Seventh-century documents describe the battles between dynasties to claim kingship of Tara and hence kingship over the whole of Ireland. Tara continued to be the nominal seat of kingship until it was abandoned in 1022.
Although the Hill of Tara is a “must-see,” there isn’t as much to see as you might expect. It’s a gentle hill, undulating with grass-covered depressions and elevations of ring forts, barrows, and misguided explorations. Signs give fanciful labels based on the fevered imagination of nineteenth-century excavators. It may be romantic to think that one is “seeing” the remains of the Royal Palace, the Royal Banquet Hall, the Royal Enclosure, or Grainne’s Fort, a burial mound associated with “The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne”. But is it accurate? In most cases, not.
The imaginatively named Mound of the Hostages is a passage grave built around 3000 BCE, the same time as the massive mounds at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth). It is 21 m (70 ft) in diameter and 2.7 m (9 ft) high. Once it held over 200 Neolithic cremations and forty burials from the Bronze Age, proof of its long-standing importance as a sacred site. One complete skeleton of a young man was found with a dagger and a bead necklace of jet, amber, bronze, and Egyptian faienceâ€”testimony to far-flung trade routes. Two beautiful gold torcs dating around 2000 BCE were also found in the mound and are now at the National Museum, Dublin. The mound has many associations with the moon, including an interior wall carving of thirteen spirals, perhaps representing an early moon calendar.
The passage is oriented toward the rising sun on the cross-quarter days in early November and February (Samhain and Imbolc). Legend and archaeology come together, for both indicate that Tara was important at the beginning of winter, what we now call Halloween, a time when the spirits of the dead are especially accessible and the beginning of spring, as indicated by the references to the White Cow and Imbolc. How appropriate that both should be marked in this sacred landscape of death and rebirth.
Walk slowly up the Tech Midchuarta (the misnamed “Banquet Hall”), the ceremonial avenue constructed between the fifth and eighth centuries CE. High banks on either side isolate you from the outside world, creating an almost subterranean entryway to this powerful place. Gaps (perhaps a total of seven) provide glimpses of the tombs of ancestors, which legends claim to have been kings and queens. Center yourself and be present to your surroundings and you may begin to feel their presence, especially around Samhain!
Wander off the labelled path and find the faery hawthorn tree, dripping with clootie cloths, on the west slope of the Hill of Tara. That’s a fine place to meditate. See if you can get a feeling for this land, location of so many burials and celebrations, for thousands of years. What is it about this place that generates so much importance? Is there power innate within the land, or does the power come from the human pageant that has taken place upon it? Or can the two be separated?
Contemplate the relationship of stones and kingship: Arthur proved he was the awaited king by pulling a sword from a stone; the High Kings had to be approved by the screeching Lia Fai. Ponder the polarities of masculine and female power – the phallic Stone of Destiny and the fertile land of Tara “herself” – both considered vital to validate the High King.
Although the Hill of Tara is only 200 meters (650 feet) high, you can see 40% of Ireland from its summit. On a clear day you can see the glimmering white quartz facade of Newgrange from “The Banquet Hall.” There’s a reason (actually, several) that this hill as been important in history and folklore for millennia.
Source Powerful Places in Ireland