“So all day long the noise of battle rolled
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur’s Table, man by man,
Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their lord,
King Arthur. Then, because his wound was deep,
And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
A broken chancel with a broken cross,
That stood on a dark strait of barren land:
On one side lay the Ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full.”
~ Albion's Lost Lands: Lyonesse
The search for the site of Arthur's final battle where he fell mortally wounded at Camlann has defied identification; candidates have been proposed from the length and breadth of the country. Lord Tennyson seems to be in no doubt and in his Arthurian epic “Idylls of the King" places the final battle between Mordred and the King at Lyonesse.
Alfred Tennyson. Photograph, carbon print.
The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon - Burnes
La Mort d'Arthur (The Death of King Arthur) by James Archer (1860)Tennyson has Arthur roving the trackless realms of Lyonnesse long before they crowned him King and refers to the 'sad sea-sounding wastes' and 'lonely coast' of Lyonnesse.
“A land of matchless grace was Lyonesse,
Glorious with rolling hills, rejoicing streams,
Hoar monuments upreared when Time was young,
Wide plains of forest, slopes of golden corn,
And stately castles crowning granite peaks”
Following Arthurian tradition Tennyson’s Lyonesse was the realm of Tristan, or Tristram as he became known by English writers, one of the main characters of the greatest legends of Cornwall, the story of Tristan and Iseult, a Cornish hero and one of the Knights of the Round Table. Thomas Malory has the Lady of Lionesse play a significant role in his tales of Arthur and mentions Surluse as part of the kingdom of Lyonesse where Sir Galahad was ruler under Arthur. 2
However, although the tales of Tristan are firmly placed in Cornish tradition there were two other places with variations of the name Lyonesse as Leonais: one in Brittany, and the other seemingly from the French name for Lothian in Scotland. Arthurian romancers may have confusingly called this land off the coast of Cornwall 'Lyonesse,' following the Breton tradition, but the Cornish name for this stretch of land between Land's End and the Scillies was 'Lethowstow'.
On the flats between the small Isles of Scilly are the remains of field walls, now under the sea, evidence of division of the land before it was submerged. Further evidence of man's presence before the inundation is found in an Early Iron Age hut found below the high-water mark on St Martins and pottery from the 3rd and 4th centuries and a Roman bronze brooch from a stone grave found below normal high tides on Old Man. Environmental evidence shows that as late as Roman times the area between the Isles of Scilly was dry land and just one island, a single large, wooded isle which could be walked to at low tide. A Roman writer records a heretic who was banished to Sylina Insula, the island of Scilly, in 387 AD.
The confusion of the location of Lyonesse/ Lethowstow, as the antiquarian, William Camden records, seems to exists because Cornish people during the 16th century referred to the Seven Stones reef off Land's End as the City of Lions, the reputed site of the capital of the legendary kingdom, confused with the Breton town Leonais, probably the region around the coastal town of Saint-Pol-de-Léon, and this form is the probable source of Malory’s Lionnesse. The Seven Stone rocks are held to be the remains of the city where local fishermen have dragged up domestic items in their nets, still calling the Seven Sisters the 'The Town.' 3 Today this reef remains a navigational hazard for shipping and has caused as many as 200 shipwrecks.
In later traditions, Lyonesse is said to have sunk beneath the waves some time after the Tristan stories take place. A persistent legend claims that the Isles of Scilly are all that remain of the fabled land of Lyonesse. However, we find no references in medieval Arthurian legend to the sinking of Lyonesse.
Elizabethan antiquaries collected reports current in the 16th century stating that Lethowstow contained 'fair-sized towns and 140 churches' and was suddenly engulfed by the sea. They also claimed that one could hear the bells of the drowned city ringing out during rough seas. Today the remains of field boundaries show up at low tide along the sands of the Sampson Flats between the isles of Tresco and Sampson in the Scilly Isles.
Stanley Baron, a journalist from the News Chronicle who was residing in Cornwall during the 1930's, was awoken during the night by the muffled ringing of bells and was told by his hosts that he had heard the bells of Lyonesse. Edith Oliver, the former mayor of Wilton, claimed she had twice seen towers, domes, spires and battlements beneath the waves whilst standing on the cliffs at Land's End.
What Lies Beneath
Perhaps much of this can be dismissed as fantasy?
Yet, there is evidence of a drowned forest on the Cornish coast with tree stumps sticking out into the sea at Mount's Bay suggesting the sea levels were once much lower. Furthermore, the old Cornish name for St Michaels Mount is 'Carrack Looz en Cooz' which translates as 'The grey rock in the wood'. Archaeological evidence indicates that Mount's Bay was the source of a prehistoric axe material. We have clear evidence of a submerged land in the south-west England within historical times.
