The High Man: a giant hero warrior in a landscape steeped in myths and monuments

Ireland’s myths and legends speak of giants, gods, warriors and heroes. The Boyne Valley region is the heartland of many of these stories. The most important myths and monuments from the past are based in this area.

In 1999, local artist Richard Moore discovered a huge human-like figure in a map of the Boyne area. It measures 12 miles (19 kilometres) from top to bottom. The figure appears to be standing with his legs in the Boyne River and is located in an area that was anciently known as Ferrard, from the Irish Fir Ard, meaning “High Man”. Richard has spent years investigating this giant figure along with local author Anthony Murphy. They have named him the High Man.

The High Man poster, originally published in 2004.

 

The High Man resonates with many of the area’s myths and legends. For instance, when the Milesians came to Ireland to take it from the Tuatha Dé Danann in the Bronze Age, their spiritual leader, Amergin, was the first to step ashore at the Boyne estuary, placing his leg on the southern river bank and proclaiming “what land is better than this island of the setting sun?”

Amergin and Millmount.

 

The area shown on this map was also known anciently as Muirthemne, the plain which the great warrior hero Cúchulainn called his own. Cúchulainn was famous for fighting battle while standing in the water of a river ford, just like the High Man.

Cúchulain’s father was Lugh, one of the chiefs of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods associated with Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, the 5,000-year-old passage mounds of the Boyne Valley. The modern-day name of Ferrard/Muirthemne is Louth, which is an anglicised form of the name Lugh.

Local folklore suggests that a giant, named Osgar, who was one of the great warriors of the Fianna, used to stand guard over the harbour of Drogheda, just like the High Man appears to do.

The legend of Garrett’s Fort, beside the mouth of the High Man figure, tells of a sleeping army of soldiers under a magical ringfort near Ardee, led by Fionn Mac Cumhaill or Earl Garrett. It is said that a hero will come and rouse them for a great battle.

Astronomy

What is this giant figure that has mysteriously reappeared in our midst as if Manannán’s cloak of invisibility has been lifted? Many of these myths might relate to the stars, in which our ancient ancestors took a great interest. They studied the movements of the sun, the moon and planets as they wandered among the stars, and recorded these movements on stone at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. The High Man might be a representation of the constellation we know today as Orion, which has always been depicted as a giant hunter or warrior in the sky. Orion is located at an important junction in the sky, where the path of the sun, moon and planets crosses the river of the sky, the Milky Way. In ancient Ireland, the Milky Way was known as Bealach Bó Finne, the Way of the White Cow. The Boyne river has the same name – the river of the white cow.

The appearance of the High Man reminds us of the reawakening that is taking place in modern times. We are witnessing a revitalisation of our most ancient myths, and a resurgence of interest in our most sacred ancient places.

The High Man is like the Olympic torch bearer, and on the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, he appears to carry the sun across the sky. This is perhaps an indication of the magnificent potential of humanity – that perhaps we have reached a golden moment in our evolution, and that it is time for a reawakening to ancient spiritual wisdom and cosmic energies.

A light is held up for us. A fire is set alight in our minds and souls. This weird and wonderful giant is a reminder of the hero abilities within all of us. We can rise to the challenges that lie before us, and overcome them. The High Man has come back to remind us of what we have lost, and what is most important to us.

The High Man speaks to us of a spiritual realm, that which our ancestors were keen to access through the marvellous monuments of the Boyne. He speaks of empowerment, and of return to source. He says “find yourself” and helps us to reconnect to a part of ourselves that has been dormant, as if wrapped in Manannán’s cloak of obscurity.

Richard Moore's 'High Man' painting for our book 'Island of the Setting Sun'.

It takes just one person to keep a tradition alive, and from there the possibilities are endless. We have a beautiful heritage, and our culture represents part of our soul. This re-emergence of ancient light and wisdom is a reminder that we can overcome the darkness and welcome in a new era, just as the Tuatha Dé Danann did when they arrived in Ireland, descending from the clouds.

The legends have come alive. Lots of our ancient myths and folk tales tell of great giants and gods and heroes. And now we’ve found one, in the heartland of these very myths. He is the High Man, an ancient hero reawakened.

Giant art installation

In 2014, artists Richard Moore and Derek McCluskey recreated the High Man as an enormous art installation in one of the fields of Newgrange Farm, close to the famous Newgrange monument.

It was one of the largest art installations ever created in Ireland. The national media took a big interest at the time. Read: 'High Man' warrior makes its mark on ancient site.

The "mini" High Man measured 150m by 90m – a bit smaller than the 19km-tall real thing!

The documentary

In 2009, Anthony presented a documentary about the High Man, made with the help of Richard Moore and their mutual friend, David Swan Montgomery. To date, it is Mythical Ireland's MOST-WATCHED video on YouTube. Watch it here:

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Explore the ancient myths, legends and folklore of Ireland and their meaning. Read the epic Táin Bó Cuailnge, or the place-name myths in the Dindshenchas. Learn about how the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians came to Ireland and how the early texts describe various invasions of prehistoric Éire. Hear about Fionn and the Fianna, and discover how some myths might contain information about astronomy and the stars.

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There is no doubt that the ancient megalith builders had a substantial knowledge of the movements of the sun, moon, planets and stars through the heavens. Learn more about just how complex and impressive this knowledge was. There is evidence that the people of the Neolithic knew about the 19-year Metonic cycle of the moon, as well as being able to predict eclipses.

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My Books

Information and posts about Anthony Murphy's books. These include Island of the Setting Sun: In Search of Ireland's Ancient Astronomers, Newgrange: Monument to Immortality, Land of the Ever-Living Ones, The Cry of the Sebac and Mythical Ireland: New Light on the Ancient Past.

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This page was last updated on 23rd March 2020 @ 12:52 PM