The Hill of Tara, known as Temair in Irish, is a hill and ancient ceremonial site near Skryne in County Meath. Tara was a hugely important site to An Tuatha dé Danann in that it was their inauguration place and seat of political power. According to legend, five ancient roads met at Tara, linking it with all the provinces of Ireland. The Hill of Uisneach, another of An Tuatha’s sacred sites, was connected by one of these ancient roads, part of which is still visible today at Uisneach.
Tara continued to be the seat of the High Kings of Ireland even after an Tuatha had left. It is said that 142 kings reigned there in pre-Christian times. The arrival of Christianity in Ireland led to a dwindling of Tara’s importance. Its halls and palaces have long disappeared and only ruins remain, but it is still a mystical place full of history and legend.
There are some remarkable sights to be seen on this ancient hill. The first is the ‘Lia Fáil’ or ‘Stone of Destiny’ which was one of four treasures brought to Ireland by An Tuatha Dé Danann. It served as a great coronation stone at which the High Kings were crowned. According to legend, the stone would let out a roar when the rightful king stepped on it. It stands proudly on top of a monument known as ‘An Forradh’ or Royal seat. An Forradh is one of two round, double-ditched enclosures which together make a figure-of-eight shape. The other is ‘Teach Chormaic’ or Cormac’s House and the views from the top of both are breathtaking.
The oldest visible monument of the Hill of Tara is the ‘Mound of the Hostages’ or ‘Duma na nGiall’ in Irish. The mound covers a neolithic passage tomb built about 5,000 years ago (around 3,000 BC). The Mound of the Hostages got its name after one of the most-famous High Kings of Ireland, ‘Niall Nolligach’ or ‘Niall of the Nine Hostages’. Like all ancient kings, he took members of other royal families ‘hostage’. The iron bars on the mound’s entrance give the misleading impression that these hostages were thrown into the tomb to rot. The truth is that the main tribes of Ireland sent children to be fostered by other leading families to create alliances and engender goodwill. It is more likely that they were treated well, in accommodation fit for royalty.
The passage into the mound is about 13 feet and has been found to be orientated to the rising sun at Imbolc and Samhain. There are some amazing rock carvings within the mound also. Although it is called a passage tomb, like so many mounds in Ireland, it seems to have been so much more than a burial ground.
The mound lies near the northern edge of a large enclosure called ‘Ráth na Ríogh’ or the ‘Rath of the Kings’, which measures 1,000 metres in circumference. Just to the north of this is ‘Ráth na Seanadh’ or the ‘Rath of the Synods’. It is a round enclosure with four ringed ditches and banks. Roman artefacts were found there which would suggest the site was important both nationally and internationally.
Another round enclosure is ‘Ráth Laoghaire’ or ‘Laoghaire’s Fort’, where the former king is said to have been buried.
At the northern end of the hill is ‘Teach Miodhchuarta’ or ‘Banqueting Hall’. This was likely a ceremonial avenue leading to the hilltop where the ‘feasts of Tara’ were held. These royal gatherings were said to have been held here every yhree years at Samhain. On visiting the Hill of Tara, one can easily understand how it was the royal seat of power for so many years. It was from atop this hill that kings oversaw their kingdom. On a clear day, you can see half of the counties in Ireland from this hill. The view is quite spectacular, showing the entire Boyne Valley and a very large part of the east midlands. The region dominated by the Hill of Tara covers some of the richest farmland in Ireland. The high hills of Loughcrew can be seen to the northwest, the Mourne Mountains to the northeast, the Wicklow Mountains to the southeast and Slieve Bloom to the southwest.