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Article contributed by Philip Swift.

Loughnashade is a small lake located to the west of Armagh City and just 550m from the Navan Fort. Today it covers an area of just one acre however an ordnance survey map of the area from 1835 shows the lake to be surrounded by marsh and four times bigger than it is today. Pollen analysis carried out in 1987 suggests that at one time the lake was as big as 8 to 10 hectares. The lake can also be clearly seen on a pictorial map which was made in 1602. The lake is on private ground owned by the Acheson quarrying group however it can be viewed from the top of the Navan Fort.

Loughnashade means ‘the lake of the jewels’ and there is a very interesting local story as to how the lake got its name. The High King of Ulster Conor Mc Nessa lived beside the lake and heard of a plan to steal his jewels. The king summoned his wise men to see how he should protect his jewels. They had no answers so the King got very angry. The King was calmed by the sound of beautiful pipe music coming from outside his palace. The music was played by a man who was aware of the Kings troubles and had come to help. He told the King of a far away land called China – this was the land of the dragons. These were fierce animals and would be fit to look after the Kings jewels.

The King funded an expedition to China and the musician managed to persuade the emperor to give him a dragon. When they returned to Ireland the dragon jumped straight into the lake behind the palace and disappeared. The king was mad at this however once again the musician calmed the situation. He played his pipes and the dragon came out of the lake. The Kings jewels were then tied to its neck and the dragon returned to the lake. If the King wanted his jewels the musician piped the dragon out otherwise the dragon remained at the bottom of the lake looking after the jewels.

Everything was fine until the musician died. He accidently slipped of a stone into the lake. No other piper could tempt the dragon out of the lake so it remained at the bottom with the jewels. The King then decided to call the lake Loughnashade – ‘the lake of the jewels’. The world famous Armagh Rhymers regularly re-enact the story of ‘the Dragon of Navan’. Some days, one can hear the faint sound of the haunting pipes, yet the dragon and the jewels remain at the bottom of the lake!

Whilst the dragon may only be a myth the large decorated Loughnashade Horn or the trumpa creda is very real. It is the greatest treasure ever to be found in the vicinity of the Navan Fort and is currently housed at the National Museum in Dublin. In 1798 some local men digging drains at the edge of the lake found four bronze horns which probably date from the first century BC. Nearby they also found human skulls and bones. Three of the horns have been lost however the remaining one is a masterpiece of Irish metalworking.

The horn is 1.86m (just over six feet) long and is made of sheets of bronze riveted together. It is topped off with a wide bell shape end decorated in the La Tene style. The metal is just half a millimetre thick and the whole instrument weighs just slightly over a kilo. The horn comes in two halves and each half seems to have come from different instruments. It is likely that the proper other halves are part of the three other horns that are missing.

The horn is one of the oldest surviving Irish musical instruments and a replica of the bell is used as the logo and trademark of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. The horn is presently displayed in a ‘C’ curve shape however it is believed that originally these horns were assembled in a ‘S’ shape and played with the decorated bell end above the musicians head.

When played it would produce a rhythmic noise like an Australian didgeridoo, a haunting sound that may have drawn the people to the rituals and ceremonies that would have been held at Navan 2000 years ago. All the evidence points to Loughnashade being a place of ritual offerings. The placing of the four bronze horns is consistent with the widespread use by bronze and iron- age people throughout Europe and Scandinavia as a focus of ritual.

It is also likely that Loughnashade is the place ‘to the west of Armagh’ where according to the Irish annals people were put to death by drowning in 907 and 911.

Read about other Irish lakes.