The Hill of Tara - Sarah Woodbury

The Hill of Tara

Tara started out as Neolithic site, with a Neolithic passage tomb, called The Mound of Hostages, built around 3200 BC and holding the graves of over 300 individuals. Then, in the early Bronze age, some thousand years later, a giant ‘woodhenge’ was built on the hilltop to surround the passage tomb.

The Celtic period begins with the Iron Age, starting roughly around 500 BC. Several large enclosures were built on the hill, the largest of which, The Enclosure of the Kings, had a circumference of 1000 meters. Another two structures were built in a figure eight—one called Cormac’s house and a second that is the royal seat. It is at this point that Tara unites history and religion.

In Celtic mythology, Tara was the capital of the Tuatha de Dannan, the Irish gods, and its Neolithic passage tomb was seen as providing access to the Otherworld. Also at Tara, we find the Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny, which in ancient times lay beside or on top of the Mound of Hostages, and legend says would cry out when the true king knelt upon it.

Dan—Wait a minute. We’ve been to the hill of Tara and that stone is standing upright.

Yes, that’s true, but that’s because a) likely it isn’t actually the right stone and b) by standing it upright, modern peoples reveal they misunderstood the legend. In the mythology, the Stone of Destiny was one of the four sacred objects brought to Ireland by the Tuatha de Dannan: From Failias was brought the Lia Fail, which is in (Tara), and which used to utter a cry under every king that should take Ireland. This would be in keeping with the Scottish coronation stone, also mythic and Celtic, upon which the king knelt to receive his crown. It is 26 inches by 16 by 10, which is why it was able to reside for so long under the throne of England (though it has since been returned, though that’s another story).

Dan—so how do we know all this about Tara when they didn’t have a written language. The Romans didn’t conquer Ireland.

They didn’t, but as with the Britons, we know of Tara’s significance because of the people who came after, in Ireland’s case, that would be Christian monks. Ireland converted to Christianity in the 5th century, and they wrote down much of their pagan history despite the fact that it was pagan. These writings date to between the 6th and 11th centuries, one of the most famous being the Chronicle of Ireland, which was kept by monks in Iona. These writings state that Tara was the seat of the High Kings from antiquity. Another claim associated with Tara, is that in claiming the throne there, the king must drink ale and symbolically marry the goddess Medb as part of his coronation. The last high king to observe these rituals was Diarmait Mac Cerbaill who died in 565 AD.

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