Queen Maeve Trail – Knocknarea

  • Trailhead: Car Park
  • Length: 8km (Strandhill entrance)
  • Ascent: 327m
  • Time: 2.5 - 3 Hours
  • Suggested Gear: Sturdy walking/trekking boots, waterproofs, fluids, snacks and mobile phone
  • Longitude: 54.25326
  • Latitude: -8.55774
Don't climb the cairn

The Trail Map:- OSI Map Series 25

Please note, The cairn and its surrounds at the summit of Knocknarea constitute a sacred burial place to people in this area and should be treated with dignity and respect – PLEASE DO NOT CLIMB THE CAIRN.

The clear-cut limestone mountain of Knocknarea, located on the Cúil Irra (Coolera) peninsula, forms one of County Sligo’s most conspicuous landmarks. Knocknarea Mountain (327m) dominates the skyline of Sligo. Formed from limestone over 300 million years ago, the summit is crowned by the great cairn of Queen Maeve (Miosgan Meadhbha) and has been an importance ritual focal point since Neolithic times. The presence of the passage tombs, along with circular house foundations and an extensive system of earthen banks enclosing the eastern approach to the summit, are all reminders that this was a place of intensive activity. The large cairn measuring some 55 meters across and 10 meters in height, was probably built around 3400BC, while some of the smaller passage tombs are potentially some one hundred years older.
A visit to the nearby interpretive centre at Carrowmore is highly recommended in order to gain a greater understanding of this landscape.
This is a very rewarding climb with spectacular views in all directions, including the Ox Mountains, Lough Gill, and Slieve League in Donegal and on a clear day Croagh Patrick in the west.

Queen Maeve Trail

The Route
The trail is a 6km loop reaching a height of 327m at Knocknarea’s summit. There are three access points to the trail, on the R292 Strandhill Rd., at Rathcarrick car park on the L3503 and at the Glen Rd. car park on the L3507. For ease of parking we suggest you begin at the Glen Rd. car park.

Follow the path from the car park up the hill to the cairn. The walk gets steeper from the kissing gate and continues up to the summit, the terrain is quite steep and rugged as you move closer to the summit. Continue around the cairn, DO NOT CLIMB THE CAIRN, and follow the red arrows to descend the mountain to the north-east through the forest. Care is advised when descending the wooden “bog bridge” as it may be slippery underfoot particularly following wet weather. At the end of the “bog bridge” the gravel path continues along the edge of the forest and around the northern face of the mountain finishing back at the car park.

Please Note: The property traversed by this route is private and access is available by the kind permission of the landowners. Dogs are not permitted on sections of the trail that cross the open farmland above the wood due to the presence of grazing sheep and lambs. No dogs are allowed on the mountain during lambing season of February-April, otherwise please keep them on a lead and under control.
It should be noted that this path traverses mountain terrain and can be subject to rapidly changing weather conditions including cloud cover, mist, fog and high winds. Extreme caution should be exercised during such weather events and in this context walkers are advised to remain upon designated paths and to turn back in case of any doubt. In the event of an emergency please call 999112 and ask for Mountain Rescue. A series of Walking Safety Videos is available free on the Sligo Walks website.

The cairn and its surrounds constitute a sacred burial place to people in this area and should be treated with dignity and respect – PLEASE DO NOT CLIMB THE CAIRN.

Did You Know?
In Irish mythology Knocknarea is the burial place of the beautiful Warrior Queen Maeve of Connaught. Queen Maeve was granted rulership over the kingdom of Connaught by her father, the High King of Ireland and whosoever should be her husband would be King. Maeve had several husbands including Ailill. Táin Bó Cúailnge or The Cattle Raid of Cooley is the great “epic” of Irish Mythology. The story begins when Maeve and her husband Ailill compare their wealth and find that the only thing that distinguishes between them is Ailill’s possession of the phenomenally fertile bull Finnbhennach. In order to gain equality with her husband Maeve determines to get the equally potent bull Donn Cuailnge from Cooley. She successfully negotiates with the bull’s owner, Dáire mac Fiachna, to rent the animal for a year until her messengers, drunk, reveal that they would have taken the bull by force even if they had not been allowed to rent it. The deal breaks down, so Maeve raises an army and sets out to capture the bull by force and a great conflict ensues.
Queen Maeve is said to be buried upright in the cairn at the summit of Knocknarea, spear in hand, still facing her enemies in Ulster.

