Banner: Knocknarea sunset
The Eglone
The Eglone, a huge glacial pillar of limestone on the plain of Moytura. The Eglone is the tallest of the many pillar stones in this area, said to be the graves of the warriors who fell during the Second Battle of Moytura.

The story of Moytura.

Many beautiful men fell there in the stall of death. Great was the slaughter and the grave-lying which took place there. Pride and shame were there side by side. There was anger and indignation. Abundant was the stream of blood over the white skin of young warriors mangled by the hands of bold men while rushing into danger for shame.

Harsh was the noise made by the multitude of warriors and champions protecting their swords and shields and bodies while others were striking them with spears and swords. Harsh too the tumult all over the battlefield—the shouting of the warriors and the clashing of bright shields, the swish of swords and ivory-hilted blades, the clatter and rattling of the quivers, the hum and whirr of spears and javelins, the crashing strokes of weapons.

Shee Lugh
A moonrise viewed from the mound of Shee Lugh on the Summit of the Ridge of Moytura. In the sky, representing Balor's Eye, is an image of the huge stone basin in Knowth.

The Second Battle of Moytura is the central story, the jewel in the Crown of Irish mythology. It is a great epic wonder-tale of combat between the forces of Light and Darkness, good and evil, order and chaos, and yet at the same time it may well be an echo of two competeing groups of neolithic farmers who contested this landscape thousands of years ago.

The story was recorded in two versions in the sixteenth century; both of these, though they differ in some respects, follow the same thread which is thought to be based on a twelfth century manuscript. This in turn is known to be based on an ancient oral tradition which may well stretch back to the neolithic and beyond.

Few subjects have exercised our Irish antiquaries more than the battles of the two Moyturas. For that there were two Moytura battle-fields, one near Cong in county Mayo, called the southern Moytura, and the other in the parish of Kilmactrany in the county Sligo, called the northern Moytura,* seems to have been commonly admitted until Mr. W. M. Hennessy, in the preface to his edition of the Annals of Loch Ce, published in 1871, called in question the existence of the southern battlefield. As, however, the Mayo Moytura does not come within the scope of these pages, the writer has nothing to say to the difference between Mr. Hennessy and his brother antiquaries, which may one day develop into a new battle of Moytura, in which, as in the old one, giants are sure to be engaged.

* The Venerable Charles O'Conor writes thus in reference to this subject :—

"The Fomorians invited back the Belgians to their assistance, and their conjunction produced the second battle of Moy-turey, near the lake of Arrow ( Lough Arrow ), but distant from the former Moy-turey about fifty miles, and, by way of distinction, called Moyturey of the Fomorians. This place, surrounded by high hills, great rocks, and narrow defiles, was pitched upon, probably, by the weaker side, but which made the attack is not recorded."

— Dissertations on the History of Ireland, p. 167, Dublin, 1753.

The history of Sligo: town and county,
Volume II
by T. O'Rorke, D. D., M. R. I. A., 1900.

There are several localised folklore versions of the Battles around the country, for example in north Sligo, Balor lived on Dernish Island instead of the more traditional Tory Island, while Eochy, King of the Firbolg was buried in Ballisodare instead of the massive cairn bearing his name in Ballinrobe. In much the same way, Queen Maeve's final resting place could be Rathmullen, Knocknarea or Knockma.

Shee Lugh
A moonrise viewed from the mound of Shee Lugh on the Summit of the Ridge of Moytura. In the sky, representing Balor's Eye, is an image of the huge stone basin in Knowth.

Lady Gregory's somewhat sanitized version in Gods and Fighting Men is easy to find and always in print. You can read the text online here.

There were two great mythological battles involving the Túatha Dé Danann which has given rise to some confusion, a few early writers have Northern Moytura taking place at Carrowmore in County Sligo, with the monuments being the graves of fallen warriors including the now lost Ecohy's cairn on Ballisodare strand.

Early dates from the causewayed enclosure at Mageraboy show colonists landing around the Cuil Iorra peninsula by 4,150 BC.

People acquainted with the literature of the Battle of Moytura may be disappointed at not finding here some reference to what Sir James Fergusson has written on the subject in his esteemed work on Rude Stone Monuments. No one has a better right than Sir James to be heard on such a subject, and the writer turned to his chapter on "Moytura" with a confident expectation of finding light in it, but was surprised to discover that the twelve pages and four illustrations, which Sir James thought he was devoting to the northern Moytura, were, every word and every line, given to Carrowmore in Coolerra, a place near twenty miles distant.

