Dalaradia visit to Crew Hill and Monkstown Graveyard

On Saturday 14th March, 2015 more members of the Dalaradia Group, prime movers in the modern Ulster Revival,  visited Crew Hill with their chairman Robert Williamson and Helen Brooker of Pretani Associates promoting Common Identity and Conscience. Discussion was led by Robert, Mark Williamson and myself. This was a most important visit for our group. We visited this site which was the crowning place of the ancient Ulster kings ; the site originally consisted of an inauguration stone surrounded by trees where the King would be appointed by his clan .This was “Craeb Tulcha”, the sacred tree, literally “spreading branch”, now known as Crew Hill (Crewhollage), near Glenavy. A great battle was fought there in 1004, in which the Cruthin King, the Ulidian King and many princes of Ulster were killed – indeed, complete disaster was possibly only averted because the victorious “Ui Neill” King was himself one of the fatalities.  After a second battle here in 1099, which was lost by the Cruthin (Pretani), the sacred tree was cut down as a final insult after the battle. This marked the end of the overall authority of the Cruthin in Ulster.

At that time the people worshipped in a similar fashion to Druids and natural  life such as certain trees were absolutely sacred; the King would turn around three times reciting an oath with his foot upon the stone as part of the ceremony . This was common practice at other sites such as Dunadd Fort in Scottish Dalriada, the stone of the Magennis in Newry , and also at Portrush where the stone later became known as the Witch’s Chair . Although the site is listed by the Northern Irish Tourist Board and Lisburn Council , having been the subject of an archaeological dig by Queen’s University in the 1980’s, we were shocked on our first visit in 2013 to see a telephone mast and sub station has been built  only a short distance away. We are launching a petition to fence off the immediate site of the stone to save for posterity. Following this we travelled to the ancient Monkstown Cemetery to see the site of the reputed resting place of Fergus Mac Erc, the ancestor of our British Royal Family. Disgacefully there is nothing there to mark the spot.

After the visits I gave a lecture in in Whiteabbey Masonic Centre on the significance of the sites to our people. My first topic was the First Battle of the Crew Hill, in 1004 A.D., in which the Ulidians were defeated by their old enemies, the Clan Owen. From the account of the Four Masters, we see what enormous forces were engaged : ” In this battle were slain Eochy, son of Ardghair, King of Ulaidh, and Duftinne, his brother; the two sons of Eochy, Cuduiligh and Donal ; Garvey, lord of Iveagh ; Gillapadruig, son of Tumelty ; Kumiskey, son of Flahrey Dowling, son of Aedh ; Calhal, son of Etroch ; Conene, son of Murtagh ; and the most part of the Ulidians in like manner ; and the battle extended as far as Duneight and Drumbo. Donogh O’Linchey, lord of Dal-Araidhe and royal heir of Ulaidh, was slain on the following day by the ClanOwen. Aedh, son of Donal O’Neill, lord of Aileach and heir-apparent to the sovereignty of Ireland, fell in the heat of the conflict, in the fifteenth year of his reign and the twentieth year of his age.”

Brian Boru at the Crew Hill.
Two years later another important event occurred–the visit of Brian Boru to the Crew Hill. It was nine years before the Battle of Clontarf. Malachy, of the Southern Ui Neill, had been deposed from his Kingship, and Brian acknowledged in his place by almost the whole of Ireland. The Clan Owen and the  Clan Conall still sympathised with Malachy and his adherents. The King of the  Clan Owen had fallen in the Battle of Crew Hill, and Brian thought the time opportune to march northward and secure the submission of the Ulster chieftains. The expedition arrived at the Crew Hill in 1005 A.D., and the Ulidians tendered their allegiance. The Wars of the Gael with the Gall describes the provisions supplied to the army of Brian while he was encamped there : “They supplied him there with twelve hundred beeves, twelve hundred hogs, and twelve hundred wethers ; and Brian bestowed twelve hundred horses upon them, besides gold and silver and clothing. For no purveyor of any of their towns departed from Brian without receiving a horse or some other gift.” But although Brian was well received by the Ulidians, he had to depart from Ulster again without receiving the submission of the  Clan Owen, who were Ulidian in origin or  Clan Conall, who were Cruthin.

Fergus Mor Mac Erc, King of Dalriada, is said to have moved his power base from Ulster to Argyll in Scotland by 500 AD. From Fergus Mor, with a few early exceptions, descend all subsequent kings and queens of the Scots, including the present Queen of Great Britain. St. Columba of Iona (6th century AD) was a scion of Fergus Mor.  When Belfast had little or no existence, Carrickfergus was an important town. In those times it was known as Rock-fergus, Crag-Fergus and Knock-Fergus and is said to have taken its name from King Fergus, who lost his life in a storm near the site of the town about 501 AD. Dalriada was an ancient principality on the Antrim Coast which extended from the Bush-Foot to the village of Glynn near Larne. Amid the mountain fastnesses of the present Argyll they maintained their position for over two centuries, occasionally asserting their supremacy in some of the neighboring isles.

Legend has it that one day Fergus decided to visit his native shores. Some chroniclers affirm that his object in coming was to arbitrate certain disputes that had arisen among several Princes in Ulster, whilst others represent that he was afflicted with a skin disease or leprosy, and came to use the waters of the medicinal well on the great rock. But whatever the hopes of Fergus were, they were not realised. The boat which bore him across the channel was wrecked on or near the rock, where the king was drowned and where the name Carigfergus, the ‘Rock of Fergus’ perpetuates the memory of that tragic event. Belfast Lough or Carrickfergus Bay, to give it its ancient name, can be appallingly rough. Only those who live near it can have an idea of what it looks like in a great storm.  Tradition says that the body of King Fergus was found and buried at Ballymanock, now Monkstown. It is probable that no religious establishment existed at Carrickfergus, which could account for the body of Fergus being taken to Monkstown. However there is another tradition which declares that he was taken back to Scotland and buried in Iona.

Fergus II (d 501), son of Earc, was claimed to have been the first Dalriadan king in Scotland. According to the Irish annals, the earliest and best authorities for the history of Scotland, the Dalriadan or Scottish kingdom in Argyll and the Isles, which the mediaeval chroniclers and the historians Boece and Buchanan antedated to a fictitious Fergus I, son of Ferchard, was really founded by this Fergus, son of Erc. The synchronisms of Flann Mainistreach (i.e. Flann of the monastery of Monasterboice in Louth) state that twenty years after the battle of Ocha the sons of Erc arrived in Britain, and date the battle of Ocha forty-three years after the coming of St Patrick; 432 being the date of St Patrick’s mission, the migration of the sons of Erc to Scotland would be about 495 or 498. The ‘Annals of Tigernach’ substantially agree with this date, having under 501 the entry ‘Fergus Mor, the son of Earc, with the Dalriad race, held a part of Britain and died there.’

The date 501, according to Skene’s probable conjecture, refers to the death of Fergus. He and his brothers Lorn and Angus, came in all likelihood with a small number of followers.The Dalriadans were already Christians, having been converted by St Patrick, and Erc belonged to the royal race of the northern “Ui Neill”, from which Columba, who followed about half a century later to Scotland, also belonged. The exact cause of the movement from Ulster to Argyll is not recorded, but it was probably due to overpopulation and a desire for more land. Fergus is said to have been succeeded by his son Domangart, and Domangart by his sons Congall I, Conall and Gabran Goranus.


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