Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Jo Coffey from San Francisco palys her clairseach in the Enchanted Caves of Kesh Corran.
Jo Coffey from San Francisco palys her clairseach in the Enchanted Caves of Kesh Corran.

Mythology and Folklore

And Corann was the best of the harpers of the household; he was harper to the Dagda's son, Daincecht. And one time he called with his harp to Cailcheis, one of the swine of Debrann.

And it ran northwards with all the strength of its legs, and the champions of Connaught were running after it with all their strength of running, and their hounds with them, till they got as far as Ceis Corann, and they gave it up there, all except Niall that went on the track of the swine till he found it in the oak wood of Tarba, and then it made away over the plain of Ai, and through a lake.

And Niall and his hound were drowned in following it through the lake. And the Dagda gave Corann a great tract of land for doing his harping so well.

Gods and Fighting Men, Lady Gregory, 1904.

There are many myths and legends about the mystical fairy mountain of Kesh Corann. The earliest myth tells how Corann accompanied a hunting party, who had set out from Brú na Boínne in pursuit of an enchanted sow, Cailcheir, who was running amuck through the countryside and causing great havoc and destruction. The sow killed many of the warriors along the way, until she was finally subdued by the enchanted music of Corann. The warriors were finally able to kill the beast and its great body became the Hill of Kesh Corann.

King Cormac Mac Art's Cave.
King Cormac Mac Art's Cave.

Here abode the gentle Corann,
his harp-music golden toned
Corann the fair-skinned was a poet
in the service of Surgeon Diancecht.

The Tuatha De (excellent name)
bestowed land without rent for his fine service
on Corann of the soothing strains.
For his learning he deserve high esteem.

Here abode this noble, generous person,
plying no savage business nor sinister art;
it was a mansion of hospitality and plenty
when this noble man lived here.

When Caelcheis was driven loose,
the savage pet-pig of Derbriu,
fleeing swiftly from the hounds of Connacht,
her way brought her to Corann.

Each man took the hand of the man next to him,
hemming in the swine with blood-lust
and the strong sow was slain -
triumphant was the outcome of that battle.

Ceis Corann, the gathering place of the hosts,
was thenceforth the name of this place of mighty herds
since the swine was killed there without mercy
in the lands where Corann lived.

Since then, the mountain has always been associated with enchantments, the gathering of great hosts, and as a stronghold of the Túatha Dé Danann, the Tribes of the Goddess Danu, or, if you prefer, the Fairies.

Click here to read James Stephens version of the Enchanted Cave of Kesh Corran.

When the Celts or Milesians arrived in Ireland, they defeated the Túatha Dé Danann at the Battle of Tailltu. The Túatha Dé Danann withdrew and retreated into their Cairns and Hollow Hills, only to appear in the world of men by moonlight night or on special feast days such as Samhain, when all the doors between this world and the Otherworld are open.

Mananann Mac Lir, the Lord of the Sea, is said to reside in the hidden lake of Kesh Corann; many of the lakes in the area, such as Arabhach, Cé and Leibe are named after his daughters. A belief survives in the area that one day the hidden lake will burst out of the mountain and drown the surrounding countryside. In another tale, the Túatha Dé Danann have a great mill in the mountain; the mill wheel, spinning too fast, falls into the lake and causes the great flood to burst out of the mountain.

View from Cairn G south to Cairn H and Cairn K.
E. C. R. Armstrong of the National Museum of Ireland contemplates the view from Cairn G south to Cairn H and Cairn K. Photograph from the 1911 excavation, by William A. Green, © NMNI.

Cormac Mac Art

Kesh Corann is famous as the birth place of Ireland's most famous High King, Cormac Mac Art, who ruled over Ireland during a Celtic golden age. It was under Cormac's kingship that the Fianna, the national army of Ireland, was brought to its full power led by Fionn Mac Cumhail. After Cormac's father Art was slain by a usurper, his mother fled back to her own people who lived around about Kesh.

Arthur Rackham's illustration of the Hags of Kesh Corran and the Fianna.
Arthur Rackham's illustration of the Hags of Kesh Corran and the Fianna.

She was heavily pregnant, and gave birth to Cormac by a spring at the foot of the mountain. She fell into a swoon, and while she slept a she wolf came and took the baby, and she reared him as one of her own. Cormac spent his first seven years with the wolves. He was eventually found and returned to his mother's family.

Upon discovering his lineage, Cormac set off to Tara to seek his fortune, accompanied by his wolves. He was recognised by the Druids and nobles as royalty when he pronounced a judgement of the usurper King to be false, and his name and status became known. He became the High King, and ruled Ireland during what was undoubtedly her Celtic golden age. Cormac was the father of Grainna, and granted her lands near Kesh Corann.

Fionn and the Fianna

Fionn Mac Cumhail and the Fianna often hunted and camped round the slopes of Kesh Corann, where there is evidence of a large Celtic population and settlement: there are about 20 ringforts around the mountain. In a tale called The Enchanted Cave of Kesh Corann, the Fianna were hunting wild boar in the area. Fionn and Conan were watching the hunt from the cairn on top of the mountain. The hosts of the Shee were angry that the Fianna hunted without fear of them.

Cave at Kesh Corann.
Cave at Kesh Corann.

In another fairy palace, the enchanted cave of Kesh Corann, Conaran, son of Imidel, a chief of the Túatha Dé Danann had sway; 'and so soon as he perceived that the hounds' cry now sounded deviously, he bade his three daughters (that were full of sorcery) to go and take vengeance on Fionn for his hunting'.

Gods and Fighting Men, Lady Gregory, 1904.

The three hags set a trap for Fionn. As he was sitting on the Cairn, a cave opened in its side. When he went in to investigate, the hags leapt on Fionn and bound him with magic cords which sapped his youth and made a feeble old man of him. In like fashion they captured the rest of his warriors. Luckily the spell was broken when the ferocious Goll mac Morna arrived and beheaded the witches after a fierce battle. Click here to read James Stephens version of this story.

In another tale, Fionn and his men meet a Formorian master smith in one of the caves where he has his forge, and he presents them with enchanted weapons.

Diarmuid and Grainna lived happily at Rath Grainna at the north end of the mountain, and raised a family on lands granted to her as dowry by her father, Cormac Mac Art. The townland still bears the name of Grainnamore. Every hill top and drumlin in this area is topped by a ringfort or fairyfort. It was from Grainnamore that Diarmuid set off on his ill fated boar hunt on Benbulben.

A brooding image of Kesh Corran.
A brooding image of Kesh Corran, with the Pinnacle at top left and Treanmor and Sheecor to the lower right. Picture © Leo Regan.