The Mound of the Hostages, a neolithic chambered mound, is one of the oldest visible monuments at the great multi-period site of Tara. The Loughcrew Hills, a large group of similar neolithic mounds 40 km to the northwest, can be seen to the left of the photo.

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The Hill of Tara

On the ancient Hill of Tara, from whose heights the High Kings once ruled all Ireland, from where the sacred fires in pagan days announced the annual resurrection of the sun, the Easter Tide, where the magic of Patrick prevailed over the magic of the Druids, and where the hosts of the Tuatha De Danann were wont to appear at the great Feast of Samain, to-day the fairy-folk of modern times hold undisputed sovereignty. And from no point better than Tara, which thus was once the magical and political centre of the Sacred Island, could we begin our study of the Irish Fairy-Faith. Though the Hill has lain unploughed and deserted since the curses of Christian priests fell upon it, on the calm air of summer evenings, at the twilight hour, wondrous music still sounds over its slopes, and at night long, weird processions of silent spirits march round its grass-grown raths and forts. 1 It is only men who fear the curse of the Christians; the fairy-folk regard it not.

Evans-Wentz, Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, 1911

The Hill of Tara is one of Ireland's most famous and mythical ancient sites. This low and not particuarly imposing hill rises to 155 meters, but offers a majestic view across the Plains of Meath and much of the centre of Ireland. There are many ancient monuments spread across the hilltop ranging from the early neolithic to early Christian times. Tara is probably best known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, and is frequently mentioned in various mythological texts.

Standing at the top or southern extremity of this remain, and bearing in mind the various prose and bardic histories of the Irish annalists, one cannot help reverting to ancient heroic times, and again, in imagination, peopling it with its earthly occupants. Here sat in days of your kings with golden crowns upon their heads; warriors with brazen swords in their hands; bards and minstrals with their harps; grey-bearded ollamhs; druids with their oak-leaf crowns.....

William Wilde

The main monuments at Tara consist of raths, ringforts and enclosures, which are spread across the 2 km long hill. Like most other ancient sites in Ireland, the neolithic people arrived here first. The oldest building at Tara is a small chambered cairn on the summit of the hill which is known as the Mound of the Hostages. This mound, dating to about 3000 BC, lies just within the northern edge of a massive enclosure known as Rath na Rig, The Fort of the Kings. Within this great enclosure are a pair of cojoined ringforts, the Forrad and Teach Cormaic, and within the Forrad is the famous Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny.

The interior of the Mound of Hostages.

Just north of the Mound of the Hostages are the tumbled remains of the Rath of the Synods, which is cut into by the grounds of the modern church. Just north again is a long, linear earthwork, Teach Midchuarta, the so called Banqueting Hall, which is probably the remains of a cursus, or ceremonial pathway. West of the hall is Rath Grainne and the Cloenfherta, the Sloping Trenches. To the south of Rath na Rig is Rath Loegaire, and about 1 km further south on the other end of Tara ridge is Rath Maeve, a massive enclosure.

The Well of the Dark Eye, also known as The Healer, on the east side of the Hill of Tara.

In addition there are several wells at Tara. Local lore says there were seven wells on the hill; some have been destroyed and filled in. The best known of the wells lies just east of Rath na Rig and has many names: The Well of the Dark Eye, Well of the White Cow, the Physican and the Healer. The water is delicious and as some of the names suggest, it is said to have healing powers. In the graveyard are two pillar stones, one tall and thin, one short and stumpy, which are said to be part of the kingship ritual at Tara. The taller stone has a carving of a Sheela-na-Gig.

Rath Maeve, a massive earthen henge 1 km to the south of the main monuments at Tara.