'One Great Irish Spot': Turoe Iron Age Celtic Capital

As a schoolboy some 65 years ago, I was often asked for directions to the famous Turoe Stone (2 miles up the road) by French, German and British ‘tourists’. Intriguing winter fireside stories recalled remnants of a local ancient ‘city’ cum royal site enclosed within the same inner-ward set of linear embankments around the Turoe Stone complex. I was amazed to see, and hear of, bus loads of European tourists coming to see the Turoe Stone. Why was the Turoe Stone, Europe’s finest example of La Tene Celtic stone art, set on Turoe hill (Cnoc Temhro)? History books do not mention its unrecognised Celtic Royal Sanctuary trappings at the core of a vast Belgic-like oppidum defensive system of linear earthen embankments and its surprising link to the Celtic invasion of Ireland. The Turoe Stone stood beside Rath Ferach Mhor on Turoe Hill, near Loughrea in Co. Galway. Ferach Mor was “ideal king of the Fir Belg”, “the first to set up residence on Turoe of the Fir Belg “(Temhroit de Fearaibh Belg)(7). He was Queen Maeve's father.

Turoe presents a Royal Celtic complex similar to Belgic Power Centres, called oppida by Caesar, in England and the Continent. Iron Age Belgic Celts, known as the Fir Belg, had their strongest presence around Turoe. They defeated Caesar on the Continent and in Southeast England by their subtle use of earthen linear embankments. Sets of linear embankments expanded out from Turoe across Counties Galway, Clare, Mayo, Sligo, and into Westmeath and Longford. Some are recorded in early dindshenchas (history of the famous places) material associated with the names of archaic kings and queens (1).

Of early references to Turoe’s Royal Capital, the most famous is by the renowned 1st/2nd century Greek geographer, Ptolemy of Alexandria, who recorded 2 Capitals in Ireland. One is Emain Macha near Armagh in the Northeast of Ireland. The second has never been definitively identified. Ptolemy located it roughly at the centre of Co. Galway, precisely where Turoe is today (2). He named it REGIA E TERA (Regia e Te[mh]ra) which is Celtic/Old Irish for 'The Royal Capital at Turoe' (Cnoc Temhro). Turoe's expansive inner-ward set of embankments enclosed an acropolis (Knocknadal) and a necropolis. An urban-like complex along its northwest flank has now been placed under preservation order by The National Monuments Department. Ptolemy named Knocknadal (Cnoc na nDál: his NAG-Na-TA(L) as "the most illustrious city ('polis') in all Britannia and the most extensive in size, located in the western part of Ireland" (2). The sole reference to a dense population anywhere in early Irish literature points precisely to this very area (3). Turoe inner ward had all the hallmarks and definitive layout of a Celtic Royal Sanctuary, an assembly and ceremonial site, an illustrious coronation stone, an acropolis, arena for poets and literati (Aber na bhFhille) and a necropolis which held 150 large burial mounds, some bearing the names of early Irish kings. Other early kings and gods/goddesses are recalled in place names around this cluster of Celtic sanctuary sites. Two ancient highways, Slighe Mór and Slighe Dála, converge on Turoe. Segments of the Continental Celtic Belgae fled to southeast England from Roman and Germanic conquest in Caesar's time.

In 27/26 BC as preparations for a Roman invasion were being made, Commius, king of Belgae in the Silchester, Winchester and Chichester/ Selsey regions of the south of England, led a folk-movement of his subjects to the Shannon estuary in the West of Ireland. They are recorded there by Ptolemy as the Ganngáni (2), the decendants of Gann, Commius’ real Celtic name. His descendants expanded north into Connacht where his grandson, Déla, led his invasion force to the great seaport of Ath Clee Magh Rí (7) in Galway Bay and advanced inland to set up court on the Hill of Dail (Cnoc na nDála, Knocknadala) and Turoe (5) as recorded in Dindshenchas Cnoc na Dála (5). There he established the famous Feis Temhro as recorded in Irish legendary history. Segments of Belgic tribes from Britain and the Continent, such as the Manapi, Atrebates, Iceni, and the Canti (from Kent), are still recalled in townland names within this vast Turoe oppidum complex.

Turoe’s history was totally suppressed by medieval pseudo-historians. Since it was of major importance in the late Irish Iron Age, its identification and recovery calls for a total re-evaluation of the origins and history of Celtic Ireland. I have eluciated this process in ‘Ireland’s Queen Maeve’.

Footnotes

1. Dindshenchas Magh Mucrama.
2. Claudii Ptolemaei Geographia, p.79 tI ed. Muller (Paris 1883).
3. Dindshenchas of Maen Magh (Magh Main).
4. Senchas na Releg, De Gabail an tSida, De Copur in da Muccida in the Book of Leinster, 2468, line 32931-5; 290a 37234-7; and 155a 20348-50; also in Lebor na hUidre and elsewhere.
5. Dindshenchas Cnoc na nDála ,
6. Edmund Hogan's Onomasticon Goedelicum, Ath Cliath Magh Rí, p.56
7. Met. Dindshenchas of Sliabh Bladhma in Book of Leinster, 192 a.

Irish-born author Tom O Connor (born September 1936) worked as a boy in the green fields round Athenry where he learned the surprising archaic history of the surrounding Celtic landscapes, eventually authoring 'Hand of History' (www.HandOfHistory.com) and, recently, 'Ireland's Queen Maeve'.

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Tags: Celtic, Galway, History of Ireland, St. Patrick's Day

Comment by Conn Drehne Pearce on May 2, 2014 at 2:12pm

Great article.  I appreciate you sharing this information.  I will definitely be looking to purchase your books.  

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