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Medb’s Heap – Miosgán Medb

Medb's Heap - Miosgan Medb at Rathcroghan

This post is about the monument known as Medb’s Heap, Medb’s Cairn, Medb’s Tomb, Medb’s Nipple or Medb’s Grave (and sometimes the name Medb is anglicized as Maeve).

In Irish it’s called Miosgán Medb, from the old Irish word mescán – mass, lump, heap.

Now, you’ll likely have heard tell of the one in County Sligo, the famous “Maeve’s Grave” that sits on top of the 327 metre (1,073 ft) hill called Knocknarea, just to the West of Sligo town.

That may be what you’re looking for… but did you know there are 4 other sites that bear the name “Medb’s Heap’ too?

Stay with me now here, for a few minutes, and let me show you some of what I’ve found while researching my new book: ‘The Irish Queen Medb: History, Tradition, and Modern Pagan Practice’.

Find Out More in the Queen Medb ‘Cheat Sheet’ Here!

So, I was sorting through the Cruachán (Rathcroghan) sites associated with Medb specifically (because that’s where she lived and ruled from, never mind that oul Sligo connection, for now).

There are two large stones named for her that lie directly between the Rathcroghan Main Mound, and Ráth Beag, a high status burial mound directly across from it. They are called Miosgán Medb (again, Medb’s Heap) and Millín Medb (Medb’s Knoll, related to the modern Irish meall – knoll, mound, or a lump of butter).

As expected, so far.

However, when I looked the name up on Logainm.ie (the Irish placenames database), I got a surprise.

Medb’s Heap in… Donegal?!

The entry for Medb's Heap on Logainm Website
Image shows 3 database entries for Medb’s Heap sites in County Donegal.

These references are for Cairn monuments in the areas of Raymunterdoney, Meentaghconlan, and Clonmany. And if you look these places up on the map, you’ll there’s none of them very far from that upper NorthWest coastline. 

I looked them up on the map already for you. Here…

Medbs-Heap-Sites-in-Donegal-on-Google-Maps

The placement of these sites struck me as VERY interesting because they form a boundary against an area that is traditionally a direction which Otherworldly forces might have come from: The NorthWest Sea, and specifically Tory Island, which has links to the Fomorians.

This ancient enemy is NOT from the same time period as Queen Medb, story wise. They are from the Mythological Cycle, while her stories are set in the Ulster Cycle.

Was there a different Medb, a local ancestor or Goddess whose name survived there?

Was our Queen Medb being evoked against general Otherworld/ocean concerns, by the people of a community who may have carried some ancestral memory of foes from that direction, and a powerful guardian who could protect against them?

Unfortunately, we may never know for sure… but I will be exploring this (and more!) further as I continue to write this book.

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The Royal Sites of Ireland

Circles & Avenues: Rathcroghan, Navan, Knockaulin (Waddell, Fenwick, Barton - Chapter 5, fig 5.42)
The Royal Sites of Ireland are important places of assembly, ceremony, burial, and royal inauguration ritual; located in the four provinces of Ireland and the central region of Meath and Westmeath.

Tara in the Middle (Meath), Navan Fort in Ulster (North), Dún Ailinne in Leinster (East), Cashel in Munster (South), and Rathcroghan in Connacht (West), were major seats of the Kings and Queens in Iron Age Ireland, while Uisneach is the traditional ‘Navel of Ireland’, where all provinces met.

As we see in the included ‘Circles and Avenues’ image, Rathcroghan and two of the other Royal Sites at Navan Fort, and Dún Ailinne, were enclosed by impressive circular monuments of great width. All of these provincial centres form part of large ritual landscapes with many sacred and ceremonial sites concentrated in a relatively small area – but none so large or complex as at Rathcroghan.

Activity at these sites stretches from deep roots in the Stone Age, through the Bronze Age, to the height of power during the Iron Age, and even on into Medieval Christian times. Modern spiritual seekers still gather at the sites which are accessible today.

Their presence in the landscape was commanding, sited at strategic and elevated positions, and each grew organically through many phases of use, but always with a similarity of form – as is clear from the Circles and Avenues image – and a distinct spiritual and ritual focus.

What ancient Irish Kings and Queens were inaugurated and lived, were born or buried at these Royal Sites?

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