Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Sheemor, the Great Fairy Mound of County Leitrim.


The hill of Sheemor is a limestone hum, an extra hard chunk of rock that was too tough for the glaciers, close to Leitrim Village in the middle of County Leitrim.

The great cairn on Sheemor.
The great cairn, an unopened neolithic passage-grave on the summit of Sheemor.

Though it looks like a small hill, the summit of Sheemor rears up above the surrounding plain to a height of 178 meters above sea level. From a distance the hill looks strangely like a large altar, especially since the central and largest of the three neolithic cairns on the flat top, now supports a large modern Christian cross at the highest point. As if that wasn't strange enough, the cross is illuminated at night, and seems to float in the sky over the surrounding countryside.

One of the three large cairns on the summit of Sheemor.
One of the three large neolithic cairns on the summit of Sheemor.

The large central cairn is about 22 meters in diameter and 5 - 6 meters high, and as far as we know, has never been opened. The cairn is built with chunks of limestone quarried from the edges of the hill close by. The cross was erected in 1950 to mark the Catholic definition of the dogma of the assumption. Though a visitor might think it out of place in this modern liberal age, the cross on Sheemor is a popular local landmark, which is visible from many miles around.

Sidhe Beg and Sidhe Mor by OPW guides Pádraig and Martin at Carrowmore.

The two smaller cairns on the left and right are quite disturbed, and chamber or passage-slabs can be seen amid the stones, and the sites obviously date from the Neolithic, over 5,000 years ago. The large cairn, though much disturbed by the cross, remains unopened. This site lies between Carrowkeel and Loughcrew, Knocknarea.

The cross on Sheemor.
The modern illuminated cross on the neolithic mound at Sheemor.

Music and folklore

The name Sheemor means Great Fairy Hill, and there is another complimentary site called Sheebeg a few miles away, also with a large neolithic cairn on the much lower summit. According to local traditions two local fairy tribes went to war with each other, the event being remembered for the enormous noises when the two armies met between the sidhes. The Battle of the Fairy Mounds was made famous by a tune allegedly composed by the blind traveling harper Turlough Carolan.


International Dance Day - Sean Nós ar an tSionann dancers on Sheemor.

According to tradition, Carolan fell asleep at Sheebeg and heard the music of the fairies through the mound, and when he awoke he composed the famous melody. Alas, it has been discovered that the tune predates Turlugh Carolan ( 1670 - 1738 ), and originates in Scotland. Whatever the truth it is a good story and is still a popular traditional tunes in Irish music sessions.

Ruined passage of a satellite cairn on the summit of Sheemor.
Ruined passage of a satellite cairn on the summit of Sheemor.

From an archaeo-astronomical perspective, Sheemor has a fascinating connection with Knocknarea some 40 kilometers to the north-west. Knocknarea is visible on the horizon from Sheemor and marks the position of sunset at midsummer, and the same event can be witnessed from Shee Lugh, the cairn on Moytura . Conversely, Sheemor is visible, given the right conditions, from the summit of Knocknarea. It is highly unlikely that this astronomical connection is accidental or was unobserved in neolithic times; on the winter solstice the sunrise, viewed from the platform summit of Queen Maeve's Cairn, will rise over the distant marker of Sheemor.

Sheemor, the Great Fairy Mound, taken from the kerb of the west cairn.