Sacred Sites

March 1st, 2009

Hill of Tara – County Meath, Ireland

The Hill of Tara was the Coronation place of Ireland’s kings, and is one of Ireland’s most famous sites. An ancient seat of power, more than 140 kings are said to have reigned there. It was the sacred place of dwelling for the gods, and was the entrance to the Otherworld.

This was where Ireland stood its ground and ruled for hundreds of years, and where today it remains a spiritual center for those in Ireland, with pilgrimages taking place on special Pagan and Christian holidays.

The Hill of Tara known as Teamhair Na Rí, “Hill of the Kings” forms an archaeological complex that runs between Navan and Dunshaughlin. Located near the River Boyne, in County Meath.

Rich in history, its neighboring sites are scattered about the landscape, and on a clear day it is claimed that half the counties of Ireland can be seen from atop Tara. To the west are the hills at Loughcrew, in the distance to the northwest is Newgrange and further to the north is the Hill of Slane.

An aerial view provides a stunning display of just how large a complex this is. With over 30 monuments visible at Tara, there are as many more beneath the surface. Although no buildings survive there are a number of large earthworks still remaining on the hill. The most prominent earthworks within are the two linked enclosures, to the East is Cormacs House and to the West is The Royal Seat.

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Aerial view of the hill of Tara and surrounding region
Image provided by Mythical Ireland

Tara boasts many points of interest in the form of Hill Forts and Raths (ring forts consisting mainly of a ditch and an earth wall). Some of these are named after prominent figures in Ireland Mythology. Rath Maeve is named after the legendary goddess-queen Maeve or Medbh. Ráith Laoghaire (King Laoghaire’s Fort) is a Ring Fort where it is said that the King was buried in an upright position in order to watch for any invading armies.

Other sites include the stone of Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny, and a long rectangular area with banks on either side is known as the Banquet Hall (Teach Miodhchuarta). Some believe that this was used as a ceremonial avenue or cursus monument approaching the site.

Only two monuments have been excavated at Tara, the first is The Rath of the Synods (Rath na Seanadh). The Rath is a very elaborate structure with four concentric banks and ditches and is built around an earlier burial mound known as the King’s Chair. The second monument excavated in the 1950’s is the “Mound of the Hostages”.

The Mound of the Hostages

The Mound of the Hostages (Dumha na nGiall) is a Stone Age passage-tomb, dating to between 2500 B.C. and 3000 B.C. The length of the passage in the tomb is quite short and is subdivided into three compartments each containing evidence of at least 200 individual cremations.

The tomb, which is the oldest monument at the Hill of Tara, is just one part of a large grouping of monuments. The tomb gets its name from the custom of Irish kings taking important people hostage, one of these kings was known as Niall of the Nine Hostages who had taken hostages from all of the provinces of Ireland and from other countries.

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The Mound of the Hostages, in 2003 a small wooden fence had been built around it.


Lia Fail – The Stone of Destiny

In the center of the Royal Seat stands a stone, which is believed to be the Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny also known as the Coronation Stone. The stone originally stood in the Northern part of the enclosure near the Mound of the Hostages.

According to legend, the stone was brought to Ireland by the mythical race of people known as the Tuatha De Danaan and the legend states that when the true king of Ireland stood on the stone, it would do any of the following:

* The stone was said to sing when the proper king of Ireland was crowned.
* The stone would scream when a series of challenges were met by the King.
* The stone would roar three times if the chosen one were a true King.
* On the inauguration of a worthy High King the stone would roar its approval.
* When the proper King touched the stone, it would let out a screech that could be heard all over Ireland.

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Standing with Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny, Hill of Tara – County Meath, Ireland

Atlantis and the Lost Ark of the Covenant?

Throughout the years there have been some amazing claims made of the land at the Hill of Tara and about Ireland itself. Early in the 20th century, a group of British Israelites partly destroyed the land while searching for the Ark of the Covenant. They came to Tara convinced that the Ark was buried on the famous hill. They dug the Mound of the Synods, but all they found were Roman coins.

As recently as 2004, a new theory suggests that Tara was the ancient capital of the lost kingdom of Atlantis, and that the mythical land of Atlantis was Ireland.

Visiting the Hill of Tara

Standing on the Hill of Tara, you will notice its undulating hills and valleys on the surface of the land. You will not find towering monuments, or large museums, but you will find an incredible landscape as unique to the area as the people who inhabited it.

Visitors can be dismissive of the site, if they haven’t had the benefit of an aerial view of Tara beforehand. I’ve heard there is an excellent audio-visual presentation in the Visitor Center, which will help you to put this site into perspective so you’ll have a better idea of what you’re viewing.

The Visitor Center is located in a church on the property surrounded by a cemetery. The official opening times are Mid May – Mid September 10:00 to 18:00. These hours are for the Center only but visitors may still enter the Hill of Tara by walking around the wall of the cemetery and out onto the hill.

NOTE: Having only visited Tara in February and November, I have to tell you that it’s never been open when we’ve arrived. Fortunately, we found a short cut onto the hill by closely watching the other local visitors.

If you would like to get into the courtyard of the church and take a walk through the cemetery you may do so by walking to the far end of the parking area and entering through a gate. As you walk up the hill towards the church gates (which will be closed) you will notice there is a narrow break in the stone wall to the right of the gates and you can enter through that opening into the cemetery. Here is a link to a short video that shows this entrance and worn path that leads to a narrow break in the rock wall that borders the cemetery.

http://www.lookaroundireland.com/celticinteractive/tara.htm

You may also enter the Hill of Tara through the cemetery by walking to the far back wall where there is another gate that will lead you out onto the hill. I believe this short cut to the Hill is much easier than walking around the cemetery as you have to take your chances with a potentially rain dampened grassy incline.

For visitors with mobility issues, navigating this Sacred Site can be difficult. The ground is uneven; many areas are hilly due to the landscape itself being comprised of concentric rings. There are no proper paths and visitors will have to negotiate banks and ditches, often in inclement weather. There will also be sheep and with sheep, come sheep droppings. It’s a great day to wear your hiking boots.

Weather can be unpredictable, forget the umbrella and leave it in the car; it will be completely useless on a windy day at Tara. Opt for a hat or earmuffs, the wind can be deafening on the Hill. I’ve often wondered if the ancient people mistook the roaring of the Stone of Destiny, for the roaring of the wind in their ears.

Located off the M3 Motorway. Watch closely for signs, as of the last visit it was not well signposted and there is road construction, which can be confusing to the first time visitor. Here is the equivalent of map quest for Ireland.

http://www.aaireland.ie/routes/

The Hill of Tara was included in the Worlds Monuments Fund’s 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world.

Resources:

Hill of Tara Web sites:

http://www.knowth.com/tara.htm

www.answers.com/topic/hill-of-tara

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill_of_Tara

www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/tara/

http://www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/tara/taramap.html

http://www.lookaroundireland.com/celticinteractive/tara.htm

http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art5375.asp


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