the photos and the stories, Ali – What a fascinating place, will have to add it to my ‘to be visited’ list. When we were in Ireland last year we visited a Neolithic burial site spread across several fields which was just fascinating, though I never did find out who was buried there.

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  10. I like the idea of nobody being allowed into the mound, to be honest. When I visited Newgrange it was before the visitors centre and having to queue up for a tour and whatnot. Apart from us there were about half a dozen other visitors and we were all dead quiet. It was awesome in the literal sense of the word. I’d never want to visit a place as sacred as that with the chattering hordes you get these days.

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  11. Great reading Ali, makes me think that no matter where you travel in Ireland you will find mythology and folklore, the Knowth sounds intriguing, what is in there or what is not being made known makes it more intriguing, seems it may be some sort of celestial calendar.

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    • Thank you! It is true that in Ireland you are never far away from myth and legend. Our ancestors left so much evidence as pointers in the landscape. I’m sure your country is just as buzzing with echoes of the past, only perhaps the signs are less physical and so less visible.

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  12. Ali, you bring me back to my youth when I lived in Drogheda and visits to the various sites around. I vividly recall Dowth on an Autumnal evening with torches and wellies in days before Health and Safety had even been heard of – and Interpretive Centres certainly not imagined.

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    • Wonderful! There are still many, many places like that over here, where you can wander freely around an ancient site, providing the landowner doesnt mind. But the tourism and interpretive centres also play an important part, in terms of money and funding. Many sites on private land are crumbling out of existence, never mind memory, because the landowner lacks the money, or the will, or both, to maintain them. It’s a real catch 22.

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  13. Ooooh I love that you are as much a sceptic as me! Taking people inside Newgrange and recreating the solstice effect is certainly a wonderful experience, and definitely draws attention away from the real star of the show! I’m not satisfied with that though! And my imagination just goes into overdrive.

    Òengus was indeed Diarmuid’s foster father. Considering he was Danann, I am not surprised in the slightest that he was still around in Fionn’s day. Many of the Sidhe feature in the Fenian tales.

    And thanks for your kind comments about my photos. I took them in colour on a very old Galaxy… I think, but I touched them up a bit. I’m sure I overdid it completely as I have no clue what I’m doing, but if you dont try you dont learn. And I am totally inspired by you, as maybe you can tell? Lol! You should run a course on your blog for beginner/ amateurs like me.

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  14. What a truly fantastic piece Ali. It must be about fifteen years since I last visited the Brú na Bóinne. And to be honest I have been avoiding it for good reason. Sadly it has been turned into a major tourist trap and much of the dribble that the guides tell you is utter Cac. I actually much prefer the sites at Knowth & Dowth which have been overshadowed by the more popular Newgrange for some reason. I wonder was this done to direct people’s attention away from more important sites?
    Interesting that you mentioned Óengus Óg! As I am just putting the finishing touched to Rath Grainne. It seems that Óengus was credited as being the foster father of Diarmad O’Duibhne? He must have been some age, or is this a completely different character altogether?
    As for access, they are obviously hiding something. There is no good reason not to allow public access in some shape or form. Excavation excuses are pure nonsense, and if they were worried about wear and tear which would be a reasonable concern they could allow access by appointment, thus controlling the footfall. Sadly the powers that control these sites, have other motives.
    That said I love your images, especially the one looking into the chamber, its almost like a B&W shot with the light emitting from the centre:-)

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    • So, is it possible to go into one of these sites, say, on your own? Or is it literally barred off? I mean could you just kind of happen to walk by and “accidentally” get lost in the passages when no one else is around? Shhh, I’m not giving anyone ideas… well okay, I am. I’ve never quite wrapped my head around the concept of not being able to go places outside privately owned yards and such. If I were left alone out there curiosity would override common sense hands down. Although to be fair, I have the “I couldn’t see where I was going” card that gets me out of almost any mess I could have ended up in … so far. 🙂

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      • Lol you would play a trump card like that? Good on ya Éilis, I’d milk it for all Ibwas worth hehe! The passages is sealed with concrete, I believe although I dont know if thats true, as I havent seen it, and you cant believe everything you read on the web. But the passage in my photo has a big black iron gate across it, so obviously someone is allowed to go in there. Maybe theres an alien command centre down there lol!!! 😀

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      • Lol, I got a spare ninjas suit that might fit you Niamh. 😁 Obviously we always respect private landowners rights. But when something is in public ownership it posses me off when they put up a big iron gate and padlock.😠

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    • Thanks Rosie! I read Bending the Boyne, too. I found it really interesting, although I did not like the way the writer portrayed the ancient people. It gave a great insight though as to how advanced and sophisticated life actually was back then, which I think many people would find quite surprising.

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  15. Wonderful post, Ali! I really wanted to be able to visit Nowth while we were in Ireland. We were on the large tour to Newgrange and our tour guide said something about the site not being fully excavated which was the reason we weren’t allowed in there. That and also they didn’t want anyone ruining it by having it open to the public. But plenty of other such sites are open to the public and I remembered what you said about it being easy to get around in there so yes, why indeed?

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    • Thats just hogwash, Éilis! Reading the archaeologists comments, it was very well excavated for many years in the 1960s! There are mant sitescnever excavated at all where visitors are allowed in, Loughcrew for example. Interestingly, there is one mound at Loughcrew which is also barred to visitors, it has a standing stone inside, highly unusual. Why do they not want people to see it? They give some excuse re the landowner. Hmmm… I’m not convinced. These are clearly highly unusual sites… their size and layout and stone art is an obvious indicator of that. I cant help feeling that something is being covered up. Because most people accept the tosh that ancient man was primitive and ignorant, the majority of visitors accept it is unsafe or unexcavated. I dont believe any of that to be true.

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