This distinctive flat-topped hill and its mysterious summit cairn have been prominent landmarks in County Sligo’s folklore and culture for millennia.
Knocknarea (Cnoc na Riabh) is an immense monolith overlooking the green pastures of County Sligo. From Neolithic folklore to the poetry of William Butler Yeats, the grassy summit has become mythologized throughout the ages. See the 1,078-foot-tall (329-meter) hill presiding over the peninsula from across the county. Hike up the hillside and enjoy panoramic views of rolling hills and the stunning bays of the west coast from atop the mound. Inspect the enormous pile of loose stones that make up the summit cairn, which is surrounded by myth and mystery.
If you’re intrigued by the Knocknarea summit and the landscape that Yeats called “the land of heart’s desire,” make the ascent to the hill’s prominent peak. The 0.7-mile-long (1.2-kilometer) walk is steep in parts and takes approximately 30 minutes from the trailhead’s parking lot. Wander up the stony pathway past lush green pastures and open farmland. Reach a small gate, an ideal place to rest and look at the scenery unfolding behind you. Try to spot the church spire in Collooney to the south.
The path becomes more rugged after the gate and ascends steeply via a set of well-worn stairs. Reach Knocknarea’s flat peak and stroll along the stunning hilltop. Soon, you’ll see Maeve’s Tomb or Meabh’s Cairn coming into view. This 180-foot-wide (55-meter) cairn is up to 5,000 years old. Although never excavated, it is believed to contain a Neolithic passage tomb. It is woven into Irish mythology as the resting place of Queen Maeve of Connacht.
From here, enjoy magnificent views of the surrounding coast and countryside, including the Ox Mountains, Lough Gill and Slieve League. See the bays of Sligo and Ballysadare, as well as Croagh Patrick to the west if the skies are very clear. Descend from the hilltop via the same route.
Knocknarea is a 15-minute drive west of Sligo town. Park at the trailhead’s parking lot and visit the summit for free. Wear sturdy footwear for the hike, as the path is made of loose stones and can become slippery. Appreciate the archaeological site of Meabh’s Cairn from a distance.