Around 5,000 years old, the Hill of Tara in County Meath was the seat of power for ancient Ireland's high kings. Less than an hour's drive from Dublin, Tara has an innocuously serene rural setting, yet a high concentration of ancient ceremonial monuments have been uncovered at the location, which has not been thoroughly excavated.
Mound of the Hostages
This neolithic passage grave is the oldest monument excavated at the site. Archaeologists believe that it was constructed circa 3000 B.C. The Mound of the Hostages contains a chamber that is designed to capture the light of the rising sun on two specific dates: 1st of February, the pagan festival of Imoblc, which later became St. Brigid's Day, and 1st of November, the pagan festival of Samhain, which became Halloween.
Tara Importance in Irish History
Before the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, the Hill of Tara was the focal point of the tribes for celebration and dispute settlement. Every year at this Forradh, or Seat of the High Kings, a huge banquet known as a feis was laid out for more than 1,000 guests. Princes, priests, warriors, athletes and druids came from all around the island – to be entertained by the finest musicians and jesters. The festivities continued for nearly a week. The feis took place in an enormous hall, and was also a forum for discussion and decision-making in matters of tribal dispute, government, and war and peace. The last feis took place in 560 AD, and a tale accompanies this ending and the subsequent decline of Tara as a power centre. According to the religion of the druids, fires were forbidden on the eve of the Spring festival. As the feis began in darkness atop the Hill of Tara, all assembled witnessed a burst of flame ignited at a distance. This was St. Patrick, lighting the fire of the Easter Vigil, at Slane. The druids predicted that the fire would destroy Tara, and thus began its decline, in correlation with the spread of Christianity across the country. Malachy II was the last king to sit at Tara, until his death in 1022.
Tara Today - What to See
When you visit the Hill of Tara today, bring your imagination in order to experience its former splendour. None of the wooden halls remain, but there are some interesting ancient exhibits and monuments. Standing on the site that is believed to be the Forradh, or Royal Seat, is a tall standing stone, known as the Lia Fáil, or Stone of Destiny,where new Irish kings were crowned. Acccording to legend, contenders to the throne had to first pass a series of challenges. If successful, the Lia Fail would let out a scream that could be heard throughout the island.
- Don't miss the Mound of the Hostages, a neolithic passage tomb, described above, which is still intact
- A modern statue of St. Patrick has also been erected on the site
- Of the surviving remains, you can also see the ruins of a fort from the Iron Age, which was destroyed in the 9th century by Englishmen searching for the Ark of the Covenant
- There is also as a breathtaking view of the Irish plains, and even the distant mountains of Galway
Nice amateur video and stills of the Hill of Tara
Tour the Visitor Centre before going to the site, as the information you’ll receive there helps you to understand the layout of the remains. There is an imaginative audiovisual presentation, exhibits, and a coffee shop in the centre, housed within an old Church of Ireland building, near the entrance to Tara.
The Hill of Tara lies to the west of Dunshaughlin, just off the N3/M3 road, about 40km northwest of Dublin. It is clearly signposted.
Stone of Destiny at the Hill of Tara. Image by jhallen59