THE HILL OF TARA
Ireland’s Sacred Sanctuary of the High Kings
William Butler Yeats called it “the most consecrated spot in Ireland”. In 1843 almost a million people gathered on the rolling grassy knoll to listen to Daniel O’Connell “The Liberator” speak out for Irish independence from Great Britain. It was once even believed that the Ark of the Covenant was buried there. The Hill of Tara, an undulating low-lying ridge overlooking the Meath valley, its grass covered hill revealing forms of an ancient fortified center for druidic and Celtic culture in Ireland. Before Christianty and after, the site was the where the Celtic High Kings of Ireland were invested. According to tradition, when a true Irish or Scottish King placed his foot on the Stone of Destiny, it cried out to confirm his rightful reign.
The Hill of Tara was the royal center of Mide – the Middle Kingdom of the Irish island, which incorporated modern Meath, Cavan and Longford counties. The name Tara comes from Teamhair na Ri meaning Sanctuary of the Kings and it is said almost a quarter of Ireland can be seen from its hilltop, though that would require a really clear day and mythic eyesight. Whatever structures may have been present in ancient times are no longer in evidence on the Tara hill. There are no great stones like Stonehenge, but the remains of earthen work defensive channels, carved into the hill. The oldest visible monument is the passage tomb of Dumha na nGiall, dating back to about 3,000 B.C. But Tara gained its greatest importance in the Iron Age of 600 BC to 400 AD, and less so into the early Christian period, when monastic monks with their abbeys superseded the Earth gods and goddesses.
A statue of St Patrick stands at the edge of the monument - perhaps a stick in the eye to the Druids and the old faiths. According to the legend, in 433, as the Druid tribes prepared to celebrate the Feast of Tara at the spring equinox, St Patrick lit a Paschal Fire on the nearby Hill of Slane to celebrate Easter in direct defiance of the earlier pagan ritual. The fire could be seen from Tara and the Druids demanded that King Laoghaire have the fire extinguished that night lest it burn forever. The outraged king led his Druids to challenge St Patrick and his new mono God with their earth magic, but couldn’t defeat him and eventually the king and his followers converted to Christianity (see Saint Patrick's Trail).
The most interesting monument still at the site is the Lia Fail – the Stone of Destiny, the standing stone located in the Forrad – the Royal Seat - it hasn’t shouted out for a new king in a thousand years, but from the dark marks a few have tried for the post. Also still visible and labeled with signs are the so-called Banqueting Hall, The Fort of Kings, The Mound of Hostages, Cormac’s House, the Sloping Trenches and The Rath of the Synods – the supposed hiding place of the covenant, though now it mostly hides a bit of careless debris behind a locked steel bar gate. The Hill of Tara was finally abandoned by Mael Sechlainn, the High King of Ireland in 1022, leaving the region to the battles of the middle-ages, and Catholic and Protestant conflicts in the surrounding Boyne Valley.
Visiting The Hill of Tara
The Hill of Tara is a mystical place and the most sacred site in Ireland, but is mostly a walk among the hills with curiosity of what took place there. A church and graveyard stand next to the open forms on the hill. The site of the Hill of Tara itself is open all year round and is free to enter. In fact, there are no real gates or fences, not even to keep out the sheep who keep the grass shorn. The Visitor Center located inside the church offers an audio-visual presentation, guided tours and audio guides is open from mid-May to mid-September. Admission to the visitor’s center including a guided tour or audio guide is €3 for adults, €2 for Seniors, and €1 for Children and Students. A family ticket is €8. There is a café and souvenir bookshop, Maguires nearby, as well as some craft shops next to the site.
To get to the Hill of Tara requires a car, along some back roads through County Meath, though many bus tours available from Dublin stop there. Other sights to visit near the Hill of Tara are the megalith monuments of the World Heritage site of Newgrange and Bu na Boinne (see Bru Na Boinne), the largest Noman era castle in Ireland (see Trim Castle) Kells (see Book of Kells), the medieval walled town of Drogheda, and the site of the Battle of Boyne (see Boyne Battlefield). © Bargain Travel Europe
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