Navan Ash

Posted by on Saturday, February 27th, 2021

A new poem grew out of some research into the archaeology of Navan Fort. mythologically known as Emain Macha. 

Navan Ash

Here I sit, thousands of years later
clutching a book of burnt offerings and blood
described by scholars loathe to judge those Gaels
who orchestrated arson for their Sidhe.

I dream bereft Ulaid piling Navan high with logs,
so rare a fuel now on those verdant hills.
They struck their steels and burned it all to ash, 
and perplexed scribblers still balk at their choice.

But as I totter on this cliff of sparking nerve
where joy, and grief, and rage for poison’s seat
jolt through me on and on for that lost home
that failed us age on age, from stone to circuit,
and left but drunken, beaten fosterlings lost
with homes on fire and myths made up of rags;

I have to hope some wise ones saw his rot
And how his evil tainted all their land,
And crumpled, and wept, and bellowed:
“It’s poisoned through–we go.
Leave the gold and gear, gather just our loves
and what will feed the herds and children still.
When the burned king crumbles finally to ash,
we’ll build anew, and beg verdant Ériu ‘stay afloat.’” 



From Dying for the Gods: Human Sacrifice in Iron Age and Roman Europe by Miranda Aldhouse Green.  Page 71:

“Certain monuments belonging to Iron Age Britain and Ireland appear to have been subjected to deliberate, probably symbolic, firing. This is what seems to have happened at Navan Fort in Co. Armagh in the early first century BC. Navan is almost certainly to be identified with the royal Ulster site of Emhain Macha, recorded in early Irish historical and mythic texts, such as the Ulster cycle if prose tales, dating to the twelfth century AD in written form, though retaining resonances of earlier, Pre-Christian material.  Archaeological investigations at Navan during the 1970s revealed a curious sequence of events associated with the construction and almost immediate destruction by fire of a great monument (Lynn 1999, 33-57). A multi-ring oaken structure, with a colossal central timber upright, 40 m in diameter — too large for a permanent roof — was erected soon after 95/94 BC (dendrochronological date) when the trees were felled. A carefully built cairn of limestone blocks was then packed inside the wooden structure, forming a radial pattern that respected the timber alignments of the building itself. The stones of the cairn showed some signs of weathering, as though they had, perhaps, been removed from existing monuments rather than freshly quarried for use at Navan. A few human bones, including a clavicle, had been deposited among the cairn stones. The building of the wooden structure and the cairn took a considerable amount of time, effort, and person-power, so the next episode in the site’s history is, on the face of it, inexplicable:  the entire edifice, wooden uprights, the cairn and a layer of red clay placed over the surrounding ditch was apparently deliberately set alight and razed to the ground.  Dudley Waterman, the principal excavator of Navan, found charred twigs and straw which he interpreted as the remnants of heaps of kindling piled up against the outer timber wall to get the fire going. These finds, together with the thoroughness of the destruction, argue for intent. The final incident in this strange sequence of events was the careful construction of an earthen mound, made of soils and turves of various types, probably derived from several different locations and environments.”  

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