FAIRY FORTRESS AT KNOCKMA HILL
If you are looking for a place to explore the rich history and folklore of Ireland, you might want to visit Knockma Hill near Tuam in County Galway. This hill, also known as Fairy Hill, is not only a scenic spot with panoramic views, but also a site of ancient monuments and legends.
Knockma Hill is crowned by three large cairns, which are stone mounds that cover burial chambers or tombs. Two of these cairns are said to be the resting places of two powerful women in Irish mythology: Queen Maeve of Connacht and Ceasair, one of the first goddesses of Ireland.
Queen Maeve was the legendary ruler of Connacht, who waged war against Ulster to capture the Brown Bull of Cooley. She was a fierce warrior and a cunning leader, who had many lovers and husbands. She was also said to have a rivalry with her sister Eithne, who married the High King of Ireland. According to some sources, Queen Maeve was killed by her nephew Furbaide, who avenged his mother’s death by slinging a piece of cheese at her head. She was buried in one of the cairns at Knockma Hill, facing her enemies in Ulster.
Ceasair was a granddaughter of Noah, who was denied a place on his ark before the great flood. She decided to build her own ark and sailed to Ireland with 50 women and three men. She was the first woman to set foot on Irish soil and claimed the land as her own. She divided the men among the women, but they soon died of exhaustion. Ceasair herself died of a broken heart and was buried in another cairn at Knockma Hill, named Carn Ceasra after her.
The third cairn at Knockma Hill is believed to be the castle of Finnbheara (or Finvarra), the fairy king of Connacht. He is also sometimes called the king of the dead, as he rules over the spirits of the departed. He is a benevolent figure who grants good harvests, strong horses and great riches to those who assist him. He is also fond of beautiful women and often abducts them to his castle.
One of his victims was Lady Eithne Kirwan, the wife of Lord Kirwan who owned Castle Hackett at the foot of Knockma Hill. Finnbheara took her away to his realm and put a magic girdle around her waist. Lord Kirwan managed to rescue her by digging a hole in the cairn, but she remained in a trance for a year until he removed the girdle and broke the spell.
Another encounter between Finnbheara and Lord Kirwan was more friendly. One morning, Lord Kirwan met Finnbheara riding on a horse made of fire. The fairy king greeted him cordially and gave him his blessing. After that, Lord Kirwan’s family prospered and his horses never lost their races.
Further to this, legend suggests that the 1846-47 potato famine was caused by Finvarra as people did not assist him and rather caused disturbances by moving the stones on his hill.
Apart from the legends, Knockma Hill is also an important archaeological site that dates back to prehistoric times. The cairns are not the only monuments on the hill; there are also underground passages, forts and tombs that suggest it was once a major settlement and ceremonial area.
The cairns themselves are believed to be originally passage chambers that were aligned with astronomical significance. They were later remodeled by the Kirwan family in the 17th century, giving them a step-like profile. The Kirwans built Castle Hackett as their residence, but it is now a ruin that is said to be haunted by Finnbheara and his fairies.
Knockma Hill is now a popular destination for walkers and hikers who want to enjoy the natural beauty and learn about the history and folklore of the area. There are several trails that lead to the summit, where you can see mysterious fairy forts among the trees and stone walls. But be careful not to disturb any stones or offend any fairies.
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