“I came back said the exile, to see the mountains” words from a United Irishman after a long exile from Ireland.
Set deep in the south-east corner of South Tipperary the mountains of Slievenamon have become almost synonymous with the county. The woods, fields, and heatherland of Slievenamon known in ancient times as Sliabh Díle, covers an area of about 7,000 acres, most of which, about 5,000 acres is open mountain commonage.
Rising to 722 metres over the surrounding plain at its highest point. It dominates the landscape standing westwards of the lower hills that stretch eastwards from it to Ahenny and then to Wingap in County Kilkenny.
Steeped in ancient Irish history, Slievenamon derives its name from the fairy women of Feimheinn, an ancient territorial name.
The very earliest settlers, coming up the rivers in Stone Age coracles must have been attracted to it’s gentle heights and great forests teeming with game. Later, when agriculture became established and the valleys were cleared for their crops, the mountain, due to it’s centrality and accessibility became a place of refuge, of worship and burial, and of course, then as now, a place of recreation.
As well as being steeped in historical interest there are splendid views from the summit, and Slievenamon continues to attract great interest. To the north-west, across an expansive chequered work of bright green fields and darker woodlands, lies that other historic eminence, The Rock Of Cashel, while closer around its western shoulder on its way to the Suir, flows the Anna, forever linked with the mountains in that other song “The Irish Peasant Girl”. This song was written by one of Tipperary’s most famous historical figures, Charles Kickham.
Charles Kickham’s most famous song of today is undoubtedly Slievenamon or as it was originally known as “The Maid of Slievenamon”. This song is recognised by Tipperary people world wide as their National Anthem and is sung at major occasions within the county and in particular after hurling and football games.
Undoubtedly, the most outstanding monument on the mountains is the Cairn, very near the summit (2363 feet ) Locally known as ‘The Rock’ this huge amount of stones according to the best authority covers a passage grave. Excavation at some future date would settle the matter. The hope is that it would be as interesting as the recent discovery of a remarkable passage-tomb at Knockroe near Ahenny, 8 miles to the east.
The legends surrounding Slievenamon enrapture its ancient beauty and importance. Its original mantle of limestone, the bedrock of the surrounding plains, has eroded away leaving the soft serial lines that have inspired druids and poets, politicians and writers, priests and people for millennia.