Emerald Isle

The Dolmen of the Four Maols

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

A great stone tomb of many stories

One of the most imposing legacies of the last of the mighty megalith-builders of the Neolithic and Bronze ages, the Dolmen of the Four Maols, considered by some to be a cist tomb rather than a dolmen or portal tomb. An enormous capstone sits above three other stones, while the entry stone lies not far off. It was once covered by a cairn of smaller stones.

This dolmen is on top of Primrose hill overlooking the Moy river in Ballina, County Mayo, and dates back to at least two thousand BC, the early Bronze age. It has been disturbed many times down through the centuries by curious and incautious visitors.

Although it is also known as the table of the giants and Cloghgle portal tomb, the name by which it is best-known dates from the Christian era, or at least it is attributed to that time, even if the name came from a much earlier period. Maol can mean "bald" or "courageous leader" in Irish, but it is most often meant to indicate a follower or a servant.

In the latter day story of the four Maols, it indicates four brothers, Mael Mac Deoraidh, Maelcroin, Maeldalua, and Maelseanaigh, and is probably a reference to their tonsured heads, a hairstyle favoured by early Irish religious people. In the seventh century the four of them had an adopted foster brother whose name was Ceallach of Killala, and it was to Ceallach that the crown passed when King Guaire Aidne mac Colmáin of Connacht passed away in 547 AD.

But Ceallach, the great grandson of the last pagan king of Ireland whose name was Daithí, upon finding that his cousin Colman had usurped the throne, declared that was not interested in royal honours, and returned to the monastery, eventually ascending to the rank of Bishop of Kilmoremoy. Colman's son Guaire inherited the crown from his father, but eveer the crown sits uneasy, as they say, and he brooded constantly upon the rightful clim to the throne held by Ceallach.

Day and night he pondered with ever-deepening concern, tossing and turning in his sheets and becoming withdrawn from his duties, until finally he could take it no longer, and he approached the four brothers with an offer of wealth, land and a life of ease if they could remove this risk to his power.

They promptly agreed, and did black murder upon poor Ceallach, hiding his body in the trunk of a tree! Not long did it take before their crime was discovered, and the Bishop's brother Cú-Coingelt was filled with wrath, swearing vengeance and justice upon the four. And so it was written in the Dinnseanchus:

The brave Cu-Congelt chased these long-haired youths
And seized them at the ancient Flood of Moy.
He led them captive to the Kingly Port (seat)
Which stands upon the margin of that stream
And on the Hill of Watching
hanged the four
and hence the hill received the dreadful name
Of Ard na Riagh, or Gallows Hill. The Bards
Are wont to view it and the mossy rock,
Which on the opposite hill,
Points out their grave, and tells a mournful tale

By torture and quartering they died, and piteous was their ending. No life of ease and wealth for them! Yet for all the gravity of their crime they were still sonsn of noble birth and were accorded the dignity of a noble burial, so their remains were carried across the river to the Dolmen, and interred beneath it.

The Dolmen of the Four Maols can be found on the map below!

Legendary Places in Ireland

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