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The summit of Benwisken, County Sligo.
Benwisken and the Gleniff Horseshoe, County Sligo.


The beautiful and dramatic mountain of Benwisken is a part of the Dartry Mountain range in the ancient kingdom of Carbury in north Sligo. The peak of Benwisken blocks the entrance into the Gleniff valley, a huge glacier-formed hollow in the north side of the mountain range with the mysterious Diarmuid and Grainne's cave in the cliffs to the rear of the valley.

The native rock is a hard Dartry limestone, overlaying a core of sandstone. The distcintive peak of Benwisken was carved and sculpted by the passing glacier, resulting in an unusual mountain shaped like the forever-frozen crest of a mighty wave.

Ballintrillick village.
The view of Benwisken from Ballintrillick village.

The peak of Benwisken is 514 meters above sea level. The tip of the mountain looks like the edge of a knife, or perhaps a wizard's hat from a distance. The southern slopes within the Gleniff Horseshoe are fairly gentle, and this is the easiest way to climb the peak.

The summit of Benwisken, County Sligo.
The summit of Benwisken, County Sligo.

The cliffs to the north side of Benwisken are amazingly steep and jagged. There are many ancient sites scattered about the base of the mountain: medieval cashels, stone walls, megalithic monuments, and the church founded at Keelogues by St. Molaise of Inishmurray and Devenish. The ancient medieval road leading from Glenade to Carney passes under Benwisken and Benbulben, through some of the most fairy-haunted territory in County Sligo.

Old people used to say the gentry were in the mountains; that is certain, but I never could be quite sure of it myself. One night, however, near midnight, I did have a sight: I set out from Bantrillick to come home, and near Ben Bulbin there was the greatest army you ever saw, five or six thousand of them in armour shining in the moonlight. A strange man rose out of the hedge and stopped me, for a minute, in the middle of the road. He looked into my face, and then let me go.

Stream bed, Benwisken.
The bed of a stream has formed a deep channel in the northern slope of Benwisken.

The mountain is covered with a mantle of blanket bog that holds water like a sponge. The top of the mountain is covered in sink holes and swallow holes, where water drained down into the stone, carving out the gallerys and tunnels behind Diarmuid and Grainne's cave.

Where Benwisken joins Benbulben, from Bing Maps.
The point where Benwisken joins Benbulben. The large funnel is the point where the ice melted. The Cave of Gleniff is visible, top center. Image from Bing Maps.

A poem by St. Columbkille:


Alone I am upon the mountain,
God of Heaven! prosper my way;
So shall I pass more free and fearless
Than if six thousand were my stay.
My flesh, indeed, might be defended;
But when the time comes life is ended.
If by six thousand I was guarded,
Or placed in islet in a lake,
Or in a fortress strong protected,
Or in a church my refuge take,
Still God will guard His own with care,
And even in battle safe they fare:
No man can slay me till the day
When God shall take my life away;
And when my earthly time is ended,
die, no matter how defended.

My life!
Without His will no less can it be made;
As God shall please so let it be,
Nor can they add to it without His leave.
The lot which He has given that I shall see,
Nor prince upon his throne one hour can get
Of life beyond what God for him has set.

Carving of Saint Molaise at Keelogues church under Benwisken.
Carving of Saint Molaise at Keelogues church under Benwisken. The carving has the power to cure toothache if you know the appropriate rituals to perform.

A guard
A guard, indeed, may guide a man full safe,
But never guard can keep a man from death;
For One alone has rule of every fate
Alone can give or take our mortal breath.
Nor shall I fear though poverty may come
The Son of Mary still shall give my share;
For all the Master portions out some dole of food.
And under His protection all shall safely fare.
What is well spent to bounteous hand returns,
What is denied the niggard keeper spurns.

Living God, alas! for evil-workingmen;
That which they think not comes to mar their life,
That which they hope for vanishes away,
And leaves them lonely in a world of strife.
No augur's word can tell our future fate
No bird, no omen, say how long our death shall wait.
I trust not in a bird, or twig, or dream,
But in the Lord of Heaven's eternal might
He who has made us all will help me now,
Nor leave me in this mountain lone to-night.

I have no love of earthly kin or kind,
The love of Christ, the Son of God, fills my mind.
The great King's Son, my Lord and abbot, rules;
All that I have is in the great King's hands:
The houses of my order are at Kells and Moone
He will protect my people and my lands.
Praise be for evermore, and endless merit,
Unto the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

St. Columbkille.

The view from Benbulben to Benwisken.
The view from Benbulben to Benwisken.