knowth | legend of a forgotten queen
Updated: Aug 1
I call Knowth 'the Forbidden Mound' because no one is allowed inside. I’m not sure why this is. From my image below, you can see how safe and unrestricted the passage is. According to the archaeologist, George Eogan, who excavated the site in the 1960s, the passages and inner chambers were accessed with surprising ease when they were discovered. Could there be something inside that no one wants us to see, or are they just trying to preserve this special, sacred site? Who doesn't love a conspiracy theory?
Roughly on a size and scale with the more famous Newgrange, Knowth contains not one but two long passages opposite each other aligned east/ west, each culminating in a cruciform chamber with three recesses. The eastern passage is forty metres long, while the western passage is thirty-four metres long. Surrounding this large central mound are eighteen smaller ones, all facing in towards the main central mound.
The site has a long and varied history. Archaeologists have discovered evidence that Knowth was used as a ring fort during the Iron Age, and as a motte and bailey by the Normans in the twelfth century, before being converted into a grange, or farm, by the Cistercian monks who lived at the nearby Melifont Abbey.
In Irish mythology, Knowth (sounds like 'mouth'), from the Irish Cnoc Bui, meaning ‘Hill of Bui’ is said to be the final resting place of Bui, or Buach, wife of the God of Lightning, and High King of the Danann, Lugh Lamfhada.
I have had to piece her story together from several legends, as it seems to have been lost in time. She was the daughter of either Daire Donn, known as the King of the World, who led a great battle against Fionn mac Cumhaill in the third century AD, or of Donn of the Milesians, who later came to be known as Lord of the Dead. In terms of time periods, the latter fits far better.
She was said to have had an affair with Cermait Milbél (which means ‘honeymouth’), a son of the Dagda. Lugh was so furious that he challenged Cermait to a duel and killed him. Cermait’s three sons decided to avenge their father’s death, and killed Lugh in, or beside the lough named after him on the top of the Hill of Uisneach. A cairn was raised over his body there.
If this wasn’t tragic enough, Óengus Óg who was Cermait’s half-brother, discovered that Lugh’s poet, who is not named, had told Lugh a malicious lie; Buach and Cermait had not slept together, after all. He avenged the deaths of his brother and Lugh by killing the poet. What became of poor Buach is not known.
Knowth and the rest of the Newgrange complex are known collectively as Brú na Bóinne, which means ‘the Bend in the River Boyne’; you can see this quite clearly in the map, the Boyne cradling the ancient sites like the curve of an arm. Knowth itself contains over 200 decorated stones, which is thought to comprise roughly a third of all European stone art.
In Irish mythology, the river Boyne is named after the Danann goddess, Boann. Her name, from the Old Irish Bo Find, means ‘white cow’. According to an ancient text named the Lebor Gabála Érenn she was the daughter of Delbáeth of the Tuatha De Danann, and she was married to Elcmar.
She had an affair with the Dagda, and thus conceived her son, Óengus Óg. In order to conceal their infidelity from her husband, Elcmar, the Dagda made the sun stand still in the sky for nine months; therefore, Óengus was conceived, gestated and born in one day, and sent to be fostered with Midir, all before Elcmar came home.
Boann was killed when she went against her husband’s wishes seeking knowledge from Connla’s Well, where the nine enchanted hazel trees dropped their nuts into the water for the salmon to eat. The water rose up at her defiance and carried her out to sea where she perished, and that was how the River Boyne was formed.
The River Boyne is thought to be linked to the Milky Way; in old Irish, it was known as Bealach na Bó Finne, meaning the ‘Path of the Bright/ White Cow’. Interestingly, it was also known as ‘Lugh’s Chain’, or Slabhbra Lugh.
Could it perhaps be then, that Knowth with its many satellite mounds represents planets going around a sun? Or a constellation of stars? Perhaps it is simply the burial site of an ancient beloved Queen.