Banner: Knocknarea sunset
The Glen of Knocknarea
Summer in the Glen, 1997, looking east. The large ash tree on the left fell in a storm that winter, blocking the pathway with a massive pile of splintered timber.

The Glen of Knocknarea

The Glen of Knocknarea is a very beautiful place, somewhat like an open air cathedral. This large natural sheltered crack in the south side of Knocknarea was probably created by a fault-line in the rock while the glaciers were sculpting the mountain during the ice age. County Sligo has some intereting geological features and several kinds of rock.

"Soon after coming to the slope of the hill you meet one of the queerest, wildest, and most beautiful of glens. It is a wondrously romantic freak of nature planted there in a cleft in the rock and walled off from the world, as if the Great Mother meant to lock it up and hide it away for her own use. It is thickly wooded, narrow and deep. The trees meet over the path in places, and the ferns touch you as you pass. The spirits of Knocknarea must love it. One can fancy how they made it their own centuries ago. A mystic poet might dream his life away in it, holding communication with the hero-dead of Connacht."

William Bulfin in 1903.

Knocknarea is a limestone hum surrounded by the gneiss and quartzite Ox Mountains to the south. There are bands of sandstone to the north, including Inishmurray Island. While there are several faultlines in the Sligo area, none are as spectacular as the Glen.

Trees in the Glen
Trees in the Glen of Knocknarea, photo © Ciaran Davis.

It may have been used by ancient people as a ceremonial entryway in to the sacred area of Carrowmore. Indeed, the the large limestone flag, used as a capstone for the chamber at the centre of Listoghil, the central monument at Carrowmore is thought to have been quarried here.

There is a large midden of oyster and mussel to be found here, tipped over the cliffs from the raths located on the southern edge of the Glen. Larger middens are found along the shore at Culleenamore nearby.

Capstone of Listoghil at Carrowmore.
The large limestone flag that covers the megalithic chamber at Carrowmore 51 may have been quarried in the Glen.

The winter storms in 1998 and 1999 ripped down three of the largest ash trees in the Glen, causing a huge mess and blocking the pathway for the next few years. On the summer solstice 2001, a few 'concerned citizens' gathered and went down to cut up and burn the large smashed tree.

Aerial photo of the Glen.
A picture of the Glen from the air, taken as part of the Swedish survey and excavation at Carrowmore. Photo © Goran Burenhult.

Although this would have been fine carving wood, it is too far in, and far too difficult to take the wood out, so we lit a fine bonefire (the biggest I was ever at), and cleared a good portion of the pathway. Campers, who came and stayed in May 2006 left another huge mess, setting fire to their plastic bender and leaving lots of mess, as well as cutting down several young trees. Thankfully, the concerned citizens struck again and cleared the mess.

A tour group in the Glen.
A tour group in the Glen.

Access to the Glen can be difficult: it is a pretty overgrown spot. Trees and branches fall across the pathway, and during the wet weather often experienced in Sligo, there are often large, deep pools of mud to be crossed. Unless the weather has been dry for weeks, wellingtons or stout boots are essential.

An old photo of the Glen.
The Glen is located in the cliff on the south side of Knocknarea. In the story Finn and the Red Woman, the scene where they enter Knocknarea probably takes place in the cliffs here.