Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
A map of the main group of neolithic monuments at Moytura
A map of the main group of neolithic monuments at Moytura on the east side of Lough Arrow.

The monuments at Moytura

The ridge of Moytura on the east shore of Lough Arrow has an impressive collection of megalithic monuments: at least 14 have been recorded by the megalithic survey. It is highly likely that the large number of huge erratic blocks found on this ridge made it attractive to the neolithic builders.

Lady Louisa Tenison.
Lady Louisa Tenison of Kilronan, who is said to have excavated the cairn at Shee Lugh and the Labby Rock.

Between Heapstown Cairn and the Stuckera Stone near Kilmactranny, which are connected by a walking trail, superb examples of all the four main different types of monument known in Ireland, can be seen located within an absolutely stunning mythological and geological landscape.

Heapstown Cairn by Breanger, 1779.
Heapstown Cairn by Breanger, 1779.

Heapstown cairn

In the middle of a green field, the property of Captain M'Ternan, R.M., rises a colossal heap of stones that excites the wonder of all who see it 'for the first time. The stones average about twelve inches in diameter, the largest being about twenty inches and the smallest about six or seven, and are for the most part round and smooth. It is manifest that in rearing this enormous cairn, the pyramidal form was roughly aimed at. Unlike the great strand cairn in the same county, there is no record or trace as to who this stony monument was raised over.

Neolithic cairns are found at Heapstown, located close to the river the shore of Lough Arrow, and Shee Lugh on the highest part of the ridge of Moytura.

Heapstown cairn, about the same age, size and diameter as Queen Maeve's cairn, is one of the largest unexcavated monuments remaining in Ireland, and is likely to have a large chamber concealed within the massive mound of stones. It has a huge mythological presence, with many tales attached.

It is amusing to hear the curious traditions extant among the surrounding peasantry touching the cairn, the most popular being that the stones appeared in one night, and that they fell from the sky in a downpour, as a miller lets down a quantity of corn out of a loft.

Heapstown is on private property and not accesible to the public.

Tommy Flynn, John Conlon and Mick Gildea swimming a cow out to one of the islands on Lough Arrow.
Tommy Flynn, John Conlon and Mick Gildea swimming a cow out to one of the islands on Lough Arrow.

Shee Lugh

Shee Lugh was dug into by Louisa Tennison around 1870, apparently for a bet. The cairn has been ransacked with a trench dug through it. The monument seems to be constructed around a huge erratic limestone boulder. There is a cashel or enclosure, most likely from later times, attached to the cairn. This monument has some of the finest views in County Sligo.

Shee Lugh sunset midsummer
A Moytura sunset: summer solstice viewed from Shee Lugh. The sun is dropping behind Knocknarea.

One of the largest dolmens in Ireland, the Labby Rock has a capstone weighing an estimated 70 tons. It is found in the valley just north of the highest part of the ridge of Moytura. I am not sure what the state of access is with this dolmen at present.

The Labby Rock
The Labby Rock, a massive portal dolmen on the mythical battlefield of Moytura, is said to be the grave of Nuada of the Silver Arm.

There are the remains of a court cairn further to the south, which has one of the longest gallerys in Ireland and also has an unusual double entrance. There is another court cairn (the cairn has mostly disappeared) in Treanmore, further south again, which is one of only a few known exapmles of a transeptal, or cross-shaped chamber, more commonly found in the round passage cairns such as at Carrowkeel.

The Moytura court cairn
The long gallery of the Moytura court cairn.

There are several wedge monuments in the area many of which are quite ruined, but there is a well preserved example in the townland of Barroe not far to the south of Shee Lugh. This wedge opens towards Kesh Corran in the northwest, about 12 km away. Wedges are thought to belong to the bronze age and in general are considered to be a thousand or so years younger then the other three main types on megalith.

the Eglone
Wakeman'swatercolour of the Eglone, a massive erratic standing stone at Highwood village. The stone was said to have been placed here by the Dagda during the Battle of Moytura.

A few the sites were visited by antiquarians. Beranger sketched and measured an unquarried Heapstown cairn. Petrie, the godfather of Irish archaeology, also sketched the unquarried "Heap of Stone" and a dolmen which has collapsed and been removed. Wakemann sketched Heapstown in 1877 and by this time Heapstown was being used as a quarry. He also did two sketches of the Labby Rock.

Wood-Martin also visited Moytura, and undertook a few excavations in the 1880's. Fr. James Sharkey, the local parish priest published a local history of the Battle of Moytura in 1927.

Moytura wedge monument
Another of the Moytura wedge monuments. This megalith is quite well preserved and is found on the Historical Trail about halfway between Shee Lugh and the Moytura court cairn. The monument is oriented to the northwest, and aligns on the cairn on top of Kesh Corran in the Bricklieve Mountains.