What's the History of the Mournes?
Around the 3rd century, the Mourne area of County Down is said to have been ruled by a king named Ross Ruad. He had a shepherd Boirche, who herded his cattle along the peaks. The mountains then became known as Beanna Boirche, the peaks of Boirche (pronounced Banna-borka).
Later on in the 12th century, a sept of the Mac Mahon clan, called Mughdhorna (pronounced Mourna) came from modern day County Monaghan in the middle of the island to settle in South Down. They gave their name to the area we now know as Mourne and the Mourne Mountains.
Myths & Legends
The Great Cairn at the summit of Slieve Donard, the Mournes’ highest peak, is known locally as one of many entrances to the ‘Otherworld’ (usually associated with the fairies in pagan times and hell once Christianity took hold) – a recurring theme in the myths and legends of Ireland.
A man named Partholón, one of the first settlers in Ireland according to the Lebor Gabála Érenn (Book of Invasions), is said to be buried in the Great Cairn! It is also said to be guarded by Saint Domhanghart (Donard) from who Slieve Donard takes its name.
In folklore, Ireland’s first physician Slángha apparently learned his trade in the Mournes, and so Slieve Slághna was named after him.
More Irish Myths & Legends
Who doesn’t like a good smuggling story? Northern Ireland has its fair share of them, such as at the Gobbins Path along the Causeway Coast, or here, in the Mourne Mountains. The narrow, remote mountain passes of the Mourne Mountains were once popular smuggling routes, the Brandy Pad being the most famous.
As the lore goes, illicit goods were brought by sea to a cave along the coast. From there, smugglers would carry items such as coffee, tea, silk and spirits through the mountains to avoid coast guards and customs.
At a place called the “Hares Gap” they would disperse with their goods and take different routes out of the mountains.
Geology & Quarrying
For geology fans, the Mourne Mountains are as interesting as they come. It’s taken millions of years of volcanic activity and many ice ages to reveal the Mournes in their granite majesty. Underneath the dominant granite lies Silurian age rocks of shales, mudstones and greywackes. The range as we see it today was formed from volcanic activity that was also shaping the Giant’s Causeway around the same time – Ireland’s most iconic rock formation.
Quarrying granite was a huge industry for the people of Down by the 18th century, meaning this granite travelled far and wide as news of their skills travelled.
The Mourne Wall was crafted using granite stone from the mountain itself. And the granite used at the 5,000 year old Neolithic site of Newgrange is supposed to have been sourced here as well. You’ll also find this hardy rock at these places too:
- Hans Christian Anderson Statue, Central Park, New York
- Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast
- 911 British Memorial Garden, London
Music & Literature
Need inspiration for that novel you’ve been meaning to write? Many famous authors have found it here over the years.
Belfast born C.S. Lewis was inspired by the scenery and mythology of the area. Lewis crafted the Narnia wonderland from this place and once said that the mountains, “made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge.” He also cited the clifftop Dunluce Castle as another inspiration.
Percy French, the Roscommon-born poet and songwriter made mention of the range in his tune “The Mountains of Mourne” when he sings “I might as well be, where the Mountains o’ Mourne sweep down to the sea.”
Magic is in the air in Tollymore Forest in Northern Ireland, another inspiration for Game of Thrones and Narnia
Game of Thrones
A recent nod to the Mournes can be found in Game of Thrones, as Tollymore Forest is featured in the very first episode. It set the scene for The Haunted Forest in Episode 1, giving viewers a glimpse of the lands North of the Wall! Several further episodes were filmed in the forest, and some scenes from Essos and Westeros were filmed in the Mourne Mountains themselves.
Poet Edward Lear wrote of Tollymore Forest being “full of beautiful ruins and bridges and trees and hills and mills and lawns and laurels.” A perfect setting for a fantasy series!
Game of Thrones Filming Locations