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Not to be confused with the town of Navan in County Meath.
Emain Macha seen from the outer bank, the 40 metre mound in the background, courtesy of

Navan Fort – known in Old Irish as Emain Macha (pronounced [ˈeṽənʲ ˈṽaxə]) and in Modern Irish as Eamhain Mhacha ([ˈawnʲ ˈwaxə]) – is an ancient monument in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Although called a "fort", it is considered more likely to have been a ritual or ceremonial site. It is a State Care Historic Monument in the townland of Navan, in Armagh City and District Council area, at grid ref: area of H847 452.[1] It was the site of the traditional capital of the Ulaid. It is also a significant site in Irish mythology, particularly the Ulster Cycle.


Ancient monuments

The site, on a low hill approximately 1.6 miles (2.6 km) west of the city of Armagh, is a circular enclosure 250 metres (820 ft) in diameter, surrounded by a bank and ditch. Unusually, the ditch is inside the bank, suggesting it was not built for defensive purposes. Inside the enclosure two monuments are visible. Off-centre to the north-west is an earthen mound 40 metres (130 ft) in diameter and 6 metres (20 ft) high. Also slightly off-centre to the south-east is the circular impression of a ring-barrow, the ploughed-down remains of a late prehistoric ceremonial or burial monument, about 30 metres (100 ft) in diameter.[2]

Archaeological excavations have revealed that the construction of the 40 metre mound dates to 95 BC (securely dated by dendrochronology).[2] A circular structure consisting of four concentric rings of posts around a central oak trunk was built, its entrance facing west (prehistoric houses invariably face east, towards the sunrise). The floor of the building was covered with stones arranged in radial segments, and the whole edifice was deliberately burnt down before being covered in a mound of earth and turf (there is archaeological evidence for similar repeated construction and immolation of Tara and Dún Ailinne).[2] The bank and ditch that surround the hilltop were built at the same time.

No secure date can be assigned to the ring-barrow, but excavations and geophysical surveys have revealed the remains of a figure-of-eight shaped wooden building underneath. The larger ring of the figure-of-eight was 30 metres (100 ft) in diameter, the smaller about 20 metres (65 ft). The building had been rebuilt twice. Similar, slightly smaller structures, each with a central hearth, were found under the 40 metre mound. Artifacts found in these layers show they were inhabited in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age (approximately 600 to at least 250 BC). Perhaps the most unusual item found in these layers was the skull of a Barbary Macaque.[2]

An earlier Bronze Age structure, a circular ditch surrounding the mound, 45 metres (150 ft) in diameter, 5 metres (16 ft) wide and 1 metre (3 ft) deep, was also found, and flint tools and fragments of pottery show activity at the site in the Neolithic (ca. 4000 to 2500 BC).

Until 1985, the site was threatened by the expansion of a nearby limestone quarry. Due largely to the efforts of the activist group Friends of Navan, a public inquiry held that year halted further quarrying, and recommended that the site be developed for tourism. A visitor centre, featuring archaeological artefacts and audio-visual exhibitions, was opened in 1993, but closed in 2001 for lack of funds.[3] It reopened on a seasonal basis in 2005 after the site was bought by Armagh City and District Council.


The Navan complex

Other significant prehistoric sites in the vicinity include Haughey's Fort, an earlier Bronze Age hill fort two-thirds of a mile (1 km) to the west; the King's Stables, an artificial pool also dating to the Bronze Age; and Loughnashade, a natural lake which has produced Iron Age artefacts.

Emain Macha in Irish mythology

According to Irish mythology and historical tradition it was the capital of the Ulaid, the people who gave their name to the province of Ulster. It was supposedly founded by the goddess Macha in the 5th or 7th century BC, and was the seat of Conchobar mac Nessa in the tales of the Ulster Cycle. Conchobar is said to have had three houses at Emain Macha:

  • the Cróeb Ruad ("Dull Red Branch", whence derives the nearby townland of Creeveroe) where the king sat;
  • the Cróeb Derg ("Bright Red Branch"), where trophies of battle were kept, and
  • the Téte Brecc ("Speckled Hoard") where the warriors' weapons were stored.

The name Emain Macha is variously explained as "Macha's neck-brooch", after Macha marked out the boundaries of the site with her brooch, and "Macha's twins", after Macha gave birth to twins after being forced to compete in a chariot-race. The Annals of the Four Masters record that it was abandoned after it was burned by the Three Collas in 331 AD, after they had defeated Fergus Foga, king of Ulster, in battle at Achadh Leithdheirg.

In popular culture

Irish heavy metal band Waylander has a song called "Emain Macha" on their 1998 Century Media album Reawakening Pride Once Lost.

In the MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot, "Emain Macha" is the name of a frontier zone, in which the realm of Hibernia must protect in order to safeguard their realm and relics.[4]

Emain Macha also appears in the MMORPG Mabinogi, which is a Korean computer game. The fortress-city of Emain Macha is a lakeside medium town, and is the residence of the Duke of Emain Macha. The city is also the headquarters of the Knightly order of Paladins.

See also


  1. ^ "Navan Fort". Environment and Heritage Service NI - State Care Historic Monuments. Retrieved 2007-12-03.  
  2. ^ a b c d Lynn, Chris (2003). Navan Fort: Archaeology and Myth. Spain: Wordwell Books. ISBN 1869857674.  
  3. ^ Bender, Barabara (2001). "The Politics of the Past: Emain Macha (Navan), Northern Ireland". in Layton, Robert. Destruction and Conservation of Cultural Property. Routledge. pp. 199–209. ISBN 0415216958,.  
  4. ^ Shadows Edge - DAOC - Emain - Dark Age of Camelot New Frontiers Map
  • Ronald Hutton, Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, 1991

External links

Coordinates: 54°20′43″N 6°43′07″W / 54.34528°N 6.71861°W / 54.34528; -6.71861


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