Saturday, 22 August 2015

Beneath the Hill of the Women

Cnoc na mBan, Knocknaman, The Hill of the Women

I recently deserted the studio and my current painting in favour of a landscape which guards ancient secrets.
I travelled west along the curving shoulder of the mountains and turned to wend my way beneath the Hill of the Women.

Rambling through the green shadowed glen and over a small stream I finally reached the
Old Munster Road.
Slí Dála is one of the five roadways which were said to originate from 
the Hill of Tara in the time of the High Kings. 

Along the way lies a holy well dedicated to St. Fionan Cam, known as a healer of the sick and injured around the 6th century. A saint who had a curious paternity.

The well of St. Fionan Cam, restored in 1988.

Legend informs us that he was conceived when his mother bathed in Lough Lein, Killarney, after sunset one evening and whilst doing so she was impregnated by a golden salmon.
She later gave birth to the saint. 
The head of the saint carved by a local man, Paddy Heaney.

From the well the road leads to Forelacka, a glen surrounded by hills and it is here, where the valley suddenly widens and the modern road ends, that a circular burial mound stands, a monument to the early inhabitants.

The passage tomb, similar in style to those in the Boyne Valley, is thought to date to 
the early Bronze Age. 
A stone once rested on this side of the mound indicating an entrance to the chamber.

Looking north from the mound to The Hill of the Women. 
The silhouette of a much larger passage tomb shrouded by forest can just be seen on the summit. 

In 1844, when the forest was being planted, this summit tomb was clearly visible surrounded by a
stone circle. Evidence of fire action was found on the stones with layers of ash discovered in the soil.
It is speculated that ritual fires were once lit on the top of the hill at Bealtaine to welcome
the summer and obtain the blessings of the Ever-Living Ones.

I turned and stood with my back to the passage grave and looked across to another hill, beyond
which sits a modern bungalow concealing a secret.

Dowsers at the Cumber Stones - photo by © Seán Gilmartin.

The Cumber Stones are two limestone pillars, weathered and shaped by time, which stand incongruously at the front entrance to a house.
Over the years dowsers have visited them in an attempt to decipher their meaning within the landscape.

Between the stones by © Seán Gilmartin.

I had a final visit to make on my journey that day so left the strange stones behind me and set out
for Glenafelly. In this quiet valley nestles the Fiddler's Rock, where the fairy fiddle player sits.
He was heard here one evening playing his lament, by two local farmers, now long gone.
More recently children's voices have been heard about the stone, in the glen were children no
longer play.

Although seemingly lost in a field it is the Fiddler's Rock which holds a clue to the beliefs 
of our distant ancestors.

The stone itself, a block of quartzite, is of a type not found elsewhere in the region 
and was probably erected in the Bronze Age.

Many years ago the geologist, John Feehan, made a fascinating discovery.
If you walk in a straight line from the rock you will pass directly between the Cumber pillar stones, descend into the valley beyond and arrive at the entrance to the burial mound near the foot of The Hill of the Women.
And that is not all.

Whilst out running near Glenafelly in the week before Christmas he observed:
"I was stopped in my tracks, awestruck at the great beam of sunlight that streamed through 
Cumber Gap across the Fiddler's Rock, whose long shadow pointed like a dark finger at Knocknaman, 
and all the way down the valley south of it."

Evening gathered as I turned to leave the Fiddler's Rock, my head filled with questions about
sunlight at Winter Solstice, alignments across the landscape and ancient beliefs.

I speculated aloud about the ancient people who once lived here.

Most importantly I asked about the Hill of the Women.
" Who were the women ? Were they warriors, mothers, healers, the wise ones ?

Did they light the fires on the Hill ?

But no answers came.
The Fiddler's Rock remained silent and the hills held their secrets.

'The Landscape of the Slieve Bloom - a study of its natural history and human heritage. '
By John Feehan has been republished and is available HERE


  1. Enjoyed this walk with you jane. Beautiful. Gaynor x

  2. Great blog Jane B.

    I often wonder whether it was on The Hill of the Women that the Druidess who fostered Finn Mc Coole was based. It can only be a supposition of mine for it cannot be proved either way.

  3. Lovely, I feel as though I was alongside you on your walk. I would love to know more about the women too, they were obviously very special xxx

  4. Yes I've thought the same myself Heron.
    Or perhaps they were the legendary Ettech & her women. She was a princess, foster mother to Noisiu & was said to be buried near there but, as you say, we shall never know!
    Glad you enjoyed the blog.

  5. Thanks Fran - glad you enjoyed the walk too! xxx

  6. Thanks Gaynor - maybe one day we'll visit together? X

  7. I, too, thank you Jane for taking us along with you on your walk, and wonder along with you - who were the women and why was the hill named such? Were women buried in the tomb?

  8. Hello Carol & thank you - The area is fascinating and probably full of unanswerable questions!

  9. Ah... I was with you all of the way and had the same questions forming in my head too :) Those two stones remind me of the two standing stones on Orkney, which are, strangely, also outside of a bungalow... They're on the Ness of Brodgar where they have found 'wonderful things' (to paraphrase Howard Carter...) - perhaps a similar complex lurks beneath the land there too... well we can dream can't we?

  10. Glad you enjoyed the visit Cymraes. I was left with more questions than answers of course but another part of me loves the whole mystery of the hill & glens :) and I would probably hate any sort of excavation there. Your photo on the Ness was interesting - I wonder what tales are hiding there? Thank you.

  11. I also loved following this trail with you, Jane. The mysteries and legends of Ireland seem to breathe out of the gorgeous scenery and ancient buildings too. I enjoyed the legend of the saints conception! Thank you so much for giving us these insights into Ireland's rich heritage.

  12. Hello Valleypee & thank you for your words - yes, Ireland's landscape is rich with mythology. Curious conception for a saint :)


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