Turoe and Athenry, Ancient Capitals of Ireland – 2003

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In the century leading up to 56 B.C. the Romans had conquered much of Celtic Europe. Some of the Northern Celtic tribes moved westwards, many of them fleeing Europe to England.

When England was invaded by the Romans in 54 and 55 BC. the Celtic tribes put up a determined fight. While they eventually defeated in 55 BC, the Romans were unable to consolidate the victory because of further uprising in Europe.

While rumours of further invasions were rampant, many of the important Celtic leaders in England disappeared from the records. They certainly didn’t flee into Roman Europe! At the same time as these leaders disappeared from British history, Irish legendary history begins to record a number of Celtic leaders who may well be those who disappeared from England. At that time there was a well-known sea-port called Ath Cliath Magh Ri near Clarinbridge in Galway Bay in the West of Ireland.

It was through this port that the legendary Celtic leaders led their people. From there they made the short journey inland and set up their Centre of Power at a place now called Knocknadala, or Cnoc na Dail, meaning Hill of Parliament or Hill of the Great Assemblies. Just beside this they set up their Ceremonial site on Turoe Hill and placed the beautifully decorated Turoe Stone there. This area is 7 miles east of Athenry and 5 miles north of Loughrea, in County Galway. They had taken this territory from the native Cruthin people, who may have already had a Centre of Power at Turoe.

Fearing a Roman invasion, and in an effort to defend the land they had won, they set about constructing a series of defensive embankments. They had already seen how successful the linear embankment defensive system was against the Romans in Britain. So, a similar system was constructed to enclose Turoe/Knocknadala and defend it. As the area under the control of the Celtic Tribes expanded, so too did the linear embankment defensive system. Further linear embankments were constructed to enclose a larger area.

When a second Centre of Power was established at Athenry, linear embankments were constructed to defend it in similar fashion. The proximity of the two Centres of Power meant that they could not survive independently. For the next few centuries these two Centres of Power expanded as one. As land was won from the Cruthin, linear embankments were erected to defend it. Even though the threat of a Roman invasion had passed, the system of linear embankments had proved successful against the Cruthin and so was continued.

Ireland’s oldest legendary tales are called the Ulidian Tales and tell stories of constant warfare between the men of Ulster (the Cruthin) and of Connaught. One of these tales is the well-known story of the Tain Bó Culaigne, where Queen Medb of Connaught tried to steal a bull from the Ulstermen.

The renowned Greek geographer, Ptolemy, left a record of the geography of Ireland, as he knew it, about the year 150 A.D. One significant feature of this record is that he knew of two Royal Capitals, one in Ulster and one in Connaught, in the vicinity where Turoe is today. He also recorded that the most illustrious city in the British Isles was in the south of Connaught.

Eventually, the Royal Centres of Turoe and Athenry were to fall from use. But worse still, in order to glorify the Kings of the 700s/900s A.D. the traditions of Turoe were transferred to Tara of Meath and the traditions of Athenry were transferred to Rath Croghan of Roscommon. This was reasonably easy to achieve, since Tara and Turoe both share the same name in Irish, Temhair. Athenry in the early days was called Rath Cruchain, a name easy enough to change to Rath Croghan.

For this reason, Turoe and Athenry are not mentioned in current history books. However, the oral traditions of the area are very different from what is in the history books. This, along with the discovery of a complex series of linear embankments in Galway, an enormous number of significant placenames, the Ulidian Tales and Ptolemy’s record certainly calls for a total re-evaluation of the history books with regard to the Ireland of 1500 to 2000 years ago.

This new book gives details of the linear embankments and the route they followed through the Galway countryside. In addition, the rich oral history and tradition of the Turoe/Athenry area, much of which is almost lost, is recounted in the book.

This book is available locally for €15 and is well worth reading.

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About this record

Written by Kieran Jordan

Published here 12 Feb 2024 and originally published Summer 2003

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