Emerald Isle

Emain Macha

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales and Legendary Royal Sites in Ireland

Emain Macha

The great northern fastness of Emain Macha means "Macha's twins" or "Macha's pair", and its tale is bound tightly with the local goddess Macha, after whom is also named Armagh, Ard Macha. The ancient Greek philosopher Ptolemy drew a map of the world, upon which he marked a place called Isamnion in southern Ulster, which may have come from the Proto-Celtic isa-mon, meaning "holy mound", and eventually translated to Emain.

Another story tells that Macha was a great queen of the Ulaid, the people of Ulster, and she drew the plans for Emain Macha with her neck-brooch or eomuin, before forcing the sons of her enemies to build it. Today it is called Navan fort, an anglicisation of the Irish "An Eamhain".

Mighty King Conchobar mac Nessa built his towering hall here, called Chraebruad - the red-branched or red-poled edifice, and within he began a school to train the finest fighters in Eriú. His feared royal warriors were named the Red Branch Knights. It was also home to legendary figures like Cú Chulainn, Amergin the poet, Cathbad the wise druid, Deirdre of the Sorrows, and Naoise, her brave lover.

Situated on a low hill, today there are several large earthen mounds and ring barrows at Emain Macha, with marks suggesting a huge wooden roundhouse had been built on top of one. This had been filled with stones in a spoked-wheel pattern - taken from a nearby passage tomb -  to a height of 3 metres and ritually burnt before being covered with more earth at some time in the past. Whether this was done as part of a sacrifice, the work of an enemy, or simply to create the mound itself is not known.

Some have suggested that the mound was made to be a conduit between this world and the otherworld, after the fashion of much earlier mounds, and that the Druids would enact coronation ceremonies on top of it, under the aegis of the gods, ancestors and spirits.

There is evidence of repeated burning and rebuilding at other Royal Sites like Tara.

Artifacts discovered in and under Emain Macha indicate it had been in continuous use for a very long time, perhaps as far back as the Neolithic, and it is surrounded by a network of other forts and ritualistic locations.

The Annals of the Four Masters says that the Three Collas conquered the area in 331 AD, burning Emain Macha and driving the Ulaidh eastwards over the River Bann. Another tradition is that Emain Macha was destroyed by Niall of the Nine Hostages, or his sons, in the following century.

More recent studies using the latest sensory technology have found evidence of Iron Age and medieval buildings underground, which suggest that Emain Macha was "an incredibly important religious center and a place of paramount sacral and cultural authority in later prehistory".

Royal Sites of Ireland

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