4 Aug 2015

Winterfell and the Red Branch Knights

Those of you who are aficionados of the Game of Thrones TV series will be familiar with the Binevenagh mountain landscape used as a backdrop for kingdom of Winterfell in series five of the program. The dramatic, real life location used in the production is in reality filled with its own rich and ancient mythology (many, include myself would say actual history) of the Red Branch Knights, and in particular that of Cethern mac Fintain who plays an important role in the epics of the Ulster Cycle.

The name Binevenagh in County Derry, Northern Ireland, itself translates in Irish as the 'mountain of Fiobhne' (or Fintain) whose son, Cethern mac Fintain, is a champion who fight alongside Cú Chulainn in the greatest of all Irish epics the Táin Bó Cuailnge or The Cattle Raid of Cooley. In the tale, Cú Chulainn following his combat with Ferdiad - his former best friend and foster-brother - is waiting to die with his entrails outside of him, when in anger, Cethern mac Fintain arrives on the battlefield upon his war chariot brandishing a silver spike which he uses to slay many Connacht men before he himself is severally wounded. 

After being told he is going to die, Cethern mac Fintain knocks the brains out of the attending doctor, and then demands a second opinion. Eventually, he is given - by the magician-healer Fingín - the choice of leaving the battle field and eventual recovery, or having his wounds quickly tended to and dying shortly after. He selects the latter option and returns to die in the battle.

Binevenagh mountains has remains of Bronze Age cairns along with evidence of an early hunter-gatherer population stalking red deer among the dramatic cliffs and rocky outcrops. The nearby 'Giant's Sconce', an iron age hilltop enclosure, and this reputed to be the home of Cethern mac Fintain. Once again, we see that in so called 'mythology' of Ireland, we have actual names, battles and other events/locations/artefacts connected to very real ancient historical sites from similar periods to which these supposedly fictional events took place.

So next time you are watching Sansa Stark frowning upon the ruins of her murdered father's home, remember that long before HBO, this landscape was the place of epics and heroes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tweeted, great article