Located in County Meath near Newgrange, the Hill of Tara (from Irish: Teamhair na Rí, "Hill of the King" or "Place of Assembly") is a stretch of grassy landscape that has played a central role in the history, legend, and folklore of Ireland. Home to important earthworks from the Stone Age, Iron Age, Roman times and the rule of the Celtic kings, the Hill of Tara has been frequently in the news lately due to the construction of a controversial highway next to the site.
History of Hill of Tara
The Hill of Tara has been a sacred site since prehistoric times, with the earliest known monument (the Mound of the Hostages) built between 2500 and 2100 BC. After that, the site remained in regular ceremonial use for thousands of years.
In the Iron Age, roughly spanning the 1st through 5th centuries AD, the Hill of Tara was the ceremonial center of the Celtic high kings of Ireland. Roman artifacts dating from the 1st to 3rd centuries have been found on the site and it is said that St. Patrick visited Tara in the 430s AD after lighting his "Paschal fire" on the nearby Hill of Slane. The kings appear to have abandoned the site in the 6th century.
In more recent history, Tara has been the site of important political events, indicating its continuing significance for the Irish people. In 1798, rebels of the Irish revolution fought British troops on the Hill of Tara, and in 1843, a peaceful demonstration of some 750,000 people protested against Ireland's union with Britain.
Today, the Hill of Tara is an important archaeological site and a major center of Irish spiritual and political heritage. Most of it remains unexplored by archaeologists, so there is still much to learn. Only two main areas have been systematically excavated: the Rath of the Synods in the 1950s and the Mound of the Hostages, in which Bronze Age burials were found. In recent years, the latest technology of photography has been used to discover underlying formations without disturbing the site.
One project that would disturb the site, however, is a proposed expansion of the M3 highway, which includes a section running along the east side of the Hill of Tara about a mile from the summit. Approved by the government in 2003 and begun in 2005, this highly controversial construction is currently underway with an estimated completion date in 2010. It has been delayed, however, by the global recession and the discovery of another ancient monument during construction.
While supporters argue the chosen site is the least disruptive option for relieving the congestion endured by local commuters into Dublin, expert opinion seems to be virtually unanimous that the project will cause irrereparable harm to the Hill of Tara and adjacent monuments, most notably an ancient fort called Rath Lugh. The project continues to be frequently and passionately protested and the Hill of Tara is currently being considered for World Heritage status.
Myth and Mystery
In addition to the folklore of the Celtic kings - which plays as important a role in Ireland as King Arthur does in England - a number of modern myths and theories have developed around the Hill of Tara.
Around 1900, a group came to believe that the Irish were one of the Lost Tribes of Israel and that the Ark of the Covenant was buried at Tara. They dug in the Rath of the Synods, but did not find the Ark. They did, however, find some Roman coins.
More recently, at least one author has theorized that Ireland is the lost kingdom of Atlantis and Tara was its capital.
What to See at Hill of Tara
There are some 30 monuments spread over this low hill (about 500 feet high) near the Boyne River, and more are being discovered regularly. From ground level, the earthworks can be difficult to distinguish. The shape of the rings and mounds are best seen from the air, but the dramatic slopes and changes in ground level can be appreciated by a stroll around the ancient grassy landscape. On a clear day, there are good views of the surrounding countryside from the top, including the Hill of Slane and the gleaming white quartz of Newgrange.
The most important of the many earthworks at Tara are found on the summit of the hill inside an enclosure called Ráith na Ríogh (Fort of the Kings or Royal Enclosure), dating from the Iron Age in the first five centuries AD. The axis of the oval enclosure measures 318 m (1,043 ft) north-south by 264 m (866 ft) east-west. The ring-shaped formations within this enclosure are known as Teach Chormaic (Cormac's House) and the Forradh (Royal Seat).
In the center of the Forradh is the Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil), a pillar stone that was originally located just north of the Mound of the Hostages. It was moved here in 1798 to commemorate 400 rebels who died in the Battle of Tara during the Irish revolution. If this is the original Stone of Destiny, which most scholars think is likely, it played a central role in the coronation ceremonies of over 100 Celtic high kings. According to legend, the stone would screech loudly when touched by the rightful king.
Just inside the Ráith na Ríogh enclosure is the oldest monument at Tara, and one of the most visible- the so-called "Mound of the Hostages," a passage-tomb dated to between 2500 and 2100 BC. The name comes from the tradition of Celtic high kings to hold local nobles hostage, ensuring the cooperation of their lesser kingdoms.
The tomb is similar in layout to those at nearby Newgrange and Knowth, but on a much smaller scale. The short passage is astronomically aligned (less accurately than some) with the sunrise on November 8 and February 4, the ancient Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolc. Just inside the passage on the left is a carved stone; several Bronze Age burials were excavated in the tomb itself.
Other monuments at the Hill of Tara include:
Quick Facts on Hill of Tara
|Names:||Hill of Tara · Teamhair na Rí|
|Categories:||earthworks; astronomical alignments; mounds; ruins|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||53.578646° N, 6.612225° W|
|Address:||Navan, Co. Meath, Ireland|
County Meath, Ireland
|Phone:||+353 46 902 5903|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Hill of Tara|
- Personal visit (August 28, 2007).
- Hill of Tara - Heritage Ireland
- "Ireland's Endangered Cultural Site" - Smithsonian magazine, March 2009
- Tara - Temair - Mythical Ireland
- Tara (hill, Ireland) -
- Lonely Planet Ireland, 7th ed. (January 2006), 530.
- Hill of Tara - Wikipedia
Map of Hill of Tara, County Meath
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