Does the Cath Maige Tuired show us how megaliths were moved?

Does the Cath Maige Tuired show us how megaliths were moved?

I've been reading the Cath Maige Tuired (The Second Battle of Moytura). I purchased Elizabeth Gray's translation a while back and it's a fascinating read. The text is featured with the original Irish on the left-hand pages and the English translation on the right.

The very famous tale known as 'The Coming of Lugh' is featured. Lugh Samildánach arrives at the Hill of Tara and offers his services to the king, Núadu. For each talent he offers, the gate keeper tells him that Tara already has someone with that talent. Lugh offers his services as a builder, a smith, a champion, a harper, a warrior, a poet and historian, a sorceror, a physician, a cup bearer and a brazier.

"We do not need you," the gate keeper says. "We have a brazier already." Lugh suggests that the gate keeper should "ask the king whether he has one man who possesses all these arts: if he has I will not be able to enter Tara.”

The gate keeper tells king Núadu about the warrior named Samildánach (many-gifted) who practices all the arts that help the people. The king called for the fidchell boards (an early Irish version of chess) and Lugh won all the games. 

Elizabeth Gray's translation of Cath Maige Tuired (Second Battle of Moytura).

“Let him into the court,” said Núadu, “for a man like that has never before come into this fortress.” The doorkeeper let him enter.

Then Ogma (another Tuatha Dé Danann deity) issued a challenge to Lugh. He picked up a huge flagstone and threw it through the side of the hall so that it lay outside Tara. The flagstone “required fourscore yoke of oxen to move it”, according to the Cath Maige Tuired text. 

Is this an indication, perhaps, of how megaliths were moved in prehistoric times? Fascinatingly, there is no known huge megalith extant at the Hill of Tara, the sole surviving Neolithic monument being Dumha na nGiall (Mound of the Hostages). The stone known as Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny) is a relatively small one, which certainly would not have required cattle to move it. 

It is suggested that the great kerb stones at Newgrange and Knowth, each weighing an average of three tonnes, were brought to Brú na Bóinne from Clogherhead by boat, but how they got from the river up to the monuments is a mystery. Were they hauled by cattle?


The Hill of Tara from the air.

One wonders if there was once a spectacular megalith at Tara, something akin to the Lia Ailbhe which would have been located about 10 to 15 kilometres to the east of Tara, near Fourknocks. The Lia Ailbhe was described as the “chief monument of Brega” until it fell in 999 and was broken into four millstones by Máelaschlainn, the high king.

Cath Maige Tuired comes to us from a medieval manuscript, a 16th century vellum, Harleian 5280. But as with many of our old myths, its origin is unknown. Cath Maige Tuired is, Gray says, the account of an epic battle between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomoire — a contest between the gods of pagan Ireland and their enemies, once also a supernatural race. The story stands, Gray says, at the centre of Irish mythology. 

The traditional view (this one from an illustration at the Brú na Bóinne visitor centre) shows teams of men hauling megaliths.


Further reading

Read Elizabeth Gray's translation of Cath Maige Tuired here.

Read more about the Hill of Tara here.

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