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A modern illustration of Medb

When Irish Legends and History Combine: The Tomb of the Fairy Queen Maeve

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Legends suggest that the green hills of Ireland have always been a place for fairy games. According to local beliefs, the forests were full of hidden settlements inhabited by supernatural creatures. Most of them have been forgotten over time, but the fairy queen Maeve received a special place in the history of the Knocknarea area and she even has a tomb that is visited by thousands of people every year. Those who visit her final resting place are searching for evidence in the mystical secrets of ancient Irish tales.

The Irish town of Sligo is famous for its stunning green hill that smells like fresh grass in the morning and covers itself with shimmering mystery at night. The name Knocknarea usually makes people think about knocking into or on something, but the truth is that ''knock'' means nothing more than hill in Irish. However, the etymology of the site’s full name isn't clear. There are at least three possible explanations behind this name. Firstly, researchers suggest that it came from Cnoc na Ré, meaning "hill of the moon". However, some others say that it was Cnoc na Riogha, which means ''hill of the kings''. This interpretation also suggests that if the hill contains burials, they may belong to the ancient rulers of these lands. Finally, a very simple explanation for the name: Cnoc na Riabh, means simply ''hill of the stripes''.

No matter the name’s origins, it is known as the hill of the fairies and is said to be the place where their queen is buried.

The Enchanting Tomb

The greatest treasure of the smooth green hill is a grave that is located in the heart of the site. It has never been excavated, but there are at least two suspicions about what hides inside. First, it is believed that it contains a passage tomb dated to the Neolithic period. Secondly, many believe that the famous Fairy Queen is buried in a tomb inside this 327-meter (1,073 ft.) limestone hill.

The most important part of the site is called Medb's Varin, which is about 55 meters (180 ft.) wide and 10 meters (33ft) high. It is one of the most intriguing of the unexplored archaeological sites in Ireland and is known as the tomb of Medb or Maeve. Researchers suggest that it is about 5000 years old and, due to its long history, it became a place entwined with legend and myth. As long as the site remains unexcavated, it is impossible to conclude what it may hold. Researchers suggest that it is possible that the mysterious tomb belongs to a known Neolithic religious center in this area. However, tourists from around the world come to enjoy the hill with the burial of an ancient fairy queen.

Who was this mysterious fairy queen whose remains may be hidden under the green grass of the Knocknarea?

Meadb's cairn at the summit of Knocknarea

Meadb's cairn at the summit of Knocknarea. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Fairy Queen of Irish Wuthering Hills

In English literature, she is known as Maeve, Maev, or Maive. However, in Old Irish, she was called Meḋḃ, Meaḋḃ and Medb. In old Irish mythology, she appears as a fairy queen and an independent female deity. There are a bunch of rich legends related to her, many of them describing her cruel behavior. She also seems to be one of the strongest warriors among the fairy-related deities. She was a wife of Ailill and had seven sons. She was murdered by Furbaide who wanted to avenge the death of his mother, who Maeve had killed.

Legends say Queen Medb was a warrior queen.

Legends say Queen Medb was a warrior queen. (Michelle Hunt)

The modern followers of paganism have created a beautiful vision of the goddess based on the old mythology. According to Patricia Telesco:

Maeve’s themes are fairies, magic, protection, leadership, and justice (law). Her symbols are birds and gold. As the Fairy Queen, Maeve oversees today’s merrymaking among the citizens of fey during their Fairy Gatherings. She also attends to human affairs by providing protection, wise leadership and prudent conventions. Works of art depict Maeve with golden birds on Her shoulders, whispering magical knowledge into Her ear. Near the beginning of May, the wee folk of Ireland come out of hiding for a grand celebration of spring. If you don’t want Maeve and the citizens of fey to pull pranks on you today, take precautions, as the Europeans do: avoid traveling, put a piece of clothing on inside-out, wear something red, and leave the fairy folk an offering of sweet bread, honey or ale. In some cases, this will please the fairies so much that they will offer to perform a service or leave you a gift in return!'

Furbaide readies his sling, from T. W. Rolleston's Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911 (illustration by Stephen Reid).

Furbaide readies his sling, from T. W. Rolleston's Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911 (illustration by Stephen Reid). (Public Domain)

This description proves that the old religion is still alive and has become a part of life in the area around the tomb, but also across Ireland. The interest in the old Irish goddess has even spread around the world, so she became an inspiration for many artists. She is also related to another famous site in Tara, Ireland.

Queen Maev

Queen Maev. (Public Domain)

Fairyland for Hiking Tourists

News in local magazines suggests that the popularity of Knocknarea has brought the site to the edge of destruction. The devastation of the hill has become immense, so officials want to protect it by limiting the possible number of tourists who visit the fairy queen’s tomb.

Finally, if you would like to see the work of the deceased fairy queen for yourself, Patricia Telesco suggests you use a spell to call Maeve:

Take a piece of white bread and toast it until it’s golden brown. Scratch into the bread a word or phrase representing your goal (for example, if raises at work haven’t been given fairly, write the words ‘work’ and ‘raises’). Distribute the crumbs from this to the birds so they can convey your need directly to Maeve’s ears.

It is unknown if someone has really met her spirit, but many people claim that the site where she is said to be buried is perfumed with the fragrance of magic.

Queen Maeve and the Druid.

Queen Maeve and the Druid. (Public Domain)

Top image: A modern illustration of Medb. Source: Lora O’Brien

By Natalia Klimczak


Knocknarea Queen Maeve Trail, available at:

Knocknarea, available at:

Telesco P., 65 Goddess: a daily guide to the magic and inspiration of the goddess, 1998.

Truhart P., Regents of Nations. Systematic Chronology of States and Their Political Representatives in Past and Present. A Biographical Reference Book, Part 1: Antiquity Worldwide,2000.

Thousands of feet are destroying our heritage. By Tamlyn O’Driscoll, Archaeologist, available at:



Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She... Read More

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