It is a great loss that, by the intervention of a putative Moytura, we are left in the dark as to the views of this sober, experienced, and able antiquary in regard to the real Moytura. However the extraordinary mistake may have occurred, it supplies one of the most striking instances, to be met with, of leaving Hamlet out of the play.

n appearance the plateau of Moytura is one of the most unattractive in Ireland—sombre, weird, and barren. Dull, however, as it looks, it commands a varied and picturesque prospect: all round, the mountains of Leitrim and Sligo; to the south, the rich and cultivated tract of Tir Tuathal; at various points, the lakes of Lough Bo, Lough na Suil, Lough Skean, Lough Ce, and Lough Arrow; and on the west, the sunny, smiling slopes of HoUybrook, backed up by the historic Dunaveeragh.

Can these myths be echoes and fragments of memories recalling prehistoric colonizations. The Dananns are said to have come to Ireland in magical ships, which they burned upon landing to show they had come to stay. An early version of the myth has them arriving at Lough Corrib in Co. Galway, sailing up the lake as far as Cong which is close to the site of the First Battle .

Summer solstice sunset over Knocknarea viewed from the cairn called Shee Lugh on the summit of Moytura.

The other landing site was the hulking mountain of Sliabh an Iarann in Co Leitrim, which is not far to the east of Lough Arrow, the site of the Second Battle. If they landed on Sliabh an Iarann, they certainly must have had flying ships as it is quite a high mountain. Why not both landing sites - there is no reason why they might not have landed in two waves.

An erratic limestone mushroom close to the court-cairn at Moytura in County Sligo.
An enigmatic erratic limestone mushroom close to the court-cairn at Moytura, location of a momentous mythological battle in County Sligo.

This archetypal myth appears in many cultures around the world. It is found in India, Babylon, the Old Testament story of David and Goliath, and in more recent times has directly inspired J.R.R Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Julian May and George Lucas in their respective works, The Lord of the Rings, Dune, The Saga of the Exiles and Star Wars. My favourite modern working of the myth is Jack Vance's Lyonesse triligy.

The opening scene from Peter Jackson's version of the Lord of the Rings. Sauron = Balor and the Ring = the Evil Eye. Tolkein, of course, was deeply versed in many mythologies and knew the Irish myths.

The First Battle of Moytura

The First Battle of Maigh Tuireadh, or Moytura it is said to have been fought on the Plain of Cong at the northern end of Lough Corrib, on the border of counties Galway and Mayo. The combatants were the invading tribes of the Túatha Dé Danann led by Núada the High King, and the defending tribes of the Firbolg led by Eochy the High King of Ireland.

After a gory hurling match in which the losers were decapitated in an Aztec fashion and three days of bloody warfare, the Túatha Dé Danann won the battle and possession of Ireland. However Núada lost his arm to Streng, a champion of the Firbolg, and had to step down as High King; Breas the Beautiful was chosen in his place.

A treaty was agreed between the two tribes. The Firbolg agreed to withdraw and settle in Connaught and on the islands off the west coast. The Túatha Dé Danann took possession of Ireland and ruled from the ancient capital of Tara, where they set up the Lia Fail beside the ancient Mound of the Hostages.

Formorian warriors by Simon Bisley from 2000 AD's graphic novel, Slaine - the Horned God.
Formorian warriors by Simon Bisley from 2000 AD's graphic novel, Slaine - the Horned God. Well worth a read if you can find it.

The plain of Cong is another fascinating region for both mythology and archaeology. There are several caves in the fissured limestone, four stone circles at Nymphsfield - in fact the only stone circles in Connaught apart from those at Carrowmore. There are three massive cairns remaining out of a possible total of five. Ballymacgibbon cairn, Daithi's cairn and Ecohy's cairn are large, mysterious and as yet unopened structures.

A few miles to the east of Cong is the hill of Knockma, said to be the first hill in Ireland to be given a name. Noah's granddaughter Cesair landed there after the Biblical flood, and the great unopened cairn on the summit is said to be her grave, though others say Queen Maeve is buried there. There is a second large cairn which was remodelled by a local landlord and five more cairns on the smaller hills to the east and west.

The Labby Rock
The Labby Rock, the huge dolmen on Moytura, is said to be where Nuada was slain by Balor of the Evil Eye.