It never ceases to amaze me that “Tara”, a site so steeped in the history and mythology of Ireland is so badly sign posted from Dublin. Its almost as if the Office of Public Works don’t want you to visit. I only saw one brown tourist sign on the M3 and even then, I was unsure if the next junction 7 was the turn off.
I guessed correctly and from then on it was well marked. There is a car park and a Cafe / tourist shop called “Maguires” at the start. There is also a little bookstore in a stone shed just past the Café, which is fairly “eclectic” in its taste. There are a number of historical books about “Tara”, which can be bought here.
The first time I visited the premises, I picked up a handsome tome and making conversation with the owner asked “was it any good?” He replied “it should be as he was the author!” This caused me to smile and I decided that this book was the one for me !!!
To get to the main site you pass by a statue of St Patrick and then an 18th century church with a small graveyard. There is a sense of tension here, as the church does not fit into the landscape and the day I visited, there was a “murder of crows” cackling in the beech trees that surround the churchyard.
There are 2 standing stones in the graveyard in front of the church, one a short “rounded” limestone and a “rectangular” sandstone with the faint outline of a figure at its base believed to be the Celtic God “Curnunos”. This is the God of fertility, hunting, animals and is usually represented as a stag.
On exiting the church you find the “Rath of the Synods” to your right and to your left the “Mound of the Hostages”. This is believed to be the oldest structure on “Tara” and its doorway like Newgrange is said to be aligned so that the various solstices can be predicted from the suns passage. It is said that the “stone of destiny, the Lia Fail” was originally positioned near this mound.
The “Lia Fail” or “Stone of Destiny” was supposed to wail (cry) if the true High King of Ireland stood on it. It is believed to have been moved to its present position on “Cormac`s House” to commemorate the dead from the “1798 Battle of Tara”. It also could be in Scotland according to other sources.
“Tara” was an important religious and spiritual centre for the Celtic people of Ireland. The 5 main roads of Ireland connected directly to it. The High King of Ireland had to pass a number of tests apart from the wailing of the “Stone of Destiny”. His coming had to be predicted by a seer who had gorged on the meat of a slaughtered bull and drunk its broth. He had to wear the mantle of a king and be able to pass his chariot through the 2 sacred stones that marked the entrance to “Tara” (Possibly the 2 at the graveyard ?).
A king had to be physically perfect as he was chosen by the Gods, he could also be dispatched if things didn’t go well as various bog bodies finds attest, so perhaps it was a bit of a poisoned chalice !!!
The mythic stories of the various battles around Meath and Tara between the Druids of various foreign invasion forces make this area special. The Milesians believed to be the Celts defeated the “De Dananns” who being fairy folk retreated to the various mounds and “raths” and sacred spaces only appearing at special times.
Next to Cormac`s House is the “Royal seat” and a little further on “Rath Laoghaire”. Through the passing of time and farming practices these grand structures have collapsed but I hope a photo and a little imagination from the viewer might bring them back to light !!!
The author of the book of “Tara” told me the water for the wells of “Tara” comes from an unusual rock formation that stretches all the way to Glendalough which cause water to emerge here under pressure.
I believe there are 6 wells that are known about. One is still active , one semi- active and the rest were filled in over the years by the local land owners. There does seem to be some attempt on my most recent visit, to re-open some of them. There are usually Hawthorn trees next to them as they are traditionally seen as “Guardians of the Well”. The main active well of “Dark eye, the Healer” is just past “Maguire`s” on the right hand side
Though the mounds and enclosures are now protected monuments, there has been unfortunately over the centuries been many amateurish excavations. The national museum of Ireland has a nice exhibition of its own excavation of the “Mound of Hostages”.It is well worth a visit as it also has a great collection of “Golden Torcs”, swords, spear heads, boundary markers and even bog bodies. You can also see the “Tara Brooch”
After looking at the mounds and enclosures, I followed the “Hawthorn” field boundary to the left as far as I could. This led to a stream near a small bungalow. If you follow this stream to the right, you will find a“Holy well”. It was not flowing well when I visited but there is a Hawthorn tree which is usually covered in ribbons, cloth and other offerings.
Almost level with the “Mound of Hostages” is a lovely wooded area and its well worth a visit to see the mature trees there. I took this picture of a Horse chest nut tree with blue “swinging ropes”. This area I believe down to below the “Sloping Trenches” was known as the “Sacred Groves” and is very peaceful and calming.
After emerging from this area, I came up to a series of earthworks called the “Sloping Trenches” and a wonderful lone “pendiculate” oak. This area I believe had been used as a burial site. I took a picture with my replica “Norman sword” following my recent Arthurian theme.
As you make your way back towards the church there are other earth works, procession ways and it`s this area, where the other “Holy wells” now blocked were located.
I do think “Tara” is worth a visit but it always makes me angry that this important site is not given the reverence it deserves. I don’t know if its lack of money or just in-difference from the National Museum (½ the signs are missing) but I can`t help feeling that there is a missed tourist opportunity here !!!