Situated about 4 miles west of Sligo Town on whats known locally as the Strandhill Peninsula, the unmistakable shape of Knocknarea Mountain, standing 1078 feet high, completely dominates the skyline to the West of Sligo Town.
On the summit of Knocknarea Mountain lies the 40 foot high stone cairn, the mythical burial place of the legendary Queen Maeve of Connaught.
The legend of Queen Maeve‘s death is very bizzare, as according to a 11th Century writing, she is said to have been killed by a sling-shot, consisting of hard cheese, which was fired by her nephew.
To see the wonderful views from the top of Knocknarea Mountain and to see the 40 foot high stone cairn and the other remains on the top of the mountain, you must walk up the mountain on foot as there is no access to motor vehicles to the summit.
First of all, I must say, I am not a fit person, but I’ve regularly climbed Knocknarea Mountain, sometimes I’ve been on my own and have taken as liittle as 23 minutes, other times I’ve dragged members of my family or some friends up for the walk with me, which takes a longer time.
To get to the car park at the start of the walk towards the summit of Knocknarea Mountain, first of all go to Sligo bus and railway station, take the road straight opposite the station entrance, Wolfe Tone Street, to its far end, then turn right onto the R292.
Follow this road past Nazareth House on the left and The Showgrounds, home of the Sligo Rovers football team on the right, follow the road without turning off to the left or right for about 3 miles, until you come to Primrose Grange, an old school house on the right-hand side, which is now a bed and breakfast.
Less than 100 yards past Primrose Grange you turn right at the sign post for ‘Knocknarea Mountain Car Park’, park your car in the car park and enjoy the leisurely two-and-a-half mile walk to the summit.
It is a local tradition to pick up a stone or a small rock on your walk to the summit, and to leave it at the cairn.
Initially the path is of very rough stone, frequently populated it seems by cattle mess and tractor tyre marks, though in all the times I’ve walked up the mountain, I’ve never met a cow or a tractor on the path.
When you come to the small stile / gate, if you haven’t already, take a rest and have a look at the scenery unfolding behind you. You can see the quarry in Ballysadare very easily, perhaps even the church spire in Collooney.
Continuing, the path now gets quite steep and will get ever more severe before you reach the summit, but no matter how severe the path becomes, its been worn away into steps by all the feet who have passed this way previous to your own.
Once you have got to the top of the steepest section it levels out very quickly and after 3 minutes walking and getting your breath back, the cairn will come into view.
This is an incredible experience and something which I feel every time I climb Knocknarea Mountain, the feeling of being absolutely exhausted by the severity of the middle part of the journey to the summit, quickly followed by the sight of the cairn ahead of you, gives the feeling that its all been very worthwhile.
Whilst at the summit take a walk around, most people go as far as the cairn and thats it, I’ve brought other walkers for a good long walk right across the top of the mountain, where we’ve looked down onto Strandhill village and onto Culleenamore Bay, we’ve even experienced the unusual sight of looking DOWN on an aircraft, on its final approach and landing at Strandhill Airport, an unusual sight indeed.
Apart from Queen Maeve’s Cairn, which, although never excavated, is believed to contain a passage tomb dating back to 3,000BC, you will also see a number of kerbstones and within 5 metres of the cairn itself lie two large stones which have been interpreted as being North and South markers.
Some 150 metres to the North-East lie the foundations of 5 circular and oval hut sites, from which excavations have uncovered hundreds of flint and chert scrapers, arrowheads, a polished stone axe and some pottery which have been dated to about 3300 – 2700 BC.
Climb to the top of the cairn for even more spectacular views, then when you’ve finished, its time to head back to the car park.
Remember, care must also been taken on the descent, especially on the very steep section, as it is very easy to lose you’re footing and go for a tumble, I know from experience, though thankfully I wasn’t hurt too badly.