The Hill of Tara – The Boyne Valley in Ireland Part 1

Iron age rath at the Hill of Tara in County Meath, Ireland. Tara was once the ancient capital of Ireland, from where the high king ruled over the country. The upright stone you see on the mound is the Lia Fail (stone of destiny). According to Celtic legend the Lia Fail was used during the coronation of the high king, and was believe to emit a roar when the true high king touched it. (I tried but there was no sound, so I crossed being high king of Ireland off my list of potential destinies).
Iron age rath at the Hill of Tara in County Meath, Ireland. Tara was once the ancient capital of Ireland, from where the high king ruled over the country. The upright stone you see on the mound is the Lia Fail (stone of destiny). According to Celtic legend the Lia Fail was used during the coronation of the high king, and was believe to emit a roar when the true high king touched it. (I tried but there was no sound, so I crossed being high king of Ireland off my list of potential destinies).

The Hill of Tara

At first glance the Hill of Tara may seem like a rather non-de script place. Many tourists visit every year and possibly scratch their heads in wonder as to the significance of the place. To the unknowing eye it may just seem like the location for yet another collection of Iron Age forts. But in truth the Hill of Tara is Ireland’s most important historical monument and, as well as being one its major tourist attractions, is in actual fact the ancient capital.

Although only 155 metres in altitude, Tara rises high above the County Meath lowlands and commands an outstanding panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. In ancient times there were three levels of kingship, the High King, who ruled over the entire country, the Provincial King, who ruled one of the four provinces, and the Petty King, who ruled over a small settlement. Because of its strategic importance, Tara became the traditional seat for the High King. This small, seemingly insignificant hill holds many of the secrets to Ireland’s ancient past and if it could talk, would have one hell of a story to tell.

Tara is easy to reach. It lies just off the M3 between Dublin and Navan. The two most distinctive earthworks on the hill are the Royal Seat and Cormac’s House, both about 152 metres in diameter. Protruding 5 feet from the ground in the centre of the Royal Seat is the Lia Fail, the sacred Stone of Destiny believed to have been brought here by an magical and powerful race known as the Tuatha dé Danann.

Ireland’s ancient history has been charted by a series of invasions, the stories of which were written down in the early Christian period by the monks. The Tuatha dé Danann was the fifth tribe to invade Ireland, and legend describes them as a powerful, magical race that brought many magical artifacts along with them. The Lia Fail was the coronation stone of the High King. When the rightful heir to the throne places his hands upon it, the stone will emit a roaring sound. This stone is now accessible to all visitors, so try touching it, you never know; you might be destined for high kingship.

Lia Fail - The Stone of Destiny. Legend says that this was the coronation stone of the High King of Ireland. When the true high king touches it, the stone will emit a roar.
Lia Fail – The Stone of Destiny. Legend says that this was the coronation stone of the High King of Ireland. When the true high king touches it, the stone will emit a roar.

Burial Mounds

The Mound of the Hostage is a passage cairn (Burial Mound) at the Hill of Tara in County Meath, Ireland.
The Mound of the Hostage is a passage cairn (Burial Mound) at the Hill of Tara in County Meath, Ireland.

Nearby is a burial mound, also known as passage cairn, one of hundreds found across Ireland. Modern archaeology credits these mounds as having been built by the Neolithic people in order to bury their dead. This one, the Mound of the Hostages, was excavated and found to contain the remnants of over 100 burials.

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Usually they consist of a stone passage with a chamber inside, built using slabs of rock. The stone section is then covered over with earth to form a small round hill. The Mound of the Hostages is 70 feet in diameter and 9 feet high.

The arrival of the Celts

The sixth tribe to invade Ireland were the Milesians (commonly known as the Celts) and when defeated, it’s believed that the Tuatha dé Danann retreated into the otherworld, or fairy world, and while the Celts would now rule the natural world, they would become known forevermore as the fairies, or Sidhe.

The Fairy Tree at Tara

Fairy Tree at Tara
Fairy Tree at Tara

In Irish folklore, a lone hawthorn tree is widely believed to be one of many portals between the physical world above and the spiritual world below. Fairy trees, like this one at Tara, are revered by locals. The fairy tree is associated with healing. If you have an ailment then you are supposed to leave a personal item or a gift for the fairies and in return they will heal your affliction.

Reliving the past

The Mound of the Hostages, the Royal Seat and Cormac’s House are enclosed by a wider circle known as the Rath of the Kings, which encompasses an area of 70,000 square metres and has been dated at around 200-300BC. Many other raths dot the area. Although heavily visited, there are times and places on the hill where you can get away from the crowds and revel in the tranquillity of this lush green hill and wonder just how it once was all those centuries ago.

There was a time when a group of modern-day druids held an annual festival on the summer solstice. They re-enacted many of the ancient ceremonies once held here by the ancient tribes. It was a fascinating insight into how it must once have been. Sadly, this festival was abandoned because of abuse from outsiders.

A re-enactment of the Celebration of the Sunrise at Tara on the Summer Solstice day
A re-enactment of the Celebration of the Sunrise at Tara on the Summer Solstice day

Getting there:

Driving: From Dublin take the M3 towards Kells and Navan. Follow this until you see a sign indicating a left turn to Tara.

For more about Ireland’s ancient legends and folklore, check out my book Mysterious World: Ireland

Mysterious World Ireland
Mysterious World Ireland

About Ian Middleton

Ian Middleton is a professional writer and photographer from the UK. He is the author of several books, including Mysterious World: Ireland and A Practical Guide to Photography. His photos have been published in various books and magazines such as Lonely Planet, Bradt Travel Guides, Guardian newspaper and more. He has written several articles for Landscape Photography Magazine, Total Slovenia News, and many more.... Ian has travelled around the world, and also lived and travelled for many years in Ireland. He currently divides his time between the UK and Slovenia. All articles here are copyrighted. For permission to reproduce or syndicate any of these, please contact Ian directly.

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