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Cnoc na Rí

Knocknarea with a Carrowmore tomb in the foreground
Elevation 327 m (1,073 ft)
Prominence 302 m (991 ft)
Listing Marilyn
Translation Cnoc na Rí
Location County Sligo,  Ireland
Topo map OSi Discovery 16, 25
OSI/OSNI grid G626346

Knocknarea mountain (pronounced /nɒknəˈreɪ/; 'Cnoc na Rí' in Irish) dominates the landscape to the west of Sligo town in County Sligo in Ireland. Various theories as to the meaning of the name exist, including 'Hill of the King' (the most widely used), 'Hill of the Moon', 'Hill of Executioners' and 'Hill of the Flat Top'.

The 327 metre (1014 ft) high limestone mountain is visually striking, as it is monolithic in appearance and stands in a prominent position on the Cúil Irra peninsula between the bays of Sligo and Ballysadare. In addition, a large mound, or cairn of loose limestone rocks – ‘Miosgán Meadhbha’ (Maeve’s Lump of Butter), caps the mountain. Although this monument has not been excavated, its shape and structure (there are a number of similar features in the area, Listoghil at Carrowmore, Cairns Hill, etc.) and the results of archaeology in the immediate area have led to the tomb being classified as a Neolithic passage tomb.


Queen Maeve's Tomb

Queen Maeve's cairn measures some 55 meters across and 10 meters high, making it the largest such tomb in Ireland outside the Boyne Valley. It is estimated that the stones used in the construction would weigh approx. 40,000 metric tons[citation needed]. Archaeologist Stefan Bergh, in his book Landscape of the Monuments (Stockholm 1995), suggests that a large depression to the back of the mound on the western side was the quarry from which the limestone for the monument was sourced.

Medb's cairn at the summit of Knocknarea

Medb or Maeve was the warrior Queen of Connacht in Celtic mythology. The story of part of her reign is recorded in the ‘Táin Bó Cúailnge’ (The cattle raid of Cooley) - abbreviated ‘The Táin’ - the earliest written version of which is recorded in Lebor na hUidre (the Book of the Dun Cow), a late 11th century manuscript. The Táin saga itself is thought to be much older, perhaps referring to a time several hundred years B.C. Because of the weapons and animals in the story, some commentators regard Queen Maeve as an Iron Age figure, but no-one knows if she really existed or not. Maeve is reputedly entombed in the Knocknarea cairn in an erect position, in full battle regalia, facing northward toward her Ulster enemies. Although passage tombs are dated to the Neolithic era, there is evidence[citation needed] of the re-use of such tombs (including burials) in the Bronze and Iron Ages, which may provide some support to those who believe Queen Maeve is buried inside Miosgán Medbh.

The Landscape of monuments

Maeve's cairn, though by far the largest, is only one of a number of monuments on the summit of Knocknarea. In general the tombs are lined up North-South, and they may have been constructed to face Carrowmore in the lowlands[citation needed]. Many of the smaller tombs seem to have been small passage tombs; they were severely damaged by the excavations of antiquarians in the 19th century[citation needed].

Knocknarea Mountain seems to have been a major place of ritual and meeting in the Neolithic era. The entire top of the mountain on the eastern side is circumscribed by a 1 km long embankment, 2 m wide and 0.8 m tall. Hut sites have been located on the inside of this area. A large amount of debris from making stone tools has been collected. (See: Bergh: Landscape of the Monuments)

The area around Sligo Bay is rich in pre-historic remains, and shares similar monuments and natural shapes. From Knocknarea can be seen other sites such as Croaghaun Mountain, Carrowkeel Megalithic Cemetery, and Cairns Hill. Carrowmore passage tomb cemetery is located at the eastern foot of Knocknarea.

Strandhill, the coastal resort, lies at the western foot of Knocknarea. Cullenamore, an extensive beach area, is further south, and the southern aspect from Knocknarea overlooks Ballysadare Bay.


Conservation issues regarding Knocknarea and Queen Maeve's Tomb have been discussed in the last number of years in the local press.[1] Large visitor numbers are causing damage to the cairn. Visitors are asked not to climb on the cairn, and not to take stones from the cairn.


External links

Coordinates: 54°15′32″N 8°34′29″W / 54.25891°N 8.57463°W / 54.25891; -8.57463



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