Photographer's Note

Pictured here is the summit of the Hill of Tara in County Meath.

Meath is traditionally known in Ireland as the Royal County, as it was here on Tara that the High Kings of Ireland sat.

The site itself dates back over 5000 years to the Neolithic period with numerous monuments and buildings from this era being excavated. Much of the area still remains unexplored, which helps add to the mystery of this place. I have on occasion come across modern pagans performing ceremonies at this place.

The hilltop that we see here in this shot is an iron age hilltop enclosure 646 feet high. It measures 1043 feet north to south and 866 feet east to west. It is enclosed by a ditch and a large external bank. This hilltop is known as the Forradh (meaning Royal Seat).

The phallic stone pictured here is a fertility symbol, and is believed to be the Lia Fail, a stone of Irish legends. It is said that if a series of challenges were completed by any would be King, the stone would let out a scream. At the touch of this King the stone would screech so loudly that it would be heard across the entire country.

Close to this hilltop, there is also a mound known as the Mound of the Hostages. This is a Neolithic passage tomb dating back to approx. 3400 BC. It is known by its current name as hostages would often be taken by the High King of Ireland, normally family members of competing chieftains, and they would be imprisoned in this mound. The imprisonment of family like this meant respect from those who might compete for the title.

In addition to these mounds, the site is also known for several other ringforts such as the Rith na Seanadh which has on excavation given forth Roman artifacts dating back to the 1st century, as well as Rith Laoghaire, Rath Maeve, and Grainne's Fort.

The importance and level of usage of the Hill of Tara is something that is much discussed and debated. While it is known that the site has been used by people for over 5000 years, it is not known if it was continuously in use between the Neolithic and the 12th century.

An 11th century manuscript known as the Book of Invasions speaks of the hill as the seat of high kings from times in deepest darkest history, when Ireland was home to the mythological Fir Bolg as well as the Tuatha De Danaan, people who occupied the island before the Celts.

It is believed that the exposed elevated site could not have been a place of continuous year round occupation, and was more likely a symbolic meeting place. Even the name The High King of Ireland is somewhat romantic, as the king here at Tara himself would never have ruled the entire country. It is possible his rule extended only to the center of the country, or at most the northern half. A true high kingship of all Ireland was not properly established until the rule of Mel Sechnaill mac Mele Ruanaid in the 9th century.

Whatever the actual permanent ruling or living conditions here, it is obvious that this place has always had significant royal and religious functions, but the religious side has faded since St Patrick brought Christianity to the country.

The mound of the hostages has a short passage which is aligned with sunrise on the solar cross-quarter-days, which fall at the midpoints between the solstices and equinoxes. Its light effects on these days somewhat resemble those of its far more well known neighbor at Newgrange, but unlike Newgrange whose amazing displays fall on the winter Solstice, this mound displays its Neolithic magic on the ancient Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolc which mark the beginning of Autumn and Spring.

It is a magical (and cold) place on a December morning.

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Additional Photos by Noel Byrne (Noel_Byrne) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 4177 W: 26 N: 9240] (33774)
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