The Hill of Tara is woven into the fabric of Irish folklore, history, and myth. Its name evokes images of High Kings, Celtic lore, and a glorious era of early Irish nationhood whose ruling power was derived from the Hill of Tara itself.
For many centuries, the hill was the home of the High Kings of Ireland. Tara was Ireland’s Camelot, a mythical place of power, magic, and music. Tara was the beating heart of Ireland and its power pulsed throughout the country like veins spreading out and reaching every nook and cranny in the land. Everything seemingly led to the legendary Hill. But what really was the true story behind this area, this beating heart of Ireland?
Why was the area chosen?
The Celtic Chief Cormac MacAirt is widely acknowledged as having a huge role to play in constructing many of the monuments that we now commonly associate with the site. Nothing remains of the ancient castle but on the ground one can see the indentations where the Castle would have once resided.
Its not difficult to see why Tara was chosen as the Seat of the High Kings of Ireland with the hill rising to over 300 feet. This height would have afforded the inhabitants of the Castle a vantage point to spot for miles around any opposing army or threat that was on its way. In fact, the name Tara itself derives itself from the Irish word “teamhair” which basically means “ the place with the wide view.”
But there are a number of other reasons why the place would have been chosen as the focal point for Celtic power and dominance. Another huge reason why the Celt’s would have chosen this location as the seat of their Kingdom is because the area was formerly a stone age burial site. Additionally, the place around the Hill of Tara, known as the Boyne Valley, was essentially Ireland’s equivalent of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. The recent discovery of passage tombs in the area and the discovery of previously unknown henges is further evidence of the historical significance of the location.
So When Did It All Begin?
It was around the time of 500bc that the area began to be associated with supreme royal power. The person who ruled over Tara would have declared themselves High King and thus claiming overall supremacy over all of the Irelands other Kings. Whether this authority would have been recognised by the other chiefs is another matter altogether and in all likely-hood the chances of other Kings bending the knee and submitting to Tara’s authority would have been fairly remote.
The system of alliances of the day may have meant that some Kings did submit to Tara’s authority and other Kings may have submitted because they had no other option as the cold hard steel of a blade may have pointed at their necks. Whatever the case my be, Tara was without a doubt one of the pre-eminent power bases in early Irish history.
Anyone who claimed to be High King had to prove that they where the rightful ruler, and legend has it that the High King had to stand on a stone called the Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny and that this stone roared it’s approval if the rightful King was about to be anointed. The current stone that stands at the location was placed there to commemorate men who where killed during the 1798 rebellion.
Celtic Kings built a number of circular enclosures. Today, these circular enclosures are inside the the huge royal enclosure that makes up the markings/indentations in the ground. One of these enclosures is named after Cormac McAirts daughter, Grainne, whose tryst with Diarmuid makes up Irish mythologies very own Romeo and Juliet story.
The story goes, that Grainne was to marry the legendary warrior Finn McCool but that unfortunately for Grainne Finn was old and past his best. In order to avoid this arranged marriage Grainne eloped with Diarmuid where the two lovers proceeded to wander Ireland for years until eventually Diarmuid was killed by a wild Boar.
Feasts fit for Kings
At one end of the Hill of Tara are two parallel lines that are said to have been the fortifications of what once was the Hall of Banquets. The area is 250 years long by 30 yards wide and it is said that this area was one single immense hall where massive feasts where held. These great feats are commonly associated with King Cormac in which thousands of people flocked to the Hill of Tara and gorged themselves on food for days.
The people who would have been invited to these gigantic feasts would have been the whose who of the day, including poets, priests, warriors, lords, and athletes. The food they dined upon included ducks, deer, oxen, and boar. The person who was deemed to have been of a higher social stature would eaten the best food with some of the poorer folk perhaps having to contend with eating the remnants of a few gnawed bones.
The most prized food would have been beef with members of the royal family sampling all of the finest delicacies. The druids would have sampled the shins, the historians on the haunches, the musicians on the shoulders of pork and jesters would have had to contend with eating the fat. A testament to the size of one of these eating feasts is that it took over fifty cooks to prepare the food and over 300 men to serve.
Once Christianity came to Ireland’s shores Tara’s importance began to slowly decline. The Fort of Synods on the site is named after the Christian leaders who met at the location. In the 5th century it is said there there was a major confrontation between Saint Patrick and the High King of the time Laoghaire after Saint Patrick challenged the Kings authority by lighting a fire right at the nearby Hill of Slane. After his brazen act the King summoned Saint Patrick to his headquarters and ordered him to explain his actions. The King was so impressed by how Patrick spoke that he spared his life and even allowed him to continue preaching the word of Christianity.
The very last feast was held at the location in 560 and soon afterwards Tara was abandoned. Over time the wooden structures that made up the Castle began to rot away and with the passage of time the structure was eventually reclaimed by nature.
But the myth and legend of the place still lives on with the name Tara evoking images of Irish nationalism, myth, and legend. In 1843 a huge crowd gathered to hear Daniel O Connell “ the liberator” speak about home rule. Estimates vary as to the exact number of the crowd with some people estimating it at over 1 million people, but whatever the case may be, the gathering was a testament to the enduring allure, power, and magnetism of the Hill of Tara.
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