Ireland’s most revered ancient landscape.

Sometimes, when city life palls, I don my boots and head out to County Meath and the hillforts and burial mounds of  this historic landscape. This is one of Ireland’s most beautiful rural landscapes, peppered with archaeological and historic sites, along the beautiful valley of the river Boyne.

Co Meath from the Hill of Tara

The Meath countryside

Invariably, I end up climbing the Hill of Tara, most beautiful at sunset. It takes some imagination when standing here, to conjure up images of High Kings, druids and tales of yore, yet there is something intrinsically atmospheric, almost spiritual, about this landscape.

Tara

Looking out across the counties of Leinster from the Hill of Tara.

There are no obvious stone dwellings, just ditches and hills, best seen at dawn or dusk when the sun’s rays are low. But human habitation has been recorded here from the Neolithic era, 5000 years ago, with occupation for over 3000 years, in the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages.

Hill of Tara

The ditches and mounds representing human occupation from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages.

A stone pillar stands sentinel; this Lia Fáil  is associated with the inauguration of the Kings of Tara.

Tara

The Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny, with the mounds visible behind.

When studying archaeology, “ritual significance” was a term we always used when we were unsure of something’s function. Certainly the stone’s phallic shape suggests fertility; the fertility of the land and livestock was essential to survival. Its prominent placing suggests importance – perhaps High Kings were inaugurated at this spot or, more likely, religious ceremonies centred on it. Nearby a 200m linear avenue cuts through the landscape, suggesting a processional avenue.

Certainly St Patrick was concerned about Tara’s significance and sought to confront paganism at this, its principal site.

St Patrick's statue on the Hill of Tara.

St Patrick’s statue on the Hill of Tara.

One hundred and forty-two Kings are said to have ruled here, their stories lost in the myths and legends of Celtic lore. The five principal roads of ancient Ireland converged here and a short distance away are the passage tombs of Bru na Boinne, Newgrange, the largest and most important megalithic complex in Europe, the 700 examples of swirling spiral patterns carved on the stones making this, also, a foremost site of megalithic art.

On the Hill of Tara itself, is a smaller passage tomb angled so that it catches the sunrise on the Celtic festivals of Imbolc and Samhain.

The passage tomb on the Hill of Tara, constructed c 3400 BC.

The passage tomb on the Hill of Tara, constructed c 3400 BC.

The noticeboard by the gate describes Tara as “Ireland’s most revered ancient landscape”, a place where “monuments, myths and memories combine”. Clearly the old ways die hard, a new “raggy tree” has emerged here in recent years. Traditionally, rag trees were sited near “holy wells”, usually a hawthorn tree, where rags were tied with a wish or a prayer.

Rag tree on the Hill of Tara

Rag tree on the Hill of Tara

I mentioned earlier here  how I found out my birthday is associated with the Hawthorn, according to Celtic Ogham tradition. To the Celts, nearly all trees had magical powers attributed to them, especially the ash, oak and the thorn. The Yew was revered by druids who made their wands from its wood; it was a symbol of immortality, probably based on its longevity, and is still commonly planted in Christian churchyards.

Sunset on the Hill of Tara

Sunset on the Hill of Tara

Archaeology can supply the physical links, historians, poets and writers fill in the detail. With the wind whipping my hair on a chill dusk sunset, it’s easy to see why this site held such a fascination.

Visiting the Hill of Tara.

It is entirely free to visit the Hill of Tara, now owned by the State.

Parking can be found nearby, as can an excellent cafe, Maguires, and a small gift shop. More here.

 

Coffee, scone and homemade rhubarb jam at "Maguires".

Coffee, scone and homemade rhubarb jam at “Maguires”.

The whole area is rich in historical and archaeological sites, as well as being set in attractive countryside.

More about other sites to visit here. 

More about Beaulieu House and Garden here.

15 thoughts on “Ireland’s most revered ancient landscape.

  1. Beautiful! I would very much like to visit Tara one day, being a modern day Druid it will be something of a pilgrimage, but in the meantime it is simply lovely to see it through other’s eyes… thanks for the visit 🙂

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  2. Truly a magical place….to think it
    “One hundred and forty-two Kings are said to have ruled here, their stories lost in the myths and legends of Celtic lore.”
    hmmm…I enjoy visiting ancient places where others once walked…in the USA we don’t go that far back!

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    • Thanks Robbie. Tara is certainly a place to let one’s imagination run riot. There are few physical remains on the Hill, but many other prehistoric mounds are just visible in the landscape. But who knows if these were actually my ancestors?
      I have heard stone tools have recently been found in Texas dating back 15,000 years, but, even without human habitation, I am sure there are many inspiring physical landscapes in the US.

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      • oh there are but we don’t have the aged and worn b uildings of all of Europe. We are a bit younger (country),we are starting to have some of the older buildings back to the 1600’s when my great(s) came over on the Mayflower-lol..the Native Americans have wonderful history here,for example, I live down the street from where Black Hawk and his tribe use to winter( near the Rock River)…and a beautiful area:-) I ride near that river and there are parts that are untouched by man:-)

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      • I agree, Europe does have wonderful physical remains dating back thousands of years & remarkably varied from country to country.
        The Native American history in your area sounds fascinating.

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      • It is:-) Most of us came from other places…mine from all over Europe as others. So the true American History after a certain point belongs to the Native Americans. I am grateful they do keep Chief Black Hawks wintering site” as it was” for our young people to learn from:-)
        I enjoy your blog you show the most interesting places with gardens! I hope some day to go and see some of these gadens-just beautiful!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Ireland’s Ancient East. | Jardin

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