History of Ireland’s Icons Part One: Benbulbin
Benbulbin (sometimes spelled Benbulben) looms large over its native Sligo. It feels perennial, like it has always been and always will be. And it has been in and out of national news and historical events since its formation those thousands of years ago.
It is, like much of Ireland, humbling and beautiful. No wonder, so, that it sits in “Yeats Country”, a part of the world that has inspired some of Ireland’s finest writers (including WB Yeats, of course).
Here is a history of this tabletop mountain, starting with its formation and bringing us up to present day, where it’s still turning heads and making headlines…
Formation of Benbulbin
Benbulbin, comprised of limestone and shale, was formed in the Ice Age, some 320 million years ago, by moving glaciers. Consequently, it has since become famous among archaeologists. Despite being on land, Benbulbin has fossils of sea creatures including brachiopods, caniniid corals and bryozoan.
Irish Legends of Benbulbin
This mighty formation has inspired more than its share of legends. (Whether these events actually happened, we cannot verify!)
Benbulbin is said to the hunting grounds of the Fianna, led by Fionn mac Cumhaill in the 3rd Century. Oisín, a poet and a member of the Fianna, was of course the tragic hero of the story of Tír nan ÓG. And, according to folklore, this is where Diarmud was locked in mortal combat with an enchanted boar.
They also say that this is the final resting place of Grainne, daughter of Cormac mac Airt, then the High King of Ireland.
Irish Civil War
In more recent years, in 1922, Benbulbin was the site of pursuit and conflict during the Irish Civil War. It culminated in the death of six men on the anti-Treaty side.
The Civil War and this event in particular have since become embedded in Irish and Sligo history.
Recent History of Benbulbin
A different conflict, a few years later, also made its mark on Benbulbin. In 1943, a US Air Force plane travelling from Canada to Scotland crashed in Truskmore, a mountain east of Benbulbin. Tragically, four of the ten men on board died. Some wreckage can be still found and seen on the site to this day.
Throughout its existence, Benbulbin has been used as a site for political messages. Its prominence and height make it a prime location for those with something to say. Hence, political messages during the Troubles in the 1970s were marked on the mountainside.
And, in more recent years, it was the site of an unofficial, but very prominent campaign slogan during the campaign on whether or not to Repeal the 8th.
Climbing and Walking at Benbulbin
Benbulbin, as you might expect, is a popular spot for fans of the outdoors. Just about anywhere you look in the vicinity is scenic.
How you ascend it will depend on your fitness levels and the kind of climbing/hiking you prefer. There is a relatively clear and popular pathway up the mountain, taking about 2-3 hours. The effort is rewarded with an incredible view.
We love Benbulbin
A towering, unusual and beautiful rock, Benbulbin has captivated us for centuries. We expect it will continue to do so for centuries more.
If you do want to explore Benbulbin and its surrounds, don’t forget that OSI provides maps for every corner of the country. Find Benbulbin on Discovery Series 16. Click the link below to buy online.