Magh Adhair is an ancient inauguration site, situated beside the Hell River in the townland of Toonagh, Co. Clare. Magh Adhair was used for the initiation ceremony of the Dalcassian Kings of Thomond, including Brian Ború, between the 5th and 16th centuries. There has been much discussion of where the name came from and it seems that the site may have held importance in prehistoric times. Due to the larger mound looking like a cairn medieval texts describe it as the burial place of Adair, the Firbolg. The Fir Bolg were the fourth group of people to settle in Ireland and ruled the country prior before being overthrown by Tuatha Dé Danann, a supernatural race in Irish mythology. Adair lived in the 1st century and was brother of the legendary architect of Dun Aengus on the Aran Islands.
The most obvious feature of Magh Adhair is the 6metre tall mound, where the inaugurations would have taken place, around it can be noted a bank, and a sloping causeway that leads across the bank to the west, a possible ceremonial walkway. A bullaun stands near the mound, some have suggested that the heir to the kingdom would wash himself with sacred water in the basin prior to inauguration. A second smaller mound stands to the west, situated beside a stream known as the Hell River, on the other side of the stream stands a pillar stone.
It is very likely that the site of Magh Adhair is related to Cahercalla, a large stone fort 500 metres to the southwest. T.J. Westropp, a 19th century archaeologist, identified Cahercalla as a royal residence due to its three defensive walls. Westropp was informed in 1892 by the tenant that his grandfather was the one who tried to demolish the structure, but he, “was suddenly taken ill, and fancying he had been ‘struck’ by the fairy inmates of the fort, desisted from his work of destruction; this fortunately saved the caher, and beyond the removal of a small late enclosure in the central ring, no harm has since been done”.
The earliest mention of Magh Adhair is in the Annals of the Four Masters in 877, when Ard Righ, Flan Sunagh of the Uí Néill tribe, set up a chessboard on the mound and challenged the Dalcassians to a game of chess. The Dalcassians were angered by the insult to their revered site and they attacked Ard Righ, who ran to the woods and after three days was forced to surrender. Brian Boru, was inaugurated at Magh Adhair in 976AD, and in 982AD Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill of the Uí Néill tribe, the High King, attempted to destroy Magh Adhair during his scorched earth campaign in Thomond. The site was attacked again when Aed O’ Connor, King of Connaught, ravaged the site in 1051.
Inaugurations are believed to have taken place at the site until the mid 16th century. It appears Magh Adhair then became used a place where market fairs were held until around 1845, only stopping due to the decline in population during the Great Famine.
Magh Adhair is a truly beautiful place with a palpable sense of importance, the day of my visit just as I started to climb the mound the skies opened up and a torrential rain fell for about a minute, soaking me, until the skies suddenly cleared and a beautiful rainbow appeared to the south, it certainly brought an extra level of encounter to my visit!
GPS: 52.84121, -8.8288