Hill of Tara
Visitors Centre , Tara , Co. Meath
t: +353 46 9025903
About Hill of Tara
The Hill of Tara (Irish Teamhair na Ri, 'Hill of the Kings'), located near the River Boyne, is an archaeological complex that runs between Navan and Dunshaughlin in County Meath. It contains a number of ancient monuments, and, according to tradition, was the seat of Ard Ri na hEireann, or the High King of Ireland. Current scholarship based on the research conducted by the Discovery Programme, indicates that Tara was not a true seat of Kingship, but a sacral site associated with Indo-European Kingship rituals.
At the summit of the hill, to the north of the ridge, is an oval Iron Age hilltop enclosure, measuring 318 metres (1,043 ft) north-south by 264 metres (866 ft) east-west and enclosed by an internal ditch and external bank, known as Raith na Riogh (the Fort of the Kings, also known as the Royal Enclosure). The most prominent earthworks within are the two linked enclosures, a bivallate ring fort and a bivallete ring barrow known as Teach Chormaic (Cormac's House) and the Forradh or Royal Seat. In the middle of the Forradh is a standing stone, which is believed to be the Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny) at which the High Kings were crowned. According to legend, the stone would scream if a series of challenges were met by the would-be king. At his touch the stone would let out a screech that could be heard all over Ireland. To the north of the ring-forts is a small Neolithic passage tomb known as Dumha na nGiall (the Mound of the Hostages), which dates to ca. 2000 BC.
The Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny)
To the north, just outside the bounds of the Raith na Rig, is a ringfort with three banks known as Raith na Seanadh (the Rath of the Synods). Excavations of this monument have produced Roman artifacts dating from the 1st-3rd centuries.
Further north is a long, narrow rectangular feature known as the Banqueting Hall, although it is more likely to have been a ceremonial avenue or cursus monument approaching the site, and three circular earthworks known as the Sloping Trenches and Grainne's Fort. All three are large ring barrows which may have been built too close to the steep and subsequently slipped.
To the south of the Royal Enclosure lies a ring-fort known as Raith Laoghaire (Laoghaire's Fort), where the eponymous king is said to have been buried in an upright position. Half a mile south of the Hill of Tara is another hill fort known as Rath Maeve, the fort of either the legendary queen Medb, who is more usually associated with Connacht, or the less well known legendary figure of Medb Lethderg, who is associated with Tara.
For many centuries, historians worked to uncover Tara's mysteries, and suggested that from the time of the first Celtic influence until the 1169 invasion of Richard de Clare, the Hill of Tara was the island's political and spiritual capital. Due to the history and archaeology of Ireland being not well-integrated, and naturally evolving, archaeologists involved in recent research suggest that the complete story of the wider area around Hill of Tara remains untold.
The most familiar role played by the Hill of Tara in Irish history is as the seat of the kings of Ireland until the 6th century. This role extended until the 12th century, albeit without its earlier splendor. Regardless, the significance of the Hill of Tara predates Celtic times, although it has not been shown that Tara was continuously important from the Neolithic to the 12th century. The central part of the site could not have housed a large permanent retinue, suggesting that it was used as an occasional meeting place. There were no large defensive works. Certainly the earliest records attest that high kings were inaugurated there, and the 'Seanchas Mor' legal text (written down after 600AD) specified that they had to drink ale and symbolically marry the goddess Maeve (Medb) to acquire the high-kingship.
Previous scholarly disputes over Tara's initial importance advanced as archaeologists identified pre-Celtic monuments and buildings dating back to the Neolithic period around 5,000 years ago. One of these structures, the Mound of the Hostages, has a short passage which is aligned with sunset on the true astronomical cross-quarter days of November 8 and February 4, the ancient Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolc. The mound's passage is shorter than the long entryways of monuments like Newgrange, which makes it less precise in providing alignments with the Sun; still, Martin Brennan, in The Stones of Time, states that the daily changes in the position of a 13-foot (4-m) long sunbeam are more than adequate to determine specific dates.
A theory that may predate the Hill of Tara's splendor before Celtic times is the legendary story naming the Hill of Tara as the capital of the Tuatha De Danann, pre-Celtic dwellers of Ireland. When the Celts established a seat in the hill, the hill became the place from which the kings of Mide ruled Ireland. There is much debate among historians as to how far ...