Celebrating Ulster's Townlands
|20. Place Names and Literature||
Bull design from stone, Burghead, Scotland
Navan mound between the two cathedrals of Armagh: James Finegan
Slieve Gullion and summit cairn: Crónan Ó Doibhlin
Woman alone: Deidre Crone
Bovevagh church, Co. Derry: EHS
Knocknarea and Maeve's cairn, Co. Sligo: North-West Tourism
Carrickfergus and Loughbrickland
“Gannon’s fort, Fergus’ Rock, Bricriu’s Lake” commemorate
poets and heroes of the Ulster Cycle tales, in which the capital and
royal palace of Ulster was at the townlands of Navan
and Creeveroe “red
marsh” outside Armagh.
Navan Fort, Emain Macha, was founded by the goddess Macha,
whose name means “open country”. Archaeology has revealed that
the fort was a pagan temple, and Armagh, “Macha’s height” may have
replaced it as a religious centre. The drumlin hills of Navan
and Armagh are
intervisible and the photo shows the 2 cathedrals one each side of the
The chief story, the “Cattle Raid of Cooley”, Táin Bó Cualnge, tells how Queen Maeve of Connaught brought an army to Ulster to take a bull from Co Louth. The heartland of Ulster was defended by the warrior Cú Chulainn. He got his name meaning “hound of Culann” in the house of Culann the Smith. Culann was located in folklore at the mountain of Slieve Gullion, beside which the Tí Chulainn “Culann’s House” heritage centre is today.
The story says that Maeve left place-names all over the North, and she is remembered by Barnavave “Maeve’s Gap” in Louth,“Maeve’s Cairn” now lost at Carmavy Co. Antrim and the parish of Bovevagh “Maeve’s Hut” in Co. Derry. She was buried in the cairn of Knocknarea or Meascán Mhéabha “Maeve’s butterlump” above Sligo.
never got the Ulster bull. In the old story he was taken to Connaught
where he killed the Connaught bull and lifted its mangled body on his
horns. Places all round Ireland were named from where parts of the body
fell off: Waterford Port Lairge “port of the thigh”, Athlone Áth Luain “ford
of the loin”. At Dublin (“black
pool”) the bull’s rib-cage fell off, and that is why its modern
Irish name is Baile
Átha Cliath “Settlement of the ford of the framework”.
After galloping around Ireland, the bull headed home and died of
exhaustion at Drumharriff “bull’s
ridge”, and there are quite a number of townlands of this name in
Ulster for a storyteller to choose from.
Stories about the hunter warrior Fionn mac Cool were also remembered in the landscape. The ancient stone tombs were often called “beds of Diarmaid and Gráinne”, from the pair of lovers whom Fionn chased jealously around Ireland, since Gráinne had been betrothed to him. They did not dare sleep in a house for fear his magic would find them. Eventually Diarmaid was killed by a magic boar. An Antrim tomb is known as Ossian's grave from Finn’s son who survived the other heroes by visiting the Otherworld with a fairy sweetheart.
Couple playing fidchell: Deidre Crone.
Figure in Caldragh graveyard, Boa Island, Co. Fermanagh: Kieran Clendinning
Boar god of Euffigeneix (Gallo-Roman) from Haute-Marne.
Boar design from stone, Knocknagel, Inverness-shire, Scotland
Warriors marching, Deidre Crone
Diarmaid & Grainne's bed, tomb at Kiltyclogher Co. Leitrim: Kieran Clendinning