Following Celtic Ways

Ramblings and reviews by John Willmott as he travels the Celtic Ways and Waterways visiting hidden ancient Celtic temples, sacred wells, and provoking legends .... plus music and theatre along the way

Monday, December 06, 2004

Sheebeg and Sheemore

by John Willmott of Celtic Ways

A couple of weeks ago we visited the awesome fairy hills of Sheebeg and Sheemore. These are hills steeped in stories, myths and inspirations to musicians and artists.

These "fairy hills" are probably best known for the tune that pays tribute to them. This tune is said to be the first tune that Carolan composed.

After leaving Alderford Carolan stopped and stayed awhile at Squire Reynold's house at Lough Scur. The squire was a harper and writer and it said that he was not impressed with Carolan's musicianship but was curious about his ability to compose. The squire was to leave Carolan at his home while he went on a journey and challenged Carolan to compose something around a local legend of a battle between the kings of the fairies. When Squire Reynolds returned Carolan had composed the famous tune."

I find the lands around the county borders of Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim amongst the most fascinating in Ireland. Stunning lakes, some hidden until you approach them, are surrounded by the haunting fairy tale mountains containing the Carrowkeel "temples" to the south west and the tall but rolling misted mountains of the north west. Between these ranges are the flat garden like plains of Leitrim are the dominating conical mounds of heaps and stones known as motes or raths, in Ireland. These "heaps" are, by legend, inhabited by the Daoine Maithe, the "Good People", or what the country people will not dare to call "fairies".

Sheemore is the larger mound and still the best formed. Today it is lit up at night by a huge crusifix on its peak. In fact this is mounted on top and into an unopened passage tomb As it was getting dark as we approach we never had the time to climb what seems to be a very steep climb. I can't wait to visit because, apparently, the cable of power that lights the crucifix comes out of the tomb :-)

Sheebeg is a much smaller mound and very accesible, subject to bulls in the field. The mound's tip has vanished, though, and it is said that a storm took it away and each time it is rebuilt another storm comes to de-cap it again.

Inside Sheebeg two human skeletons were found side by side. A popular legend is that these are the bodies of Fionn mac Cumhaill, killed in a famous battle in the plains between Sheebeg and Sheemore and Grainne who threw herself from Fionn's chariot on Tara Hill. The skeletons are definately male and female with the woman's teeth in perfect condition. Both bodies were buried standing and facing directly towards the Hill of Tara.

The legends of Fionn, Diarmuid and Grainne are amongst the most famous in Ireland and I will publish my own worded version of my Tour Ancient Ireland web site as soon as I can.

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