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’.
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.
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…
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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To follow on from the recent post on Irish Ráths, I wanted to include some extra detail on a type of Ráth – the Lios.
In my experience and understanding, Liosanna (plural) are particularly associated with the Sidhe, the Irish Fairies, so I was very surprised to come across this account today…
Liosanna are plainly seen in many districts near the school. Quite close to the school in the same townsland – Ballycurrane – are three or rather were for one of them Crunnigans is gone. Coughlans is a field or so down from the school. Healys is at the other side of the stream running down from the well. Both are just round mounds with trees growing on them. There is no account of a passage in either of these. A part of Healys has been dug away at one side and the clay etc. coming out of it is a peculiar black colour. Some loads of it were brought here to to the school about nine years ago to make a dry path in from the road. It set like cement and gave it the appearance in patches of a tarred road. Bones were got there at one time but whether they were animal or human nobody knows. Old people used to say they heard music there at night long ago.
Crunnigans ploughed out the lios and as a result there is no one of the name there to day. The house is in ruins and the farm was bought by Merrinans.
Probably the nearest Lios to these is Hallorans in Kilgabriel. This differs from the others in the fact that it has a passage and underground chambers. In the time of the Civil War it was examined by the Free State soldiers who thought it was a dump for arms.
There is another big one in Declan Flahertys land in Ballindrumma. This is connected by an underground passage with the one in McGraths of Knockaneris. People who saw it say it was marvellously done and was paved with stones. Unfortunately hunting for foxes who went to earth in it has caused parts of it to fall in.
There was another passage from Knockaneris to Flemings in Coolbagh and from there to Dromore.
On the other side of the school across the Licky on the Grange side are two more – one in Briens and one called ‘Maire Ni Mearas’. There is an entrance to Briens one and some men went into years ago bringing a ball of hemp with them to guide them. The fox when hard pressed always takes refuge in it.
The following story was told to me by James Scanlan of Cladagh. When Maire Ni Meara lived she sent a man with two horses to plough the lios. He was not long ploughing when the two horses fell prostrate on the ground and despite all his efforts he couldn’t move them. He rushed in for the woman and she seeing how matters stood knelt down and asked God to restore the horses to her and promised faithfully that she would never interfere with it again. Immediately the horses stood up and from that day to this Maire Ni Meara’s Lios has remained undisturbed. The land now belongs to Currans of Ballylangiden.
The general opinion held by all the old people here is that they were built by the Danes. Whenever they were attacked or in any danger they lit a fire on top of the lios and this gave warning to the others. A fire lit on any of the Grallagh Liosanna can be seen from Healy’s Lios in Ballycurrane. This was evidently the important one here. A fire lit in Flaherty’s Lios could be seen from Knockaneris and so on. Mr. Mason of Augh heard the old people say that it was only when Brian Boru found out the secret of the liosanna and how they were able to signal and communicate with each other that he was able for the Danes.
Curiously I have met no one yet who mentioned fairies in connection with them. All seem to hold that they were used by the Danes for defence. They were all practically on a slope to give them a commanding position and all are the same shape round.
The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0640, Page 233
Now, I’m not sure what they think might have been the cause of them horses falling over and then miraculously reviving with a promise of leaving the site alone… but I’ve never heard tell of a Lios that didn’t mention fairies in connection with them. So I was curious.
There’s no mention of these monuments or the townland names on my go-to for Waterford sites – Prehistoric Waterford. Which suggests that they’d be Medieval monuments, not Iron or Stone Age sites.
Next stop is the SMR Database on www.Archaeology.ie, where we have the Archaeological Survey of Ireland from the National Monuments Service. Here we find a Ringfort of no apparent archaeological value at Ballycurrane…
But a little further North we can see the Ballindrumma site mentioned (on Declan Flaherty’s land) does have mention of a Souterrain attached:
WA035-010002- Class: Souterrain, Townland: BALLINDRUMMA.Description: Two souterrains are marked on the 1927 ed. of the OS 6-inch map, one of which is also marked on the 1840 ed of the map. It is likely that there is only one souterrain which is indicated by an area of scrub centrally located within rath (WA035-010—-), and also by two lintels on the perimeter at N.
So, I wanted to show ye a little insight of how I get some preliminary research on Irish monuments, and how the different resources can work together. From here, I’d like to get feet on the ground out at Ballindrumma (maybe for a Patreon Site Visit) and see what it looks like from there.
I wonder will I find any sight or sound of the Sidhe myself?