The beauty and mythology associated with the Sligo Landscape were the great inspiration for Nobel Prize winning poet W.B. Yeats. As a dominant regional landmark Knocknarea is particularly prominent in his work featuring in a total of seven poems.
“The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea and thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say.” W.B. Yeats

Directions - How to get to the Trailhead.

From Sligo City follow the R292 towards Strandhill, after about 6.5km take the turn to your left at St. Anne's Church (L3503). Follow this road for approximately 3km to a crossroads, take a right here (L3507, Glen Road) and continue for about 850m, turn right again and continue to the main carpark. Note after about 2.5km on L3503 you will pass the Rathcarrick carpark on your right. You may start your walk from here though it is advised that you continue to the larger main carpark. Also note that you can continue on the R292 for about 500m to the Strandhill entrance to the trail. There is limited on road parking here though on non-matchdays you should be able park at Sligo Rugby Club, just across the road from the trail entrance.

10 thoughts on “Queen Maeve Trail – Knocknarea

  1. just a question did the hike today and its amazing
    but does anyone know how many wooden step their is up to the summit

  2. Had the most amazing walk to the Cairn today Friday 7th June 2023 from Strandhill Caravan Park. But was disappointed to see people on the Cairn roaring and shouting with their arms raised like birds drying their wings. I shouted at them to “get down as this is a Sacred mound” and have respect for the dead. One person approached me asking what was my problem… I responded by saying would you like someone dancing on any of your relatives graves? He apologised saying he didn’t read the notices.
    Is it possible that Sligo Co Council or the local heritage council could put a fencing around the Cairn to stop this behaviour? It is a beautiful Natural Heritage that must be preserved and protected.
    Loved every minute of this beautiful walk.

    1. Yes, that was my experience today as well. People climbing the cairn totally oblivious to the many signs requesting them not to do so. A high barbed wire fence should be put up. It’s obvious the cairn has been damaged by constant climbing. I noticed at least 2 paths people are using to ascend

    2. Fencing would be a great idea. Did the hike yesterday and there were also people climbing up the Cairn. So sad to see this. A fence or something would be highly appreciated.

  3. A very steep start but it is worth the views! Fantastic walk, we were also blessed with the weather. The boardwalk in the walk was also fab, and the 360 ° views from the top on lakes and sea are great!

  4. Atlas Obscura and Wikipedia report that Queen Maeve was killed by a cheese. This information should be provided on the interpretive signage.

  5. We just did this walk last Sunday. It was fantastic, loved it all. Views on top were amazing. Everyone was really friendly. We parked the car in the Rugby club and then at the kissing gates we took a right turn and went up to the top on the boardwalk. It was a really lovely walk. Then we went down the other side to car park. The only problem we could not find the path to take us back on the other track around the mountain? One couple suggested we take the road back? Then we asked some local hikers and they told us where to go. The entrance to this route didn’t have any signs (that we could see?) and the entrance was just to the left beside the picnic table (not visible from the path down). Just a suggestion that a sign telling people where to get this route would be great. It was a fantastic morning out and we really enjoyed it.

  6. just back from an amazing day out at knocknarea. we parked at the cairn side car park. we took the trail to the top and enjoyed the views on the way up. dont forget to keep looking back as you go up for those amazing views and appreciate how far up you have climbed.take your time and enjoy it all. when you get thereDO NOT CLIMB THE CAIRN OR ROB THE AREA. walk all the way around and over and back all of the tracks and trails and spend plenty of time up here and all around and just soak up the world surrounding you. REMEMBER, KEEP THE DISTANCE ON THE WAY UP AND DOWN. everyone we spoke to up and down were very friendly and happy out. we proceeded to take the trail down and didnt know where we were going or where it was going but we went on down the steps that lead onto the most fantastic boardwalk leading into the wooded area. be prepared to meet alot of people coming towards you from the other direction. stand aside, there are areas cleverly built into the boardwalk to do this and everyone will be safe and happy.we kept going and we kept discovering as we went. the loop is fantastic and leads you all the way back to the car park we started from. what a walk! loved it all. would do it all again in a heartbeat. any chance the timber that is cut down here and there could be used as seating on the route? it is a safe tidy well maintained route and well worth doing. highly recommended.thanks and enjoy.

    1. That’s good advice Kate! Thanks very much. I enjoyed the walk even though the weather was changeable with squally showers. Had a fun day with Knocknaera and the Forest walk at Ben Bulben. It’s great to be home again in Ireland.

  7. Really lovely walk on a sunny day and the views from the top are stunning towards Benbulben and Sligo

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