Inundation legends are found in many other parts of north-western Europe, not least in Celtic lands.
Gerald of Wales claimed there was a drowned city beneath the waters of Llangorse Lake in the Brecon Beacons, Mid Wales. On the North coast of Wales near Llandudno was Llys Helig, the palace of Prince Helig ap Glanawg; it is said the ruins can still be seen at very low tides. Off the North-West coast of Wales in Caernafon Bay there is a cluster of rocks, a reef known as Caer Aranrhod, named after the mother of Lleu Llaw Gyffes from the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion. Charlotte Guest in her notes to the Mabinogion, states, "There is a tradition that an ancient British town, situated near this place, called Caer Arianrhod, was swallowed up by the sea, the ruins of which, it is said, are still visible during neap tides, and in fine weather."
Tree stumps can be seen leading out into the sea at low tide in Cardigan Bay, Wales, the mythical site of Cantre'r Gwaelod (The Bottom Cantred).
But the nearest legend to Lyonesse is the tale of the mythical Breton city of Kêr-Is which was built on the coast of Brittany in a then-dry location off the current coast of the Bay of Douarnenez. Over time the Breton coast had slowly given way to the sea and it now threatened Kêr-Is. To protect the city from inundation, a dike was built with a gate that was opened for ships during low tide. The one key that opened the gate was held by King Gradlon.
But the gate was left open during a storm and at high tide a massive wave crashed down on Kêr-Is and the city was swallowed by the incoming waters. King Gradlon escaped on Morvarc'h, his magical horse. Which is all remarkably similar to the tale of Lyonesse and Trevilian who escaped on his horse and perhaps the inspiration behind the Cornish story.
In addition to describing Lyonesse as the site of the final battle between Arthur and Mordred, Tennyson's Idylls of the King also claim the lost land is the final resting place of King Arthur himself. Perhaps this is why the grave of the King cannot be found – it lies beneath the sea.
The Mullamast Stone, from 500-600 in Ireland. There are 4 blade marks on the left side of the stone and 2 deep ones on top, suggesting that the stone was used as part of a “sword in the stone” kingship ritual.
The Mullamast Stone, from 500-600 in Ireland. There are 4 blade marks on the left side of the stone and 2 deep ones on top, suggesting that the stone was used as part of a “sword in the stone” kingship ritual. Mullaghmast, decorated with a triskele, thought to belong to the very end of the prehistoric period, or perhaps to the early Christian period, is now in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.
Extra HERE and HERE
Mullaghmast was the royal residence of the Uí Muiredaig kings (later to become the O'Toole family), a sept of the Uí Dúnlainge dynasty of the Laigin.
Fairy Rath by Mark Knight-Raths are always associated with fairies. They are round structures, a ring on the landscape, earthen fortifications dating back to ancient Celtic times. According to archeologists, raths were simply enclosures where family clans once lived in ancient times. But if you ask the average Irishman or Irishwoman today, they will give you a knowing wink and a smile and tell you that these are the homes of ‘the little people’.The Laigin are claimed as being descended from Labraid Loingsech. Modern historians suggest, on the basis of Irish traditions and related place names, that the Laigin were a group of invaders from Gaul or Britain, who arrived no later than the 6th century BC, and were later incorporated into the medieval genealogical scheme which made all the ruling groups of early Ireland descend from Míl Espáine. Placenames also suggest they once had a presence in north Munster and in Connacht.
Archaic poems found in medieval genealogical texts distinguish three groups making up the Laigin: the Laigin proper, the Gáilióin, and the Fir Domnann. The latter are suggested to be related to the British Dumnonii.
Amongst others, some of the dynasties that claimed to belong to the Laigin include: Uí Failge, Uí Biarrche, Uí Dúnlainge, Uí Ceinnselaig, Uí Garrchon, and the Uí Máil.
In the legendary tales of the Ulster Cycle, the king of the Connachta, Ailill mac Máta, is said to belong to the Laigin. This is thought by Byrne (2001) to be related to a possible early domination of the province of Connacht by peoples related to the Laigin, the Fir Domnann and the Gamanrad.
The Dumnonii or Dumnones were a British tribe who inhabited Dumnonia, the area now known as Devon and Cornwall (and some areas of present-day Dorset and Somerset) in the further parts of the South West peninsula of Britain, from at least the Iron Age up to the early Saxon period.
The Metrical Dindshenchas, or Lore of Places, a Middle Irish collection of poetry purporting to explain the origins of Irish place names, claims that Mullaghmast is named for Maistiu, wife of Dáire Derg, who was killed by the sorcery of the malicious faery Gris, who was in turned killed by Dáire Derg.
Love and light,