Royal Sliabh Luachra – Land of Kings

In ages past, the district of Sliabh Luachra in Co Kerry was the land of kings, and Teamhair Earann was the royal residence of the race of Earna.1  The site of the royal fort may have been near Ballahantouragh, Castleisland.The fort was destroyed by knights of the Red Branch almost two thousand years ago.3



Legend keeps alive those far-off days of valour and romance.  One tale recalls how a wild and enormous red ox roamed the slopes of Sliabh Luachra, constantly evading capture.  At last, the men and hounds of the Fianna speared it and carried its antlers to Fionn MacCumail at Teamhair Luachra.  The antlers were found to be taller than a man.4


Another tale conveys the approach of a recruit to Fionn’s army:


Fionn was in Teamhair Luachra and the chiefs and great nobles of the Fenians of Erin by him, they were not long before they saw a tall warrior-like youth coming towards them arrayed in weapons and armour.  Fionn enquired who he was, ‘Conan the son of Fionn of Liathluachra is my name’, said he, ‘and my father was at the slaying of thy father at the battle of Cnucha … we are now come to ask for his place among the Fenians’.5



A story about the legendary lovers, Diarmuid and Grainne, recalls the days of Teamhair Earann.  Diarmuid was of the tribe known as Earns Mumhan or the Ernaans of Munster.6


I am versed in the thread of history,
That art is no swine art;
In the genealogy of the men of Alba,
And of the bright-weaponed men of Erin.

A tribe of them are of the race of Collas,
They were the choice of every force;
And a tribe of the nobles of the west,
From whom was Diarmuid O’Duibhne.7


The tale of Fionn MacCumhail’s pursuit of Diarmuid, who had fled with Grainne, the beautiful princess affianced to the aging Fionn, is one of the greatest in Irish literature.  Their tale is upheld in numerous places in the county of Kerry, embedded even in the rocks:

There are many almost inaccessible caves among the mountains and shore cliffs of Kerry which are popularly supposed to be resting places of Diarmuid and Grainne during their storied flight from the wrath of Fionn Mac Cumhal, the brave knight of the third century.8



Wherever the runaways stopped, they left behind them the green ring of a legend, and in succeeding times, their places of repose were called Beds of Diarmaid and Grainne.  Tradition has it there was one for every day in the year.9


Crag was one such place.  Fionn, full of ‘unadulterated hatred for Diarmuid’, pursued the couple over the Sliabh Luachra hills:


Again they set forth upon their journeying till they reached the broad heathery slopes of Slieve Lougher, where they halted to rest on the banks of a mountain stream that danced and rippled along the heart of the hillside.  From this spot Diarmuid looked down into the valley and saw approaching it from westward the foreigners of the sea-champions in battle array, with silken banners waving overhead their ranks.  In front of all marched three green-clad warriors, who held the three fierce hounds by three chains, at sight of whose horrid bristling ugliness Diarmuid was filled with loathing.  Then Modan lifted Grainne once more, and walked a mile with Diarmuid up the stream into the solitude of the mountain.


The hills offered no haven to the princess and her prince.  And so the lovers went underground, and took shelter in the caves at Crag.10


Crag Cave Visitor Centre today


The following is a scene from the flight of Diarmuid and Grainne as they journeyed westward and reached a stream at Glenbeigh, where they stopped for rest and refreshment:


They went into a cave of the earth at the side of Currach cinn adhmuid, over Tonn Toime; and Muadhan dressed a bed of soft rushes and of birch-tops under for Diarmuid and Grainne in the further part of that cave.  He himself went into the next wood to him and plucked in it a straight long rod of a quicken-tree; and he put a hair and a hook upon the rod, and put a holly berry upon the hook, and went and stood over the stream and took a fish that cast.  He put up the second berry, and killed the second fish; and he put up the third berry, and killed the third fish.  He then put the hook and the hair under his girdle, and the rod into the earth, and took his three fish with him to where Diarmuid and Grainne were, and put the fish upon spits.


