The Hill of Tara (Irish Temair na Rí, "Hill of the Kings"), located near the River Boyne, is an archaeological complex that runs between Navan and Dunshaughlin in County Meath. 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.
At the summit of the hill, to the north of the ridge, is an oval Iron Age hilltop enclosure, measuring 318 metres (1,043 ft) north-south by 264 metres (866 ft) 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 (Teach Miodhchuarta), 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.
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.
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 Newgrange, 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 offence 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.
The M3 motorway, which opened in June 2010, passes 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 Institution.
There is currently a letter writing campaign being undertaken to preserve the Hill of Tara.
Tara in Fiction:
The Hill of Tara is used in Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series as a surveillance and travelling point by the Fairies of the Lower Elements as the entrance to E1.
Tara is featured in the Chronicles of Faerie series by Canadian-Irish author O.R. Melling
Tara is the name of the O'Hara family plantation in the novel and film Gone with the Wind, as it was named by its Irish founder after the Hill of Tara.
It is also used in the album Tara by US black/thrash metal band Absu.
Tara is also featured in the historical fiction novel by Edward Rutherfurd, The Princes Of Ireland.
In the video game Rome: Total War, Tara is the capital of the Irish province, Hibernia.
Irish singer Moya Brennan, former singer of Clannad, wrote and recorded an album about Tara, called Two Horizons.
Tara is the name of a village featured in the PBS Kids Sprout cartoon series Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks. The Hill of Tara is shown in a number of episodes.
The Hill of Tara is featured in the 1958 Disney film Darby O'Gill and the Little People.
The Hill of Tara is featured as a primary location in Morgan Llywelyn's Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish.
Tara is the ancient name of the smaller of the Griphon Islands in the fantasy roleplaying setting of Bicolline, Dalryada being the name of the larger one.
Tara is referenced in Thomas Moore's poem "The Harp That Once through Tara's Halls."
Tara is a visitable town in the Mabinogi, an MMORPG, following the G10 patcher.
At the start of Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Mrs. O'Keefe recites St. Patrick's rune for the first time, using the words "At Tara in this sacred hour," She is presumably referring to the Tara of Ireland, as the rune is passed down from ancient kings of Tara.
"The Hill of Tara" is the name of an Irish pub in the video game Mafia 2.
Criticisms of Tara:
In July 2010 it was proposed that a conservation area around the Hill of Tara be implemented. This would mean that no new building developments such as homes or farm related buildings could be constructed. With the conservation area all terrestrial aerials and satellite dishes would be removed. Many residents have major objection. The main objection being that homes for local people are not allowed to be built on their own land, but the government has built a 4 lane motorway, 'M3', through the proposed conservation area. If introduced it will be the first conservation area in Ireland. Local residents are complaining that the potentiallity of the conservation area is making homes unattractive in the housing market.