After finishing our picnic lunch at Newgrange, there was time to make one last stop in County Meath to round out our 2-week stay in Ireland. Near Skryne, the ancient ceremonial and burial site called The Hill of Tara was worthy of exploration.
The Hill of Tara is 509 feet high and found on the top are two ringforts. These earthworks called An Forradh and Teach Chormaic are central, while a smaller raised mound off to the side is the Mound of the Hostages.
An Forradh is a large barrow that once was both the mythical and historical Royal Seat of ancient kings. This ancestral site is believed to be where the High Kings of Ireland were inaugurated.
Set within An Forradh is the most famous of Tara’s monuments, Lia Fáil or the Stone of Destiny. This standing stone is 1.5 metres tall, and it is at this stone where the High Kings were crowned.
This great coronation stone is said to be one of the legendary treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a race of people populating Irish mythology. According to the myths, if the rightful king touched the stone, it would let out a roar.
The Hill of Tara dates from the Stone Age but gained significance during the Iron Age and into the early Christian period. It is said that 142 pre-Christian kings reigned here.
Erected close by the Stone of Destiny on the large flat-topped mound of An forradh is a gravestone commemorating the Battle of Tara. It marks the graves of 400 rebels who died on this spot during the 1798 United Irishmen’s Rebellion. The Stone of Destiny previously stood in front of the Mound of the Hostages but was moved to its present location early in the 19th century to also lend significance to the lives lost during the rebellion.
Also in a place of prominence on the Hill of Tara is the Tara Cross, another marker signifying the 1798 Rebellion.
An forradh is also referred to as the Mound of Assembly. Inauguration ceremonies and pagan burials were performed here, and it was the place that people gathered to hear new laws read and enacted.
An Forradh is the older of the two ringforts constructed on the crest of the Hill of Tara. It was built during the Bronze Age. An Forradh is linked with the other ringfort, Teach Chormaic.
Teach Chormaic, Cormac’s House, was built by the legendary King of Tara, Cormac Mac Airt, who ruled in the 3rd century A.D.
Each monument is surrounded by high banks that enclose a wide ditch. An Forradh is a 40-metre wide barrow or burial mound. Its 3-metre high banks incorporate 3 smaller barrows into their structure.
Teach Chormaic is a 70-metre wide barrow.
In this aerial photograph, it is possible to see that both An Forradh and Teach Chormaic are encircled by an even larger ring fort called Ráth na Ríogh (the Enclosure of the Kings). With a circumference of 1,000 metres, it too has an inner ditch and outer bank that encloses much of the hilltop. The Enclosure of the Kings probably had 3 entrances, and it dates to 100 BC.
The Hill of Tara is thought to have been selected as this place of importance because it affords a splendid view of the Plains of Meath and a great swath of central Ireland. The view is fit for a king and benefited the ruler of the day.
Of the over 20 visible ancient monuments at the Hill of Tara, the most significant and oldest is the Mound of the Hostages. This Neolithic passage tomb was built circa 3200 BC and served as the burial mound for a single community for over a century. Called Duma na NGiall, it was the site of about 300 burials.
When Bob and I visited the Hill of Tara, the Mound of Hostages was undergoing some maintenance.
Having been used well into the Bronze Age, the Mound of Hostages was originally a free-standing burial chamber that later was covered with a stone cairn that was subsequently covered with a heavy layer of soil.
Over 1,500 years, the Mound of Hostages saw many improvements and extensions that were discovered by archaeologists. It is one of the few monuments on the Hill of Tara to be excavated and reassembled.
Over the distance of the 4-metre passage into this megalithic tomb, 3 compartments were created using sill stones. Each compartment stored cremated remains. The original archaeological dig established that the passage was one metre wide.
Mound of the Hostages is so named because it was customary for the Irish Kings to take hostage a number of important people.
Back in the 5th century, St. Patrick visited the Hill of Tara to confront the ancient religion of the pagans and lead them on the path to Christianity. This was their most powerful site, believed to be the sacred dwelling place for their gods and the entrance to the otherworld, so the perfect place for St. Patrick’s challenge.
The statue of St. Patrick commemorates his visit to the Hill of Tara. It wasn’t until around 1190 that a charter was issued for a church at this site.
The Hill of Tara became more symbolic over the centuries, but people still believe that magic exudes from the location where stones roared and trees granted wishes.
To the side of the Hill of Tara is the Fairy Tree of Tara. Traditionally a hawthorn tree is chosen as a Fairy Tree or Wishing Tree. It is believed that, if you tie a ribbon or a piece of colourful fabric to a branch of the tree, your wish will be heard by the fairies or wee folk or local saints.
Hawthorn trees bloom in May about the same time as La Bealtaine when the celebration of rebirth takes place. At that time, local people and tourists flock to Fairy Trees to make offerings in hopes that their wishes and prayers will be answered.
Bob and I were ill-prepared to make an offering at the Fairy Tree of Tara, so we scrounged in our backpack and found a small mirror. Somehow, it seemed appropriate where it twirled in the breeze offering reflections of the past and glimpses into the future. In addition, we re-draped over the tree’s branches some trinkets that had fallen off….just to be on the safe side in terms of our wishes.
Our visit to the Hill of Tara was in early June when Wishing Trees around the country are still heavily loaded with offerings made at the Bealtaine festivals. Rich in folklore tradition, the simple ritual gives insight into the thinking of ancient rural peoples.
La Bealtaine corresponds with May Day which heralds spring and marks the beginning of summer. Instead of a Maypole, the ribbons and fabrics, also called clotties, that adorn a Wishing Tree make a colourful presence on the spring landscape.
Depending on the location of some Wishing Trees, such as the one at the Hill of Tara, they are frequented by so many visitors that the trees become burdened by the volume of offerings.
As a result, regular clean ups are organized to remove the unwanted and inappropriate offerings in order to protect the Wishing Trees from damage under the weight and by the restrictive bindings.
After making a wish or two at the Fairy Tree of Tara, Bob and I had to make haste to the airport for our return flight to Canada. Bob kept his wish secret, and my wish came true…a safe flight back to Toronto.