Emain Macha - Navan Fort Armagh
What is Navan Fort Armagh? It is a historical and archaeological site two miles west of Armagh on the Killylea road (A28). Though called a fort it was more probably an ancient sanctuary. It is believed that the site was the location of Emain Macha the first capital of Ulster. The archaeological remains date from as early as the beginning of the first century BC.
Myths and Legends of Emain Macha
The Fort was founded according to legend in the 6th or 5th century BC. Its most famous king was Conchobar Mac Nessa. Conchobar is the ancient form of the name Connor. Conchobar features prominently in the Ulster Cycle, also known as the Red Branch Cycle. The Ulster Cycle is a collection of legends that date from the Middle Ages and describe heroic events of the kings and knights of Ulster. It is one of the most important collections of Irish myths and legends.
The main hero of the legends is CuChulainn, nephew of Conchobar. He figures prominently in a number of gruesome tales of war, love and death. One of the better known ones is his marriage to Emer. CuChulainn is a very handsome young man and the men of Ulster fear for their wives. So they look for a good wife for him to keep him in line and find Emer, daughter of Forgall. But he does not want his daughter to marry CuChulainn and requests that before a wedding is to take place, CuChulainn must become a man and train in the arts of war with the famous warrior woman Scathach of Scotland. He hopes that in the process he will die.
CuChulainn goes successfully through all the challenges he faces and returns to Ulster to claim his wife. However, Forgall still refuses to accept the match. CuChulainn storms Forgall’s fortress and takes Emer, while Forgall loses his life in the process.
History of Emain Macha or Navan Fort Armagh
Legends aside the Fort is a large earthwork, a small hill. On the top where the ancient sanctuary lay the area is flat and has a diameter of 240 meters (nearly 900 feet). Surrounding it is a ditch about 4 meters deep (12 feet) and an embankment that is 4 meters high and about 15 meters wide (50 feet).
In this large enclosure two important sites were believed to have existed. On the south east side was a large ring burrow, or iron age burial ground. On the north west is a mound about 6 meters high (20 feet) and 40 meters in diameter (130 feet). Where the mound is there used to stand a building of four concentric circles of oak beams with an entrance facing the east and a paved floor area, probably an ancient pagan temple. The structure was burned and then covered in dirt which makes up the current mound.
A Visit Today
Navan Fort today may look like an ordinary hill to the untrained eye. But take a walk to the top. Enjoy the views of the Armagh countryside. Imagine ancient Emain Macha bustling with life. Try to visualize CuChulainn and his knights coming back from battle or training for one right at the foot of the hill. While the Ulster Cycle is a collection of legends, legends are often embellished accounts of what might have been historical accounts.
A visit to Emain Macha - Navan Fort will not be complete without a stop over at the Navan Centre, a modern and friendly living Museum packed with information and materials that will help you appreciate Emain Macha - Navan Fort better. You will miss out if you don't!
Photo Credits: M&B Photography. Many thanks!
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