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The Hill of Tara (Irish Teamhair na Rí, "Hill of the Kings"), located near the River Boyne, is an archaeological complex that runs between Navanmarker and Dunshaughlinmarker in County Meathmarker, Leinster, Irelandmarker. It contains a number of ancient monuments, and, according to tradition, was the seat of Árd Rí na hÉireann, or the High King of Ireland.

Recent scholarship claims that despite the rich narratives derived from mythologies, Tara was not so much a true seat of kingship, but a sacral site associated with kingship rituals. Other historians have argued that the concept itself is mostly mythical.

Ancient monuments

At the summit of the hill, to the north of the ridge, is an oval Iron Age hilltop enclosure, measuring north-south by east-west and enclosed by an internal ditch and external bank, known as Ráith na Ríogh (the Fort of the Kings, also known as the Royal Enclosure). The most prominent earthworks within are the two linked enclosures, a bivallate ring fort and a bivallete ring barrow known as Teach Chormaic (Cormac's House) and the Forradh or Royal Seat. In the middle of the Forradh is a standing stone, which is believed to be the Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny) at which the High Kings were crowned. According to legend, the stone would scream if a series of challenges were met by the would-be king. At his touch the stone would let out a screech that could be heard all over Ireland. To the north of the ring-forts is a small Neolithic passage tomb known as Dumha na nGiall (the Mound of the Hostages), which was constructed around 3,400 (cal.) BC.
To the north, just outside the bounds of the Ráith na Rig, is a ringfort with three banks known as Ráith na Seanadh (the Rath of the Synods). Excavations of this monument have produced Roman artifacts dating from the 1st-3rd centuries.

Further north is a long, narrow rectangular feature known as the Banqueting Hall, although it is more likely to have been a ceremonial avenue or cursus monument approaching the site, and three circular earthworks known as the Sloping Trenches and Gráinne's Fort. All three are large ring barrows which may have been built too close to the steep and subsequently slipped.
Banqueting Hall
To the south of the Royal Enclosure lies a ring-fort known as Ráith Laoghaire (Laoghaire's Fort), where the eponymous king is said to have been buried in an upright position. Half a mile south of the Hill of Tara is another hill fort known as Rath Maeve, the fort of either the legendary queen Medb, who is more usually associated with Connacht, or the less well known legendary figure of Medb Lethderg, who is associated with Tara.

Tara's significance

For many centuries, historians worked to uncover Tara's mysteries, and suggested that from the time of the first Celtic influence until the 1169 invasion of Richard de Clare, the Hill of Tara was the island's political and spiritual capital. Due to the history and archaeology of Ireland being not well-integrated, and naturally evolving, archaeologists involved in recent research suggest that the complete story of the wider area around Hill of Tara remains untold.

The most familiar role played by the Hill of Tara in Irish history is as the seat of the kings of Ireland until the 6th century. This role extended until the 12th century, albeit without its earlier splendor. Regardless, the significance of the Hill of Tara predates Celtic times, although it has not been shown that Tara was continuously important from the Neolithic to the 12th century. The central part of the site could not have housed a large permanent retinue, suggesting that it was used as an occasional meeting place. There were no large defensive works. Certainly the earliest records attest that high kings were inaugurated there, and the "Seanchas Mor" legal text (written down after 600AD) specified that they had to drink ale and symbolically marry the goddess Maeve (Medb) to acquire the high-kingship.

Previous scholarly disputes over Tara's initial importance advanced as archaeologists identified pre-Celtic monuments and buildings dating back to the Neolithic period around 5,000 years ago. One of these structures, the Mound of the Hostages, has a short passage which is aligned with sunset on the true astronomical cross-quarter days of November 8 and February 4, the ancient Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolc. The mound's passage is shorter than the long entryways of monuments like Newgrangemarker, which makes it less precise in providing alignments with the Sun; still, Martin Brennan, in The Stones of Time, states that the daily changes in the position of a 13-foot (4-m) long sunbeam are more than adequate to determine specific dates.

A theory that may predate the Hill of Tara's splendor before Celtic times is the legendary story naming the Hill of Tara as the capital of the Tuatha Dé Danann, pre-Celtic dwellers of Ireland. When the Celts established a seat in the hill, the hill became the place from which the kings of Mide ruled Ireland. There is much debate among historians as to how far the King's influence spread; it may have been as little as the middle of Ireland, or may have been all the northern half. The high kingship of the whole island was only established to an effective degree by Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid (Malachy I). Irish pseudohistorians of the Middle Ages made it stretch back into prehistoric times. Atop the hill stands a stone pillar that was the Irish Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny) on which the High Kings of Ireland were crowned; legends suggest that the stone was required to roar three times if the chosen one was a true king (compare with the Scottish Lia Fail). Both the Hill of Tara as a hill and as a capital seems to have political and religious influence, which diminished since St. Patrick's time.

At one time, it was a capital offense to make a fire within sight of Tara.

A grave was found near the hill that is supposedly that of King Lóegaire, who was said to be the last pagan king of Ireland.

During the rebellion of 1798, United Irishmen formed a camp on the hill but were attacked and defeated by British troops on 26 May 1798 and the Lia Fáil was moved to mark the graves of the 400 rebels who died on the hill that day. In 1843, the Irish Member of Parliament Daniel O'Connell hosted a peaceful political demonstration on Hill of Tara in favour of repeal of the Act of Union which drew over 750,000 people, which indicates the enduring importance of the Hill of Tara.

During the turn of the 20th century the Hill of Tara was excavated by British Israelists who thought that the Irish were part of the Lost Tribes of Israel and that the hill contained the Ark of the Covenant.

Motorway development

The M3 motorway currently (2008) under construction will pass through the Tara-Skryne Valley - as does the existing N3 road. Protesters argue that since the Tara Discovery Programme started in 1992, there is an appreciation that the Hill of Tara is just the central complex of a wider landscape. The distance between the motorway and the exact site of the Hill is 2.2 km (1.37 miles) - it intersects the old N3 at the Blundelstown interchange between the Hill of Tara and the Hill of Skyrne. The presence of this interchange situated in the valley has led to allegations that further development is planned near Tara. An alternative route approximately 6 km west of the Hill of Tara is claimed to be a straighter, cheaper and less destructive alternative.On Sunday 23 September 2007 over 1500 people met on the hill of Tara to take part in a human sculpture representing a harp and spelling out the words "SAVE TARA VALLEY" as a call for the rerouting of the M3 motorway away from Tara valley. Actors Stuart Townsend and Jonathan Rhys Meyers attended this event.

The Hill of Tara was included in the World Monuments Fund's 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world. It was included, in 2009, in the 15 must-see endangered cultural treasures in the world by the Smithsonian Institutionmarker.

There is currently a letter writing campaign being undertaken to preserve the Hill of Tara.

Tara in Fiction



Image:Sunset-hill-of-tara.jpg|SunsetImage:High-cross-the-hill-of-tara.jpg|High CrossImage:Church-hill-of-tara.jpg|Church

See also



References

  1. Knowth.com photo of Samhain sunrise at the Mound of Hostages "The Stone Age Mound of the Hostages is also aligned with the Samhain sun rise." The sun rises from the same angle on Imbolc.
  2. "The Hill of Tara". Sacred Sites International Foundation.


Further reading

  • Raftery, Barry (1994) Pagan Celtic Ireland: The enigma of the Irish Iron Age. London, Thames and Hudson


External links




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