|Posted by FAINOMENON on October 6, 2013 at 12:00 PM|
This is a subject that fascinates me ever since I moved to northwest Cavan and I am determined to do something about it.
Benaughlin is a beautiful mountain sitting across the border between Cavan and Fermanagh. 'Binn' as 'he' is affectionately referred to, presents a very attractive landscape with a unique outline and features. Legend has it that the local chieftain, Donn Bin Maguire and a magic white stallion, the Coppal Bawn, have made this mountain their home. (see note 1)
In his book "By Claddagh's Banks - A history of Swanlinbar and District from Earliest Times", published in 2000, local amateur historian, Joseph McKiernan, has recorded some interesting legends & lore about the Maguire and the magical white horse. Like the mothers warning their children not to stay out late, because 'the white horse would come and take the away'; Bin Maguire, myth tells us, was tricked and abducted by the White Horse spirit and afterwards he in turn lured and carried off many people to his underground lair, situated underneath Benaughlin mountain. "Pukkas" are described in Irish mythology as shape-shifting spirits and I distinctly recall seeing a drawing of a white horse by Jack B. Yeats, perhaps an illustration for his brother's book, ( "Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry" by W.B. Yeats), titled "the Pukka". (see note 2).
The locals used to climb the mountain on Bilberry Sunday. So it looks like that the mountain itself, or rather, something on it , was used and worshipped as an oracle in prehistoric & pagan times. The very name of the mountain, Benaughlin, is the anglisized of its Irish name, Binn Eachlabrhra - "Peak of the Speaking Horse". (see note 3).
Joseph McKiernan in his book states as a matter of fact that there was indeed a white horse - a hill figure, carved out on the northeast face - on the side of Benaughlin Mountain. The locals used to maintain the petroglyph during their visits to the oracle. This tradition of course gradually eroded in Christian times and apparently has died out since the 1950's; the mountain face has since been allowed to overgrow with forestry. In the book there is an outline sketch of the mountain with a mark placed by the author, pinpointing exactly where the hill figure was. The horse figure was quite large and visible from a great distance.
I did some research on this and one elderly local actually told me that the horse was depicted running and facing towards the South and the town of Swanlinbar. A man who kept a B&B business near the mountain (Benaughlin Cottages) used to take tourists to the spot and could outline the hill figure on the ground. Gary Cullen, an Irish-American who's family was from Swanlinbar visited some years back and was so impressed by the Coppal Bawn legend that he wrote a book that was published electronically last year (see note 4). Sadly the Benaughlin cottages proprietor died a few years back. The local Forestry officer too, knew the location of the horse but he unfortunately has also passed. I have not managed to speak to his successor and the gates that were placed at the entrance of the route that leads to the site seem to be constantly under lock and key so I have not managed yet to do a search on ther spot, but it's only a matter of time until I manage to visit the site.
This is the ONLY hill figure in Ireland, so it's hugely important from a historical and archaeological point of view. We don't know how old it is. It could be dating back to Donn Bin Maguire's time (12th century) or it could be older, pagan, even prehistoric. The area had been inhabited since prehistoric times, settements & later date findings related to iron ore extraction show a continuous human presence in the area since the 3rd millennium BC (see note 5). So this hill figure is very significant.
There are several hill figures in mainland UK but, other than the Coppal Bawn, nothing like it exists in Ireland, North or South. Until the White Horse on 'Binn' is re-discovered and dated, by archaeologists and geologists, we can not know exactly how old it is. The evidence, pointing towards an oracle, and the fact that the very name of the mountain, in gaelic, is "The Peak of the Speaking Horse", suggests a very ancient site indeed.
The site is very close to Lough Erne, mythologic settlement of the Partholons and the Firbolg, and to the centre of Crom worship, or Magh Sleacht, a little further to the south from Swanlinbar, between the towns of Bawnboy and Ballyconnell. Crom was a very important deity, connected to the forging of iron and smelting of gold for the first time in Ireland. Would it not be wonderful to restore the Coppal Bawn and connect all these in a unique trail of local history ? (see note 6).
