Ben Bulben – the Poetry, Myth and Intrigue of one of Ireland’s Greatest Mountains

While confined to our own fair country, we share with you the poetry and mystery of the great Ben Bulben. The stage for a showdown between a mythical warrior and his betrayed master, the crash site of a stricken World War II bomber and a mammoth backdrop to the resting place of one of Ireland’s most celebrated poets, Ben Bulben - Sligo’s “Table Mountain” - has  played a leading part in this isle’s rich and storied history. Sited in the west of the country, the mountain is unmistakable with is distinctive  flat top. Before the ice age, this flat top is thought to have formed part of a great plateau, however melting ice and shifting glaciers combined to remove the surrounding earth, leaving a dramatically elevated “platform” from which  the epic sweep of the Atlantic coast can be viewed.

Diarmuid, a member of the legendary “Fianna” warriors is said to faced down his friend and master, Fionn Mac Cumhaill as the base of Ben Bulben. Fionn, believing that his wife to be had eloped with Diarmuid spent years searching the island for the pair. When he finally finds them, Diarmuid has been mortally wounded by a boar. Fionn, having the power to save his friend, instead lets healing water slip through his hands!

In more modern times, soldiers of a different kind found themselves unexpectedly beneath the mountains gaze when a  US Air Force bomber crashed in fog in December 1943 in the surrounding peaks while flying to Prestwick in Scotland. Three airman lost their lives, while locals embarked on a rescue mission to help remove the injured men from the plane. Working through the freezing night, the men and women worked tirelessly to stretcher the wounded to safety so that they could receive medical attention. Their efforts that night undoubtedly spared the lives of those who survived the crash. That one of the injured suffered from frostbite speaks to the harsh conditions faced by the rescue party. Clearly a mountain linked with both great beauty, and to inspiring greatness in others.

The mountain also features in the works of WB Yeats, the Nobel prize winning poet who spent his childhood years in its environs. Indeed, Ben Bulben and its surrounds are now often termed as “Yeats country”. The poet’s resting place is in the churchyard at Drumcliff, his gravestone bearing the inscription from the last lines of "Under Ben Bulben", one of his final poems:

Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!  


Back to Home