Slieve Gullion from Aughanduff
|Elevation||573 m (1,880 ft)|
|Location||County Armagh, Northern Ireland|
|Range||Ring of Gullion|
Slieve Gullion (from Irish: Sliabh gCuillinn, meaning "mountain of the steep slope") is a mountain in the south of County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The mountain is the heart of the Ring of Gullion and is the highest point in the county, with an elevation of 573 metres (1,880 ft). Slieve Gullion plays a prominent role in the mythology and history of the area and dominates the countryside around it, offering views of as far away as Antrim, Dublin Bay and Wicklow on a clear day.
Villages around Slieve Gullion include Drumintee, Mullaghbawn, Lislea, Forkhill and Meigh. The mountain gives its name to the surrounding countryside, and is the name of an electoral area within Newry and Mourne district council.
Slieve Gullion is the eroded remains of a Paleocene volcanic complex. It is surrounded by a ring dike known as the Ring of Gullion, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Slieve Gullion has been shaped by glaciation and exhibits a classic 'crag and tail' glacial feature. The 'tail', made up of glacial deposits, points south, ending at Drumintee. The geological formation was the first ring dike to be mapped, although its significance was not understood until similar structures had been described from Scotland. The rocks of the area are complex and have featured in international geological debate since the 1950s. The site has attracted geologists from all over the world and featured in a number of theories that have been put forward to explain the unusual rock relationships. Some of these theories have now become an accepted part of geological science.
Much of Slieve Gullion is covered with forest, heather, or raw stone, while 612 hectares of dry heath on the mountain has been designated a Special Area of Conservation, an Environmentally Sensitive Area, and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In July 2006, some areas of gorse were destroyed by a wildfire which may have been started deliberately.
Traces of fields on the mountain's poor soil from farming in earlier times can still be seen. There is also evidence of quarrying. Today Slieve Gullion is used for little economic production but is popular with visitors and trekkers. There is road access to about halfway up the mountain and the remains of an old trail allowing easy access to the summit.
There are two cairns on top of the mountain, on either side of a small lake. The southern one is a large passage grave, the highest surviving passage grave in Ireland. In 1961, a team of archaeologists explored the site and set up a 30-person camp 600 feet (180 m) below the summit. The passage grave cairn is 30 m (97 ft) wide and 5 m (16 ft) high. The chamber inside is 3.6 m (12 ft) wide, with a corbelled roof up to 4.3 m (14 ft) from the ground. It contained three large blocks of stone seemingly used as basins. Some bits of worked flint and a barbed-end arrowhead were also found, "the meager remnants that survived the centuries of tomb raiding". The entrance is aligned with the setting sun on the winter solstice. Radiocarbon dating suggests it was built c.3500–2900 BCE. The smaller cairn to the north of the lake was built later, perhaps during the Bronze Age. It contains two cist burials, with one containing bits of burnt bone; likely the remains of a single adult.
The two cairns were disturbed by American soldiers training there during World War II.
Slieve Gullion appears in Irish mythology.
Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Cailleach
According to one tale, Áine and her sister Milucra both sought after the legendary hero Fionn mac Cumhaill. When Áine said she would never marry a man with grey or white hair, Milucra secretly put a spell on the lake, so that anyone who swam in it would emerge as an old person. She tricked Fionn into swimming in it, and he emerged as an old man with grey-white hair. His men, the Fianna, forced her to give him a restorative potion from her cornucopia, but his hair did not return to its true colour. In some versions of the tale, Milucra is revealed to be the Cailleach Bhéirre, an ancient goddess.
The names of several features on the mountain refer to the Cailleach Bhéirre. The passage grave is known as Calliagh Birra's House and the small lake is called Calliagh Birra's Lough. Lower down, on a hillock called Spellick, is a rock feature called the Calliagh Birra's Chair. Locals would visit it at Lughnasadh and take turns sitting on the chair.
Slieve Gullion plays a key role in the legend of Cú Chulainn.
According to mythology, the mountain is named after Culann the metalsmith. It is here that Sétanta spent his childhood and received the name Cú Chulainn. Culann invited Conchobhar mac Neasa, king of Ulster, to a feast at his house on the slopes of Slieve Gullion. On his way, Conchobhar stopped at the playing field to watch the boys play hurling. He was so impressed by Sétanta's performance that he asked him to join him at the feast. Sétanta promised to join him after he finished his game. Conchobhar went ahead, but he forgot about Sétanta, and Culann let loose his ferocious hound to guard his house. When Sétanta arrived, the hound attacked him, but he killed it; in one version by smashing it against a standing stone, in another by driving a sliotar (hurling ball) down its throat with his hurley. Culann was devastated by the loss of his hound, so Sétanta promised to rear him a replacement, and until it was old enough to do the job, he himself would guard Culann's house. The druid Cathbhadh announced that his name henceforth would be Cú Chulainn, "Culann's Hound".
- T.S. Ó Máille (1960) "Cuileann in áitainmneacha", in 'Béaloideas', Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society XXVIII.
- Placenames Database of Ireland
- Walk of the week: Slieve Gullion Co Armagh by Christopher Somerville, Irish Independent, Saturday June 13 2009
- Slieve Gullion Special Area of Conservation
- Environmentally Sensitive Areas (Slieve Gullion) Designation (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 1997
- Arsonists Strike 2,500 Times In Ulster In Last Three Years
- Slieve Gullion. Voices from the Dawn: The Folklore of Ireland's Ancient Monuments.
- 'Mystery and magic in megalithic Ireland' Irish Times, December 3rd, 2011
- Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Infobase Publishing, 2004. p.109
- Tempan, Paul. Irish Hill and Mountain Names. MountainViews.ie.
- Slieve Gullion forest park
- Slieve Gullion, Co. Armagh: A mythical mountain with two cairns on the summit
- A virtual-reality tour of Slieve Gullion and its monuments
- Walking Ireland's County Tops: Number 6: Slieve Gullion, County Armagh from Walking And Hiking Ireland