Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
The mound of Sheebeg.
The mound of Sheebeg, the Small Fairy Hill. In the distance is Sliabh an Iariann, the Iron Mountain, the legendary landing site of the Tuatha De Danann when they arrived in Ireland.


The great Fairy Mound of Sheebeg is a large and rather disturbed cairn on the summit of a low drumlin, just outside the village of Keshcarrigan in Co Leitrim. The mound is about four kilometers east of Sheemor, which is clearly visible to the south-west. The cairn at Sheebeg, a massive heap of quarried stone, measures about 38 meters in diameter.

There are wide panoramic views across the landscape from the top of the cairn, which once again demonstrates the importance of location in relation to these monuments. It is said that lakes in five counties can be seen from this spot. The cairn itself stands out on its summit and is highly visible from the surrounding landscape. There are several other ruinous megalithic remains in the locality.

The music for Sheebegand Sheemor
The music for Sheebeg and Sheemor, copyright Henrik Norbeck.

The Giant's Grave

Sheebeg is known locally as the grave of Fionn Mac Cumhal, a legendary giant who is also allegedly buried within the chamber at Listoghil, the focal monument at the Carrowmore Megalithic Complex in County Sligo. The cairn of Sheebeg is thirty-eight meters in diameter and about six meters high and is constructed on the highest point of Sheebeg hill, 145 meters above sea level. The disturbed top of the cairn was flat and about twelve meters in diameter before it was dug into; there is an oblong trough or depression still vsisble from the 1930's excavations.

Newspaper clipping from the Sunday Times, 4th January 1931.
A newspaper clipping from the Sunday Times, 4th January 1931, about the Sheebeg skeletons.

In January of 1931 a local opened the mound. He dug down through the top of the cairn, and into a large megalithic chamber where he allegedly discovered two massive skeletons. These skeletons were displayed for a time in a shed in the village of Keshcarrigan nearby, and could be viewed by the public for a charge of sixpence. However, when the man's mother had a series of disturbing nightmares she insisted he replace the pair of skeletons in their grave.

Newspaper clipping.

Two cairns can be seen from my house namely Sheebeg and Sheemór. A good view of those two cairns can be got from any side of them. When seen from afar they are like sisters in shape. Sheebeg being one field from my house is the smallest. One side of it is almost straight and it is about fifteen feet high. The other side slopes away gently.

This cairn is about twenty yards in circumference. The land around it is dry and rocky. Shebeg cairn is now covered with grass and earth. but small stones appear in some places. On one side of the cairn a bush and whins grow. Years ago it was thought that Fionn Mc Cumhail was buried under the cairn, and people came to dig it. A nephew of master O'Hara's and a man named Mahon dug it. This excavation was done in winter 1930. After some digging they came to a chamber of flags. This room contained the bones of two people.

Those bones were kept in Peter Connell's barn, because it was in his land they were got. Peter Connell had to leave the bones where they were got. He would be put to jail but he did not know the law. The top of the cairn was level before the excavation, but now there are stones here and there on the top of it. The place where the bones were got cannot be seen.

At one time there was a stone lying on the ground between the cairn and the road. This stone was three feet in thickness and three feet wide. The track of three ass shoes were to be seen this stone. People broke it for corner-stones for a house.

Lizzie Beirne. Source.

Samhain sunrise at Carrowmore.
Samhain sunrise from the central chamber at Carrowmore, a monument also said to be the grave of Fionn MacCumhal.


The excavations were reported in the Irish Times in January of 1931:

Today in company with Mr Connellan, a solicitor of Carrick on Shannon, I climbed up to the mound that is known as Sheebeg, “the hill of the little fairies”. Below us, the lakes of Leitrim were crowded with skaters, men and boys whose homeward journey from Mass on Twelfth Day was made remarkable by the fact that every lake by the roadside had its thick coating of ice.

The steep spiral of the boreen which we trod was like a sheet of ice and when we reached the farmstead we were glad to stop for a breather. We left this building and by devious routes climbed further up the hill until we stood above the grass covered cairn which tops Sheebeg itself. Starting from the top of this mound, the two amateur excavations dug a shaft for twelve feet down and there came upon the hollowed out portion of the shell itself. Within this cavern, a stone slab stood nearly one and a half feet thick and measuring over twelve feet square. It was supported on five stone tapering pillars whose tops seemed to be sunk in sockets in the stone above them. Below was a similar gigantic stone, and on it rested, side by side, the complete skeleton of two people, both facing towards the East.

Turlough O'Carolan.
Turlough O'Carolan.

It was at Sheebeg that Turlough O'Carolan (1670 - 1738), the famous blind harper and composer, was said to have been given the gift of music by the fairy people. One of his first compositions was Sheemor and Sheebeg, a beautiful piece which was inspired by local stories of a great battle between the sidhe or fairy hosts who lived within the two hills.

A painting of the Sidhe by AEON.
A painting of the Sidhe by AEon or George Russell.

Fairies are great musicians and use a hundred quaint instruments, some of which, like fiddles, bagpipes and flutes, have been adopted by men. Sometimes they play jigs and knockabouts to put wings on the heels; sometimes mournful tunes by moonlight, which once heard may never be forgotten. For processions and investitures the musicians play noble harmonies of great complexity, using themes beyond human understanding.

Jack Vance, Lyonesse.

There is a strong tradition in Irish music of links with the 'little people' and many fine tunes which are still played in the tradition are said to come from the 'gentle people' as the fairies were known. O'Carolan was an itinerant musician who travelled the countryside on horseback, visiting the houses of the gentry and nobility who would host him for a period of time. He would repay their hospitality by composing tunes in their honour which became known as Planxtys.

Sheemor viewed from Sheebeg in County Leitrim.
The mound of Sheebeg looking west to Sheemor, the Great Fairy Hill, with three neolithic passage-graves on the flat summit.