Friday, November 26, 2010

Hill of Tara

The hill of Tara (Irish, Teamhair na Rí, “Hill of the King”) is a low limestone ridge standing at 646 feet (197 m) running near the river Boyne in County Meath, Leinster. Its prominence dates to very ancient times, and it has long held a place of singular significance in Irish legend and lore. In the Lebor gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), the earliest complete copy of which dates to the 12th century, Tara is named for Téa, wife of Eremon, the first Gaelic ruler of Ireland, in replacing the earlier name of Druim Cain (Cain’s ridge).

The remnants of an oval-shaped Iron Age hillfort known as the Fort of the Kings, or the Royal Enclosure (Ráith na Rig), stand at the summit. Enclosed by an internal ditch and an external bank, two ringforts linked to each other within the fort are known as Cormac’s House (Teach Chormaic) and the Royal Seat (Forradh). In the middle of the latter, a standing stone protrudes, believed to be the Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil) at which the high kings of Ireland were supposedly crowned and which, when touched by the royal hand, after the claimant to the throne had won a series of challenges, would emit a screech heard all over the island.

The importance of Tara predates Celtic times, and a legendary account names Tara as the capital of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

The list of those bearing the title of “high king of Ireland” goes back to the second millennium b.c.e (though the earliest names are mostly mythical), and although no proof has been found that Tara served as the political and spiritual capital of the earliest Celtic people in Ireland, it is known that the site evolved to become the chief center of these high kings from before the sixth century c.e. It retained that status until sometime during the 12th century, although its splendor declined over time.


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