There are several other sites nearby, dolmen, ringforts, standing stones etc. The Killycluggin stone is well known (see note 7) as well as the Corleck tricephalic head from further afield in Cavan (see note 8). Many more local sites can be seen in the area (look under "Written In Stone" in my Links section). All the above suggest the area was a centre of pagan worship.
So stay tuned, hopefully there will be some developments soon on this fascinating project...
image from Joseph McKiernan's book, marking the site of the petroglyph on the mountain.
More interesting references & links:
I. Books & publications
- Cadogan Guide Ireland By Catharina Day (1986)
“the white limestone showing through the scree at the foot of the eastern cliff did indeed once portray the outline of a horse, though it has now become difficult to distinguish”.
- Between rocks and hard places: discovering Ireland's northern landscapes By Paul Lyle, Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (2010)
The Speaking Horse of Benaughlin:
- a relevant project by St. Bricin’s College, Belturbet, Co. Cavan, with good photographs:
- From CAVAN ARCHIVES:
"Philip Minister Brady, in his Romance entitled the Prodigal Son, gives the fable which accounts for the name of Beann Eachlabhra now Binn-Aghlin and throws great light upon Irish Fairyology. It is preserved in the MSS in Trinity College, Class H, 1-4; see catalog."
- Al Beagan's "Genealogy Notes" ©1996 of County Cavan
John O'Donovan's Letters
The relation of Benaughlin with Swanlinbar :
Dr. O’Connor states in a note that BEANN EACHLABHRA was Swanlinbar“ stated in letter by John O’Donovan, 1834. (He also gives an alternative meaning of BEANN EACHLABHRA as the “peak of the horse-herd?”
BEANN EACHLABHRA in the Annals of the Four Masters for the year 1111 AD:
"A predatory excursion was made by Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair* and he plundered Tearmann-Dabheog. Another predatory excursion was made by him; and he plundered as far as Beann-Eachlabhra, Sliabh-Ruisen, and Loch-Eirne".
*Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair was King of Connacht (1106–1156) & High King of Ireland between 1120–1156.
Book inspired by the Coppal Bawn:
II. Other sources on the web
Aerial view of the mountain (Ordnance Survey Ireland Map):
Websites & Online Publications
The Horse's Mouth - an interesting page with additional information:
"Benauglin or Binn Eachlabhra translates as "Peak of the Speaking Horse" and is a small mountain situated 9 miles south of Enniskillen in the foothills of the Cuilcagh mountains. The origins of the name relate to a horse shaped piece of limestone that once showed through the soil on the eastern slope but is now largely obscured by soil and undergrowth. There are many myths and legends surrounding Benaughlin. It was thought to be a fairy mound, the dwelling place of 'Donn Bin', a fairy king who roamed the area on horseback every May eve, looking for 'changlings'. If you hadn't a piece of mountain ash above the door it was 'God help you'. The mythical white horse or 'coppal ban' was a powerful figure and came out once a year on the last Sunday of July, 'Bilberry Sunday', to speak oracles to the people.
Apparently, just below the pillar in a flattish area there is a memorial slab to a servant of Lord Stuart which I never came across when planting the cache. It is broken and is supposed to read:
"Maxwell and Stuart. This stone
was here erected on the 3rd November
eighteen hundred and one, by Lord E.
Stuart as a memorial to his esteem for
the above first mentioned officer.
The virtues that men have live after
them; so it may be with Caesar.
Si quid novisti rectius illis candidus
imperti si non, his utere mecum."
