Ireland Day 4: Queen Maeve’s Cairn, Croagh Patrick

Shane and I were a short drive from Queen Maeve’s Cairn, so on the morning of the 11th we got up early and drove over.

Queen Maeve’s Cairn (also called Knocknarea and Queen Maeve’s Grave, Tomb, or Resting Place) is basically a mound of rocks atop a hill, steeped in legend.  I had asked Shane to tell me about it before we arrived, but he told me to wait, and that he’d tell me on the way up.  So that’s how I’ll tell it.

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Back in the days of legends, there lived a queen named Maeve.  Her kingdom was Connacht, and its rival was Ulster, where her husband was king.  Their kingdoms were equal in every way, except that the kingdom of Ulster had a massive prize bull.  Maeve could not let this stand.

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So Meave set out to find a bull that would fight the Ulster bull.  She heard of a bull living in Cooley, who had been born to her herd but left because he would not be ruled by a woman.  So Maeve sent her men to rent the bull from his owner, but the deal fell through in the 11th hour and began a war.

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The battles went on and on, and Maeve’s forces were repeatedly rebuffed by Ulster’s warrior, Cúchulainn, a young boy barely 17 years of age.   But in the end Maeve sent her warrior, Ferdiad, who was the best friend and foster brother of Cúchulainn.  Although they were brothers, both warriors were committed to their kingdoms, so they met on the battlefield with the knowledge that only one would survive.

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Every day they would fight, wounding each other terribly.  And every night they would drink together and share medicine.  Both warriors had been trained by the same master, Scáthach, but she had given each of them a secret weapon that only they could use.  Cúchulainn’s weapon was the Gáe Bulg, the death spear.

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On the third day, both warriors met and began to fight again.  Ferdiad soon had Cúchulainn at his mercy, and Cúchulainn knew that his death was near if he didn’t do something quickly.

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So Cúchulainn called for his death spear, and it was floated down the water to him.  It was a curious spear, and would kill any person that it pierced by breaking into several pieces inside their body.  But no one could use it because no one could launch it.

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But Cúchulainn knew how.

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On that day, Cúchulainn placed the spear between his two toes and launched it at his brother.  It ran him through and killed him.  In the ruins of his childhood, Maeve achieved her victory yet: her army stole away the Cooley bull, and matched him against her husband’s bull, who was beaten.  Maeve, when she died, was laid to rest in a tomb on the hill Knocknarea.  She was buried so that she would be always facing Ulster.

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“The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea,
And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say.”

– William Bulter Yeats, Red Hanrahan’s Song About Ireland

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After leaving the Cairn, Shane and I made our way to Croagh Patrick.  But on the way we spotted these ruins and stopped for a peek.

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From there, we headed to Croagh Patrick.

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The legend of Croagh Patrick is that, ages ago, St. Patrick was traveling Ireland and converting and blessing the people.  However, he soon became tired and had the idea that he could climb to the top of a mountain and bless all of Ireland at once, effectively converting everyone.  So this is what he did, and now, once a year, Catholics and interested persons make the trek up Croagh Patrick.  At the top of the mountain they say mass.  Many of these people climb barefooted.  Although Shane is not religious, he has climbed the mountain twice.  Luckily for me, today was not one of those days.

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This is as high as we went.

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Across the street from Croagh Patrick was a famine ship.

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Shane told me that this ship represents the people who died trying to immigrate to America.

From here Shane and I drove on through Connacht.

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That night we stayed at Oliver’s Seafood Bar, Bed and Breakfast in a little town called Cleggan.  We were quite a bit out in the wilderness, and driving through the country at night is a huge fear of mine.  It was emotionally exhausting for me to drive on roads with no lights, no houses, no reflectors, knowing that there could be sheep or a serial killer just feet away.  Luckily for me, Shane was incredible: supportive and empathetic, he helped me handle my anxiety about the countryside.  Nevertheless, that night I came back to our B&B and fell asleep at 8:30 and slept 11 hours.  And it’s a good thing, since the next day we’d be driving for hours, fighting a status red storm, before finally arriving at his parents’ house.
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