The magical Lough Arrow region in south Sligo is one of
the largest and best preserved neolithic landscapes remaining in Ireland
today. Lough Arrow is surrounded by mountains on three sides - the limestone Bricklieve
(Speckled) Mountains to the west, the sandstone Curlews to the south and the limestone Braulieves,
or Arigna Mountains to the east. The north end of the arrow-shaped lake
opens to the north-west - the chain of the Ox Mountains, with Knocknarea, Carrowmore, Sliabh Da Ean, and Benbulben beyond. The river Uinshin, the ancient routeway through the region, connects Lough Arrow with the sea at Ballisodare and the Cuil Irra peninsula.
on a knoll at the northern point of Lough Arrow is the massive neolithic monument of Heapstown Cairn, which is one of
the largest stone age cairns in Ireland. Heapstown is some 60 meters in diameter, 12 meters high and is composed of some 30,000 tons of stone, both glacial boulders and limestone chunks. The cairn is said to have been built over the mythological site, the Well of Slaine, where the warriors killed or injured in the Second Battle of Moytura, were cured by the healers of the Tuatha De Danann.
Lough Arrow is a limestone lake with three islands and a long peninsula. A narrow
isthmus seperates Lough Arrow from Lough Key, which lies immediately to
the south. There are several smaller lakes nearby - all said to be named after daughters of Mannanan Mac Lir: Lough na Leibe, Lough Bo,
Lough na Suil, Lough Meelagh and Lough Skean, so it is an attractive area for the keen fisherman. The real treasures of the area is its musical, mythological, historical and archaeological heritage.
Carrowkeel is becoming well known as the best preserved of the four major megalithic sites in the country. There are twenty one chambered cairns
in the Bricklieve Mountains,
and a series of dramatic caves in the cliffs on the west side of Kesh Corran. Heapstown Cairn, which is
probably a prototype for the famous Newgrange,
overlooks the River Uinshin which flows from Lough Arrow to the sea at
Ballisodare Bay below Knocknarea. The east side of the lake is the site of the ancient epic myth, the Second Battle of Moytura, and the highest point is capped by the cairn of Shee Lugh.
The Second Battle of Moytura is the centre piece of Irish mythology and tells
of the great struggle for the possession of the island between the tribes
of the Túatha Dé Danann and the Formorians. The Túatha Dé Danann were led by the young hero, Lugh of the Long Arm while the Formorians were directed by the great wizard king, Balor
of the Evil Eye, who has served as a model for Darth Vader and Sauron, as well as several other architypical 'villans'.
The most famous family in the Lough Arrow area were the MacDonaghs, who ruled over the area in the early middle ages. The MacDonagh center was at Ballindoon, the Town of the Forts, on the east shore of the lake under Moytura. There are many ringforts and crannogs and other remains from this interesting period. The MacDonaghs built a towerhouse at Ballindoon in 1406, and comissioned Ballindoon Abbey around 1508. The towerhouse was demolished during the Nine Years War; Red Hugh O'Donnell, the fiery chieftain from Donegal had many of the castles in County Sligo torn down during the war. The only castle remaining in any great condition is the Norman castle at Ballymote. The MacDonaghs used the ancient mound of Heapstown as their inauguration mound: where the tribal chieftains were ritually married to the territory they were to rule over. A large standing stone which formerly stood on the summit of the mound is said to have had an ogham inscription.
Turlough O'Carolan (1670 - 1730), the famous bardic composer also frequented the area - he was
from Nobber in County Meath but was raised in nearby Ballyfarnon. Carolan, who was blind as a result of smallpox, was trained as a harper and composed many tunes during his lifetime. Many of his better known tunes are still played in traditional sessions today. Other famous inhabitants of the area were Douglas Hyde, the first President of Ireland who lived in Kilmactranny as a child,
and Ambrosio and Bernardo O'Higgins, the liberators of Peru and Chile.
Local musicians Tommy Flynn and Josie McDermott.
For those interested in hill-walking, a new trail was opened in 2000 which circles both Lough Arrow and Lough Key. The northern portion of the walk is called the Historical Trail as it
passes across so many notable sites; the southern portion is known as
the Miners Way, as it crosses the sites of the Arigna coalmines.