Celebrating Ulster's Townlands

 

 

Signpost: Townlands

  20. Place Names and Literature

Bull design from stone, Burghead, Scotland

Bull design from stone, Burghead, Scotland 

 

Navan mound between the two cathedrals of Armagh: James Finegan

 

Slieve Gullion and summit cairn: Crónan Ó Doibhlin

Slieve Gullion and summit cairn: Crónan Ó Doibhlin

 

Woman alone: Deidre Crone

Woman alone: Deidre Crone

 

Bovevagh church, Co. Derry: EHS

Bovevagh church, Co. Derry: EHS

 

Knocknarea and Maeve's cairn, Co. Sligo: North-West Tourism

Knocknarea and Maeve's cairn, Co. Sligo: North-West Tourism

 

Logo: Townlands

 

Place-names like Dungannon, 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 mound.  

 

 

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.  

 

Maeve 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.

Couple playing fidchell: Deidre Crone.

 

 

Figure in Caldragh graveyard, Boa Island, Co. Fermanagh: Kieran Clendinning

Figure in Caldragh graveyard, Boa Island, Co. Fermanagh: Kieran Clendinning

Boar god of Euffigeneix (Gallo-Roman) from Haute-Marne.

Boar god of Euffigeneix (Gallo-Roman) from Haute-Marne.

Boar design from stone, Knocknagel, Inverness-shire, Scotland

Boar design from stone, Knocknagel, Inverness-shire, Scotland

Warriors marching, Deidre Crone

 

 

Diarmaid & Grainne's bed, tomb at Kiltyclogher Co. Leitrim: Kieran Clendinning

Diarmaid & Grainne's bed, tomb at Kiltyclogher Co. Leitrim: Kieran Clendinning

 

 

 

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