An Iron Age Temple Dedicated to Lug?: The henge at Lismullin, County Meath

An Iron Age Temple Dedicated to Lug?: The henge at Lismullin, County Meath

The Celtic Studies Association of North America Annual – The University of Toronto, April 18-21, 2013


Anne Connon (Ohio Dominican University)

Being lucky enough to live so close to my former Alma mater, I had the opportunity to cover two fascinating papers on the opening day of CSANA 2013. This paper was the first and dealt with Celtic Iron Age archaeology. It also touched on some of the controversy surrounding the the M3 motorway built near Tara Hill that sparked outrage and protests in the autumn of 2007. Attempts to prevent the build were ultimately unsuccessful and parts of the site are now covered by road.

The Enclosure

Connon showed a picture relative to the Hill of Tara. Physically, the enclosure is located within a hollow, and there is a prehistoric hill-fort overlooking the territory. Archaeologists discovered holes in a circumference in 2007 and noticed something was there; this grew into a salvage archaeology project. The temple grounds were 80m wide, and date to the fifth century B.C.. Connon showed a digital mock up of what they believed the site actually looked in the fifth century B.C. and a book on the dig called, “Harvesting the Stars” was published two weeks ago. The enclosure was felt to be a religious site of worship to the pagan God, Lug. Lug (or Lugh) was an Irish deity represented in mythological texts as a hero and High King of the distant past. He is known for his skill with a spear or sling, associated with Lughnasadh fairs that took place on August 1st and in the popular Ulster Cycle, he fathered Cúchulainn. In the early fifth century, there was a climate change (approximately  in 460) and the circularity of the enclosure was believed to be built to try and draw in the sun. Sadly, the site was only used for a few generations and the abandoned.

The Etymology of Lismullin

The name derives from Les Mo-ling, ‘the fort or place of Mo-Ling’ and the cult of St. Mo-ling who died in the seventh century. There are actually two etymologies suggested: a.) Scholar John O’Donovan suggested that Les Muilinn meant, “The fort or place of the mill” b.) Padraig Ó Riain suggested that the greater likelihood was that a church, not a mill gave name to the parish of Lismullin. There is also evidence in the Martyrology of Turin that was likely created for the nunnery at Lismullin. There is proof that Lismullin was church land and evidence of the cult of Mo-ling in County Meath. Connon looked at entries for Mo-ling and the Cult of Lug in the A Dictionary of Irish Saints. It is believed that Mo-ling was an avatar of Lug. Lug means “The Shining One” in Middle Irish, and is associated with the harvest. She also noted a few parallels between the Middle Irish “Life of Mo-Ling” and “Cath Maige Tuired”. Acallam points to links between Finn (avatar of Lug) and Mo-Ling. If the cult of Mo-Ling has absorbed the cult of Lug, then might the Lismullin enclosure be a part of cult of Lug? this might be the case as has been suggested in the nearby hill fort named Rath Lugh. Connon then asked the question: Is there anything about the enclosure that corresponds to a cult of Lug that we can notice?

Lug as a sun God?

The idea of this came from the description in Irish texts was because he was called “The Shining One” and associated with brightness but this was later discounted. He became associated with Lug as Mercury but this was again challenged in 1995 and swung back to the notion that he was a sun God. The avenue entering the enclosure is in alignment with the Pleiades “the Seven Sisters” constellation. Could Lug have an association with the stars? The Seven Sisters are also heralds of the harvest but this is speculative and not completely conclusive. Unfortunately, there is no continuity, i.e., there are no other sites dedicated to Lug to compare this site to. I really enjoyed this paper. It was fascinating and well presented. There were fantastic slides referencing the location and showing what the original site might have looked like. The history of the area and the background of Lug was very interesting. It was an excellent paper to start this conference.

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