Tara – The Seat Of The High Kings Of Ireland
Within few minutes’ journey of the Brú na Bóinne (see page —-) stands the Hill of Tara, said to be the site of the coronation of Ireland’s high kings. Nowadays, it’s an area of considerable natural beauty and immense archaeological interest, and hasn’t lost much of its magic or its connection to the past.
Tara is where you’ll find the Lia Fáil, known in English as The Stone Of Destiny; an artefact associated with gods and kings…and god kings. Legend says that the Lia Fáil marks the very spot where the High Kings were crowned, and that it would cry out when the true king approached. Said to have been brought to Ireland by the Tuatha Dé Dannan themselves, it sits proud atop the Forrad, an artificial mound upon which would stand the lesser kings and local lords, and the druids who oversaw the coronation ceremony.
According to some legends, the stone granted the kings of Ireland superhuman abilities, and their power increased when they were close to it. Other stories say that it has been silent ever since it cried out for Brian Ború, Ireland’s last High King, who was slain by Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf, and that it used to be bigger but that Cúchullain split it with his sword when it failed to acclaim his friend Lugaid Riab nDerg as king.
BOX: The Lia Fáil was said to be one of the four divine treasures brought to Ireland by the Tuatha Dé Dannan. The others were the Claidheamh Solas (the sword of light); the Sleá Bua; a fearsome spear which belonged to the god Lugh and screamed for blood when brought out in battle; and the Coire Dagdae, the magical caldron of The Dagda himself, which provided infinite food and could even raise the dead.
The complex at Tara is more than just the Lia Fáil and the Forrad, however. Here you’ll also find the Mound Of The Hostages (a neolithic passage tomb), the Great Hall (which survives only as a huge rectangular earthwork), and a number of raths (forts), each enclosed by multiple ditches. Among them are the Rath of the Synods, where Ireland’s wise men were said to meet to ponder life’s mysteries and to advise the king and his court, and Rath Medhbh, said to be the resting place of the great Warrior Queen of Connacht. A succession of chapels has stood on top of the Rath of the Synods since at least the 1100s.
For all its incredible archaeology, it’s not thought that Tara was ever a permanent settlement, but it appears to have been a place of special significance since the Neolithic era. The oldest surviving structure, the Mound of the Hostages, is a solar calendar, aligned with the sunrise between the spring and autumn equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices – the so called “quarter days”.
BOX Most of the structures at Tara are from the iron age, and associated with the arrival of Indo Europeans on the island of Ireland. Closer to our own time, it was used as a potent symbol of Irish independence, and was even damaged in the 20th century by a British cult convinced that the biblical Ark Of The Covenant had been hidden there by Tamar, a Hebrew princess!