Banner: Knocknarea sunset
The Eglone
The Eglone, a huge glacial pillar of limestone on the plain of Moytura. The Eglone is the tallest of the many pillar stones in this area, said to be the graves of the warriors who fell during the Second Battle of Moytura.

Moytura Co Sligo.

Many beautiful men fell there in the stall of death. Great was the slaughter and the grave-lying which took place there. Pride and shame were there side by side. There was anger and indignation. Abundant was the stream of blood over the white skin of young warriors mangled by the hands of bold men while rushing into danger for shame. Harsh was the noise made by the multitude of warriors and champions protecting their swords and shields and bodies while others were striking them with spears and swords. Harsh too the tumult all over the battlefield - the shouting of the warriors and the clashing of bright shields, the swish of swords and ivory-hilted blades, the clatter and rattling of the quivers, the hum and whirr of spears and javelins, the crashing strokes of weapons.

Shee Lugh
A moonrise viewed from the mound of Shee Lugh on the Summit of the Ridge of Moytura. In the sky, representing Balor's Eye, is an image of the huge stone basin in Knowth.

The Battle of Moytura is the central story, the jewel in the Crown of Irish mythology. It is a great epic tale of combat between the forces of Light and Darkness, good and evil, order and chaos. The story was recorded in two versions in the sixteenth century; both of these, though they differ in some respects, follow the same thread which is thought to be based on a twelfth century manuscript. This in turn is known to be based on an ancient oral tradition which may well stretch back several thousands of years. There are several localised folklore versions of the Battles around the country, for example in north Sligo Balor lived on Dernish island instead of Tory, and Eochy of the Firbolg was buried in Ballisodare instead of Ballinrobe. In much the same way, Queen Maeve's final resting place could be Rathmullen, Knocknarea or Knockma. Lady Gregory's somewhat sanitized version in Gods and Fighting Men is easy to get and always in print.

There were two mythological Battles involving the Túatha Dé Danann, and this has sometimes given rise to confusion. The Dananns are said to have arrived in Ireland in magical ships which they burned upon arrival. One version has them arriving on Lough Corrib in Co. Galway, which is beside the site of the First Battle at Cong .

Winter solstice sunset over Lough Arrow
Winter solstice sunset over Lough Arrow and the Carrowkeel in the Bricklieve Mountains, viewed from the cairn called Shee Lugh on the summit of Moytura.

The other landing site was the hulking mountain of Sliabh an Iarann in Co Leitrim, which is not far to the east of Lough Arrow, the site of the Second Battle. If they landed on Sliabh an Iarann, they certainly must have had flying ships as it is quite a high mountain. I favour both landing sites - there is no reason why they might not have landed in two waves.

This archetypal myth appears in many cultures around the world. It is found in India, Babylon, the Old Testament story of David and Goliath, and in more recent times has directly inspired J.R.R Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Julian May and George Lucas in their respective works, The Lord of the Rings, Dune, The Saga of the Exiles and Star Wars. My favourite modern working of the myth is Jack Vance's Lyonesse triligy.

The opening scene from Peter Jackson's version of the Lord of the Rings. Sauron = Balor and the Ring = the Evil Eye. Tolkein, of course, was deeply versed in many mythologies and knew the Irish myths.

The First Battle of Moytura

The First Battle of Maigh Tuireadh, or Moytura it is said to have been fought on the Plain of Cong at the northern end of Lough Corrib, on the border of counties Galway and Mayo. The combatants were the invading tribes of the Túatha Dé Danann led by Núada the High King, and the defending tribes of the Firbolg led by Eochy the High King of Ireland.

After a gory hurling match in which the losers were decapitated in an Aztec fashion and three days of bloody warfare, the Túatha Dé Danann won the battle and possession of Ireland. However Núada lost his arm to Streng, a champion of the Firbolg, and had to step down as High King; Breas the Beautiful was chosen in his place. A treaty was agreed between the two tribes. The Firbolg agreed to withdraw and settle in Connaught and on the islands off the west coast. The Túatha Dé Danann took possession of Ireland and ruled from the ancient capital of Tara , where they set up the Lia Fail beside the ancient Mound of the Hostages.

Formorian warriors by Simon Bisley from 2000 AD's graphic novel, Slaine - the Horned God.
Formorian warriors by Simon Bisley from 2000 AD's graphic novel, Slaine - the Horned God. Well worth a read if you can find it.

The plain of Cong is a very interesting place. There are several caves in the fissured limestone, four stone circles at Nymphsfield - in fact the only stone circles in Connaught apart from those at Carrowmore . There are three massive cairns remaining out of a possible total of five. Ballymacgibbon cairn , Daithi's cairn and Ecohy's cairn are large, mysterious and as yet unopened structures. A few miles to the east of Cong is the hill of Knockma , said to be the first hill in Ireland to be given a name. Noah's granddaughter Cesair landed there after the Biblical flood, and the great unopened cairn on the summit is said to be her grave, though others say Queen Maeve is buried there. There is a second large cairn which was remodelled by a local landlord and five more cairns on the smaller hills to the east and west.

The Labby Rock
The Labby Rock, the huge dolmen on Moytura, is said to be where Nuada was slain by Balor of the Evil Eye.