Knocknashee Hillfort, Sligo, Ireland

Knocknashee is a enclosed bronze age hill fort situated in the Ox Mountains, Sligo containing the remains of cairns, burial chambers and hutsites. The Irish for Knocknashee is Cnoc na Sí, meanigng Hill of the Fairies. The hillfort is one of Ireland’s largest bronze age structures, and stands at an elevation of 276 metres enclosed by two earth and stone ramparts covering an area 53 acres. The fort is a mammoth 700metres long by 320 metres wide. Two large Neolithic cairns at the summit of the hill contain the remains of two tombs. The remains of around thirty circular structures thought to be the foundations of huts have been identified showing that Knocknashee held huge importance over millennia. The hike up Knocknashee is deceptively steep but worth it for the views alone.

Not surprisingly the Dúchas Schools Collection has a wealth of stories relating to the hill and its origins, The following came from an informant Mrs M J Gallagher who told the tale to William Gallagher of Ballincarrow National School (roll number 13277),

“Knocknashee stands partly in Lavagh and partly in Carrowmore. Muckalty stands partly in Muckalty and partly in Castlecawley and Tubberscarden. Geologists say that both hills were made at the same time, but tradition has a different story. An interesting and amusing story of how Muckalty was formed is well known around the two hills. According to the story there was only one hill there, Knocknashee. It was the abode of the “Good People”. Every fall moon, they danced on the flat top of the hill. An old witch who had once been a fairy, often watched them. She hated them, because she had been expelled from their ranks. She racked her brain for a way to revenge herself on them. At long last, she hit on a plan. She went to Pagan England, and got some soil. She made a spell over it, so that it would grow into a hill, as soon as it touched Irish soil. When she was finished she went back to Ireland with the pack slung over her shoulder. She intended to drop it on top of Knocknashee, and thereby crush the fairies and their mighty mansion. Meanwhile the fairies had been aware of their plan, and could not think of anything to save themselves. They requested help from an old wizard. He agreed and changing himself into a black pig, waited for the witch. When the witch had gone past, the pig jumped up on her “pack” and knocked it to the ground. The witches spell worked and the parcel of clay grew into a hill. When the witch saw what had happened she looked around for the cause of her woe. When she saw the pig she said “Muc Allta”. So the name has stayed. Muckalta was softened Muckalty. Never afterwards did the fairies dance on the top of the hill, for fear of incurring the witches wrath, so they disappeared into the interior and were never seen again.”

Several other stories speak of a well that appears and disappears, the following tale known as The Mystrious Well was recorded by Nellie Sweeney (informant Joe Sweeney) of Corr-Shaileach School (roll number 12208),

“Many years ago about in the last century man named Patrick Henry lived in the townland of Killcummin. In those days the farmers had cattle grazing on Knocknashee. Every morning one of the farmers would go on his turn to see the cattle. It came to Patrick’s turn to go to see the cattle. He rose very early in the morning to see where were the cattle getting a drink because the drink they used to give them used to be untouched every morning and there was no place else for them to get a drink so he said he would investigate and see where they were drinking. He reached the top of Knock na’ shee long before sunrise and before he was long waiting he saw all the cattle gathering around on one spot and immediately did’nt a spring well open up and the cattle drank their fill. Patrick took his walking stick and took off his cap, and stuck it beside the well in order to tell the other farmers what he had seen and to show them that it was true. He hurried back to the village and told the farmers to come along with him to the hill, but when they landed, to their surprise what did the see, but hundreds of sticks and caps on them just like his own stick. He could not say anything but took a stick and a cap and walked home. After that the farmers never worried about the cattle.”

Lastly is the folk song The Hill of Knocknashee, some informants describe the author as unknown and others state it was written by the poet John Gilmore from Carrowmore, the following version was written down by Nellie Sweeney who believed it was written by a Martin Brennan from Knocknashee ‘who is now dead’

Dear friends we meet in love to night on Columbia’s tranquil shore.
Ten thousand miles from Ireland’s hills
We’ll never see them more.
But dearer still is that fair hill
Than any other to me.
In our own home in Ireland
We call it Knocknashee.

How dear to me the memories
Sweet recollection brings.
And how I list the live long day
To the thrush and blackbird sing
How oft used the cuckoo call
From out the holly tree
And how sweetly the re-echoed sound
The Hill of Knocknashee.

How I viewed the cornfields
All blooming in their pride
From Coolaney on to Clooncool
Along the mountain side
How gently flows the river Moy
From these unto the sea
May the Heaven’s be with you Carrowmore
And the Hill of Kocknashee

How deeply pictured in my mind
Those places that I’ve seen
There’s Keash and Geevagh and Ballymote
And the hills round sweet Gusteen
The groves and lakes of Templehouse
And Steamstown spreading near
Farewell to those, farewell to all
Farewell to Knocknashee

Farewell to evening dances
Where merry comrades meet
Where the fiddler says to the boys and girls
Get up and shake your feet,
It’s there you’ll find the colleens,
That would fill your heart with glee
O I’d risk my life to have a wife
From the Hill of Knocknashee

There stands the ruined Abbey wall
Where our people’s bones do rest
The dear old land that gave them birth
Has called them to her breast
While we are forced to exile
By British tyranny
Farewell to those, farewell to all
Farewell to Knocknashee

Farewell my friends and comrades dear
To past ye make me mourn
But I’ll leave my warm heart with you
Though my back I’m forced to turn
And a hundred chances are to one
That I might never see
Those kind old friends and neighbors
Round the Hill of Knocknashee.”

GPS: 54.11825, -8.67941

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