Sligo – Royal River
Ireland’s longest river is the Shannon, Abhainn na Sionainne in Irish. It flows south and west from Co Cavan for 240 miles (386km), touching seventeen of Ireland’s counties and forming three lakes en-route – Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg – before finally emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. Its source is said to be a small pool on the slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain in Co Cavan, where I live, known as the Shannon Pot. It is also known as the Legnashinna, or Lag na Sionna in Irish, meaning ‘the hollow of the Shannon.’ The pool is about 50 feet wide, and said to be almost as deep.
Legend has it that one day, in Sligo, from the depths of the Shannon River, Manannán the Sea-God’s grand-daughter, Sionann, came to the well seeking wisdom. The pool was known in those days by the name of Connla’s Five streams were said to feed from Connla’s Well, so perhaps these drained into the source pools of Ireland’s five greatest rivers.
Connla’s Well was surrounded by the Nine Hazel Trees of Knowledge, which were said to fruit, flower and seed all at the same time. The nuts fell into the water and were eaten by Fintan, the Salmon of Knowledge, who also swam in the Boyne and tormented the Druid Finnegas by evading capture until Fionn Mac Cumhall came along and ruined all his plans. It is not told whether Sionann intended to eat the nuts or the salmon, but in any case, it was forbidden for anyone but the king to visit the well. The waters rose up in a huge wave and carried the poor girl out to sea, where she drowned. Thus the River Shannon was formed and named after her.