When the fish were broiled, Muadhan sought to divide them:


“I give the dividing of these fish to thee, Diarmuid.”  “I had rather that shouldst divide it thyself,” said Diarmuid.  “Then,” said Muadhan, “I give the dividing of these fish to thee, O Grainne.”  “It suffices me that thou divide it,” said Grainne.  “Now, hadst thou divided the fish, O Diarmuid,” said Muadhan, “thou wouldst have given the largest share to Grainne; and had it been Grainne that divided it, it is to thee she would have given the largest share; and since it is I that am dividing it, have thou the largest fish, O’Diarmuid, and let Grainne have the second largest fish, and let me have the smallest fish.”11


The young lovers found refuge too in Killorglin12 and by the not too far distant shores of Caragh Lake, where they sheltered beneath the bowers of the quicken trees.13 


We know not the true fate of Diarmuid and Grainne, it alters with the centuries and the storytellers though we are told that in time, there came to them four sturdy sons and one daughter.14


And so for now we shall leave them, as they shelter on the shores of Caragh Lake, in their contentment.



1 ‘Teamhair Luachra was also called Teamhair Earann, being the royal residence of the country of the Earna, or descendants of Oilioll Earann, commonly called in English the Ernans of Munster.  It was situated in the district of Sliabh Luachra, whence the name in the text’ (The Romance of Diarmuid and Grainne (1881) by Standish Hayes O’Grady, Part II, 1881, p69).

2  ‘Teamhair Shubha.  This was probably another name for Teamhair Luachra, which was the name of a fort near Beal Atha na Teamhrach, in the parish of Dysart, near Castle Island, in the county of Kerry’ (Leabhar na g-Ceart or The Book of Rights (1847) by John O’Donovan, p90).

‘Though the name Teamhair Luachra no longer exists, the site of the fort is marked by Beul atha na Teamhrach, a ford on a small stream, near Castleisland in the county of Kerry’ (The Romance of Diarmuid and Grainne (1881) by Standish Hayes O’Grady, Part II, 1881, p69).  

Beul atha na Teamhrach otherwise Bhéal (or Béal) Átha an Teamhrach, the townland of Ballahantouragh (or Ballahantourigh – The Ford mouth of Tara) through which runs the River Dogue. ‘For many years the Kings of Munster lived at Teamhair Luachra on the eastern slope of Sliabh Luachra …There is a narrow road in Ballahantourigh which is known as the High Road to Tara’ (Kilsarcon National School).

See discourse on the location of the site in ‘Teamhair Luachra (Tara-Luachra)’ by J J Doyle, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Sixth Series, Vol 17, No 1 (Jun 30 1927) pp59-63.  Places mooted include (barony of) Coshlea, Co Limerick; Portrinard near Abbeyfeale and Taur, Kingwilliamstown, Co Cork.

3  ‘In the time when Conor Mac Nessa reigned in Ulster, the 33rd year of the Christian era … the knights of the order had grown insolent.  After having enriched themselves on the spoils of the Connacians … and having considerably extended the frontiers of their province they had also made a lucky excursion into Munster, destroyed the palace of Teamhair Luachra and returned with a large booty’ (The Irishman 12 December 1863). 

4  Extract from the Book of Lismore published in Dublin Evening Packet, 12 Dec 1861).

5  The Romance of Diarmuid and Grainne (1881) by Standish Hayes O’Grady, Part II, 1881, p3.

6  Some Kerry genealogy is given thus in ‘Chapters on Irish History’, Ch V, Catholic Telegraph, 25 August 1860 by Richard Cronnolly (perhaps Richard Francis Cronnelly, author of Irish Family History notably, A History of the Clan-Eoghan or Eoghanachta of Desmond, descendants of Eoghan Mor of the line of Heber, son of Milesius): ‘The monarch Fachtna, soon after his succession, married Neasadh and had seven sons and three daughters.  Connor, the eldest, became King of Ulster, Beama settled in Desmond, Lamha became lord of the clan Lambriughe (a Kerry sept) and Glaisne from whom the territory of Glasriudhe has its name.  The other four sons Alaine, Fuiar, Moneidh and Stairn died young and the three daughters were married to three princes of the race of Heremon but died issueless … The Clanna Deaga or Degadian Knights were the chief warriors of Munster and under the command of Deagad and Conrigh, the son of Daire, who had their chief residence at Staque Fort in County Kerry.  The men composing this brave force were of the Heremonian race and originally of Ulster but a remote ancestor having settled in Kerry Luachra his descendants became very numerous in that country and in the reign of Fachtna formed themselves into a military body for its protection.  Conrigh, their chief leader, was one of the bravest warriors of his day having slain in single combat the bravest champions of the pirate Hofer and the mighty Cachullin himself was forced to acknowledge him victor in the strife for Blanard, the maid of Jura.  The Degadians existed as a military body down to the reign of Cormac Ulfuda in the third century when they were superseded by the Dalgacals or Dalcassians of the race of Heber.’

