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In defence of geophysics You never know what’s going to catch journalists’ imagination – no matter how hard you try to direct attention to the stories you’d like them to publicise. The new British Archaeology, which hit the shops on Friday, features the Crosby Garrett Roman helmet on the cover. And inside is a great piece on the find, with new information and new photos – and much else besides. But it is a footnote to a reader’s letter that became a story in today’s Mail … Read More

by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

“When morning came, the men of Ireland saw the Donn Cuailnge coming westward past Cruachan with the mangled remains of Finnbennach hanging from his horns. He brandished them before him all that day, and at nightfall entered the lake near Cruachan. He came out with Finnbennach‘s loins and shoulder blade and liver on his horns. The armies went to kill him, but Fergus stopped them and let him go anywhere he liked. He headed towards his own land. He stopped to drink in Finnlethe on the way. He left Finnbennach’s shoulder blade there – from which comes Finniethe, the White One’s Shoulderblade, as the name of that district. He drank again at Ath Luain, and left Finnbennach’s loins there – that is how the place was named Ath Luain, the Ford of the Loins. He uttered a bellow at Iraird Cuillenn that was heard through the whole province. He drank again at Tromma, where Finnbennach’s liver fell from his two horns – from which comes the name Tromma, or liver. He came to Etan Tairb and set his brow against the hill at Ath Da Fertha – from which comes the name Etan Tairb, the Bull‘s Brow, in Muirtheimne Plain. Then he went by the Midluachair road to Cuib, where he had dwelt with the milkless cow of Dáire, and he tore up the ground there – from which comes the name Gort mBúraig, the Field of the Trench. Then he went on until he fell dead between Ulster and Ui Eachach at Druim Tairb. So Druim Tairb, The Ridge of the Bull, is the name of that place.”

– The Táin, trans. Thomas Kinsella 2002, 252

Is it possible to stand up here and imagine the last journey of a Donn Cuailgne? To your south will be Clashatarriff (The Trench of the Bull), where the Argideen (The Silver River) and the Glashagloragh (The Noisy Stream), depending on your perspective, either fork apart, or join together. To your east will be the horned-headed, dark-liquid shape of Loch Atarriff (The Lake of the Bull – look at a map and you’ll see the shape). Behind the lake, the peaks of Carrigfadda and Kippagh will form two obvious points, on either side of the brow of Coomatallin; an effect that will become more apparent the further east that you travel. If, as is sometimes theorised, ‘The Táin‘ – that epic, human struggle, built around the savage Donn – was no more than the embellishment of an earlier, fully zoomorphic (Bronze Age?) legend; a deeper conflict between two divine bulls; one dark and one light, could they not also have made their marks here, long ago – across the backs of these southern hills?

Whatever the original truth may have been, it is still possible to stand beneath the toweringly alive (2.9 m) and apt, horn, that is the terminal stone of Knockawaddra row (W 27031 45977) and look back along the rest of its line – two standing, two fallen – to the south-west. And there, behind the modern cloak of trees, but directly in line, will hide the bright (light) quartz pillars at Maulatanvally (W 26053 44479); a declination that hovers just beyond the Southern major lunar limit (-30.2 to -32.4 degrees / limit= -29.9 degrees; Clive Ruggles, 1999). Make of that what you will.

Knockawaddra translates as The Hill of the Dog.

Other nearby and contemporaneous monuments:

Knockawaddra stone pair; just 192 m distant, at 101.8 degrees
Lettergorman stone circle; 904m distant, at 244.3 degrees, immediately south of Lough Atarriff
Lettergorman four-poster and standing stone; 1.313 km distant, at 346.5 degrees
Glanbrack stone circle and standing stones; 1.562 km distant, at 175.1 degrees
Maulatanvally stone group; 1.789 km distant, at 212.3 degrees, four stones, three of quartz
Maulatanvally stone circle; 1.896 km distant, at 200.5 degrees

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