The Latin words are the last two lines of the poet Horace's letter to his friend Numicus. These words translate as: "If you know anything more honourable than these, be frank and let me know. If not then you must agree with me about this." Old residents in the area claim that this massive slab was hauled by a crowd of men to the summit from Florence Court to provide a stage for a fiddler to stand on during the Bilberry Sunday Festival."
on Donn Binn Maguire:
Donn Binn Maguire is identified with the mythical deity Donn Bin Eachlabhra (Eachlabra being the root of Benaughlin’s name, “the peak of the speaking horse”;), king of the fairies (sidhe) or people of the mounts. One of the animals he is associated with is the horse and another is the pig (A: note that the old name for nearby Swanlinbar is Sra[-na-muck which means "The River-field of the pigs"). In mythology Donn (dark) was one of the mortals who arrive to defeat the Tuatha De Danann. Donn is cursed by Eriu before he reaches the shore and is the first person to drown. In another story Donn is an ominous death deity who’s red servants are omens of violent death. In folklore he is a king who battles an opposing fairy army at Lughnasa for good weather and crops for his province.
Wikipedia article on the mountain:
"Discover Ireland" feature:
Photographic Location of the horse:
by Gary Cullen, Author of " The White Horse of Binn"
Other relevant info links:
some info about Bilberry Sunday (the traditional celebration that took place on Binn the last Sunday of July):
the Maguires of Fermanagh:
What is the "Pooka" :
from Pooka – pools to St. Patrick wells
Swanlinbar in wikipedia:
Benaughlin mention in Geological Survey of Ireland, 1886
"Beann-Eachlabhra" in THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF IRISH NAMES OF PLACES (1912)
Catharsis Corner (the northern cliff-face of the mountain):
and a photo of the cliff face that earned the name “Catharsis Corner”:
[How did the cliff face of an Irish mountain acquired this ancient Greek name? )
"THE STORY OF CONN-EDA or The Golden Apples of Lough Erne" - local Pooka & Fairy Horse legend involving the Firbolg and Lough Erne
from: Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, Edited and Selected by W. B. Yeats 
Tomregan (Tuaim Drecin) the Ancient Druid University near Ballyconnell:
The "Horse Island" of Lough Erne, now inhabited by white goats:
BBC guide to the area: (video not available on BBCiplayer)
Off the Beaten track, Series 1, Episode 2, featuring an ascend of Benaughlin mountain, aired on Sat 2 Jun 2012
Referenced on video guides page:
"Ardan's Pooka", an illustration by Dorothy P. Lathrop for Ella Young's fairytale, "ARDAN'S POOKA and BALLOR SON GOES RIDING", in "The Children's Hour Two Favorite Irish Fairy Tales", Published by The Spencer Press, U. S. A., 1953. This is how Ardan, the boy in the tale, has been told a "pooka" might look (as a faery horse). I think it's a beautiful illustration to finish the entry with !
and the tale continues...
this project combines so many of the things I love - art, Ireland, history, mythology, horses, magic, legends, and the unique landscape of the place that I call home - that it has the potential to become my life's work: I am fascinated and at the same time scared by it - by how much I want to see it happen, to see the mythical Fairy Horse of the mountain in all it's glory again...
I feel I should add here Gary Cullen's experience when he visited the site, a few years ago, as he described it to me in a letter:
"I learned of the existence of the white horse on Benaughlin both from reading old stories including a history of Swanlinbar, written I think in the thirties, and from talking to the family we stayed at for a few days when we visited Swanlinbar. Michael McMorrow told me that you can't see the horse anymore from the road because of the trees that were planted on Benaughlin and the fact the site has not been kept up in the last few decades. But, he described where we would find the white stones if we climbed up Benaughlin. From the picture (see link above), we climbed up on the right side to the base of the cliff and followed the cliff to the left where it ended. My wife wasn't too keen about going higher, so I went to the top. She went to the edge of the patch of trees to the left above the "V" open space to watch me. While she was sitting, a rabbit came up near her, watched her for a bit, then slowly proceeded down the mountain to the grassy area within the "V" below the blotch of trees. It seemed to be leading her and it took her to a field of white, chalky stones. After I came down, we explored about and found the the area with white stones substantial, but covered by brush and grasses."
If you believe in fairies, a little rabbit (or was it an Irish mountain hare, lepus timidus hibernicus, a sacred animal of the ancient Irish ?) was acting as an emissary for the White Horse. The Coppal Bawn is calling us, waiting to be reinstated in its rightful place. And I for one, will not give up until this happens...