7  The Romance of Diarmuid and Grainne (1881) by Standish Hayes O’Grady, Part II, pp87-88.  ‘The romance of Diarmuid and Grainne was written in accordance with the southern tradition that Diarmuid was of the tribe known as Earns Mumhan or the Ernaans of Munster and that his country was Kerry.  Here follows a genealogy of Diarmuid by some Munster poet, in which the same tradition is supported, which appears to be the production of the 13th or 14th century; but who the author was, and in what manuscript the oldest versions of it exists, the Editor has not had the necessary opportunities for discovering except that it is also to be found in a MS of 1706-9 in the RIA’. 

The version of the tale translated by Standish O’Grady was derived from ‘a manuscript of varied and interesting contents written in 1814-19 by Tomas O h-Icidhe (Thomas Hickey) of Killenaule, Co Tipperary, Professor of Irish at St John’s College, Waterford’.

8  Kerry News, 15 January 1934. The author added that Fionn was associated with Kerry ‘at Knockanair, near Ballybunion, at Ventry, and at Loch Lein where he hunted with his dogs Bran and Sgeolan’.

9  Reference ‘Oisin The Irish Fenian Cycle of Romance’ published in the Dundalk Democrat, 2 March 1872.  The article was written by ‘Major Muskerry’, psuedonym of William Dowe (1815-1891) author of Junius Lord Chatham A Biography (1857).

The nineteenth century Ordnance Survey maps mark the beds of Diarmuid and Grainne, ie, the townlands of Smerwick, Kilballylahiff, Ballyquin and Kilconly.

10  IE MOD/C5. Timeless Crag Cave (? 2000) produced by Crag Cave Ltd (text by Donal O’Connor), p15.

11  ‘Diarmuid and grainne in Kerry’ Kerry Sentinel, 14 November 1896. Glenbeigh is given as Beith, Behy, or Brich Glen. 

The quicken-tree is mentioned elsewhere in the literature of the lovers:

‘Diarmuid and his princess, still intent only upon finding a resting-place secure from the vengeance of Fionn, came in their journeying to the Forest of Dooras in the territory of Hy-Fiachra and here the knight determined to make an abode for his dear lady’.  There, Grainne asked about the dark wood and the tree of Sharvan the Surly and he replied, ‘A danger truly if I meddle with the quicken-tree he guards for the Dedanaans – his fairy kinsfolk’.  From  In the Celtic Past Stories by Anna MacManus (Ethna Carbery) (1904), ‘Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne’, pp33-59 and ‘The death of Diarmuid O’Duibhne’ pp61-76). 

12  ‘Killorglin was famous for some of Fionn’s and Oisin’s exploits and as the setting of the world famous romance of Diarmaid and Grainne.  To this day the names connect the period, as Bealach Ossian is well known to tourists, as is also Clog Fionn, Suidhe Fionn, Leabaidh Diarmuid agus Grainne and Loch Brin’ (Kerry Champion, 11 August 1951).

13  ‘In their romances and love songs, Caragh was tenderly mentioned, for was it not here that Dermot sheltered Grania in the bowers of the quicken trees.  All who have read the fine old Finnian romance, The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne, which tells the iliad of their flight across ancient Erin, will remember that here on the shores of Kerry he met his enemies and discomfited them.  In the mists westward from the lake is the hill-summit, Seefin, where the disconsolate son of MacCool sat.'   The Sunny side of Ireland (1902) by John O’Mahony and R L Praegaer, pp137-138.  Fossa is also a reputed place of refuge for Diarmuid and Grainne.

14  In the Celtic Past Stories by Anna MacManus (Ethna Carbery) (1904), p59.  In this version, Diarmaid and Grainne go to live in Kesh-Corran, building themselves there a house called Rath-Grainne ‘in which they abode many years in quiet and joy’.