Emain Macha, also known as Navan Fort, is an ancient ceremonial site found on a low hill about 2.6 km west of Armagh, Northern Ireland.
The site consists of a large circular hilltop enclosure 250 metres in diameter, marked by a large bank and ditch encircling the hill. Archaeological investigations show that there were once buildings on the site, including a huge roundhouse-like structure that has been likened to a temple. In a ritual act, this timber structure was filled with stones, deliberately burnt down and then covered with earth to create the mound which stands today.
In ancient Ireland, Emain Macha was one of the great royal seats for the High Kings and Queens of Ulaidh, now known as Ulster, and served as its capital. It was connected to Tara, the royal capital of all of Ireland, by an ancient road.
Emain Macha means ‘Macha’s twins’ or ‘Macha’s brooch’ and is said to have been named after Macha, the sovereignty goddess of An Tuatha dé Danann. One tale says that Macha forced her enemy’s sons to dig the great bank-and-ditch after marking it out with her neck brooch. In another tale, Macha is the wife of Crunnius. Despite promising not to speak of her special abilities, Crunnius boasts that his wife can outrun the King’s horses. The King forces the pregnant Macha to race the horses. She wins but then gives birth to twins at the finish line. She curses the Ulstermen to be overcome with the pains and exhaustion of childbirth at the time of their greatest need with the curse to last for nine generations.
Emain Macha was still home to Kings and Queens of Ulster long after the departure of An Tuatha de Danann. It was the residence of Conchobar mac Nessa, King of Ulster. He is said to have had a warrior training school at Emain where his royal warriors, called ‘The Red Branch Knights’, were trained. It was here the young Cúchulainn came to be trained by the King’s Knights.