Hill of Tara
The seat of the High Kings of Ireland of old, Tara or Temair as it was known then, is said to have been the seat of a hundred and forty two kings, kingships won by battle, contest and merit, not passed down father to son as in more primitive cultures. One of the most important monuments in the sacred Boyne valley, its history stretches back four thousand years or more, and has seen many events since.
Saint Patrick is legended to have come there first in the 430s AD to confront the ancient religion of the island in its greatest stronghold, lighting his paschal fire on the Hill of Slane close by. Before him again, Roman coins and artifacts have been discovered.
Although no buildings remain standing on the hill, we can still see several large earthen fortifications enclosing two ring forts, one being Teach Chormaic, home of High king Cormaic mac Airt, and the other, westernmost one, is the Forradh, the Royal Seat, a large barrow with smaller barrows in nearby hills.
Most of Tara reamins unexcavated, but we know there is a great deal more below the surface due to ultrasound explorations of the hill and surrounding areas. A huge temple almost two hundred meters wide consisting of over three hundred wooden posts was recently found by these means.
One part that still remains above ground is the stone of destiny, the Lia Fáil, which roared its approval when a High King of Ireland placed his hand on it. It was moved in commemoration of an Irish uprising against the English, and was said to have been one of four placed at the cardinal points of the compass, among many others around the area.
There is more to be seen around Tara as well, such as the hill of hostages, as it was the custom of the High Kings to take hostages to ensure the good behaviour of their fellows, aligned to capture both the sun and the moon at certain times, and the banqueting hall as well as the Rath of the Synods, where a Hebrew group in the early 20th century thought they could find the Ark of the Covenant.
Here is the full poem on the naming of Tara, the Metrical Dindshenchas:
Temair Breg, whence is it named?
declare O sages!
when did it separate from the country-side?
when did Temair become Temair?
Was it under Partholan of the battles?
or at the first conquest by Cesair?
or under Nemed of the fresh valour?
or under Cigal of the knocking knees?
Was it under the Firbolgs of the boats?
or from the line of the Lupracans?
tell which conquest of these it was
from which the name Temair was set on Temair?
O Duban, O generous Findchad,
O Bran, O quick Cualad,
O Tuain, ye devout five!
what is the cause whence Temair is named?
There was a time when it was a pleasant hazel-wood
in the days of the noble son of Ollcan,
until the tangled wood was cut down
by Liath son of Laigne Lethan-glas.
Thenceforward it was called Druim Leith—
its corn was rich corn—
until there came Cain free from sorrow,
the son of Fiachu Cendfindan.
Thenceforward it was called Druim Cain,
the hill whither chieftains used to go,
until Crofhind the chaste came,
the daughter of all-famous Allod.
Cathair Crofhind ('twas not amiss)
was its name under the Tuatha De Danand,
till there came Tea, never unjust,
the wife of Erimon lofty of mien.
Round her house was built a rampart
by Tea daughter of Lugaid;
she was buried beyond the wall without,
so that from her is Temair named.
The Seat of the Kings was its name:
the kingly line of the Milesians reigned in it:
five names accordingly were given it
from the time when it was Fordruim till it was Temair.
I am Fintan the poet,
I am a salmon not of one stream;
it is there I was exalted with fame,
on the sod-built stead, over Temair.
Temair free from feebleness hides not
the glory due to women for its building;
the daughter of Lugaid obtained in her possession
an open plain that it were pity to pillage.
The wife of Gede begged a dower
from her husband, as I have heard,
the clear-hued fortress, stately ascent;
keen was the game for graves.
The abode was a keep, was a fortress,
was a pride, a rampart free from ravage,
whereon was to be the grave of Tea after death,
so that it should be an increase to her fame.
Erimon the lowly had
a wife in the very midst of imprisonment;
she got from him all her eager desires;
he granted everything she spoke of.
Brega Tea, a teeming home,
is famed because Tea was a noble dame;
the funeral mound under which is the great one of the standards,
the burying ground that was not rifled.
The daughter of Pharaoh, with tale of warriors,
Tephi the bright, who used to cross the hill-slope,
framed a stronghold (hardy the labourer!)
with her staff and with her brooch she traced it.
She gave a name to her fair stronghold,
the king's wife gracious and lovely:
the Rampart of Tephi, who would affront an army,
whence she executed without dread any deed.
Not hidden is the secret place that it should not be spoken of,
the Rampart of Tephi in the east, as I have heard;
in such wise at that place with no unworthy tradition
did many queens build their sepulchres.
The length and breadth of the House of Tephi
not ignorantly the learned measure—
sixty feet in full;
diviners and druids beheld it.
I have heard in many-cornered Spain
of a maiden fair and indolent, heroic in fight,
offspring of Bachtir son of Buirech;
Camson, gentle champion, wedded her.
Tephi was her name, from every warrior;
ill-luck to him whom her entombment should wear out!
a rath of sixty feet, full measure,
was built by them for her concealment.
The king of Bregon free from sorrow did not wed her,
though there was strife between him and Camson,
that the loan of her might be returned1
were it for better or for worse, or were she dead.
The tutelar of Camson, not hidden,
Etherún (he was transitory),
and the grey-eyed pasturing host
were sent by him as a pledge for the restitution of mighty Tephi.
The sad death of Tephi who came to the north,
was a deed not concealed for a moment;
Camson launched a vessel without payment
with her over the surface of the cold and treacherous sea.
The chief of Britain sent them from the shore,
(for Etherun was pure;)
with the lifeless body to do it honour in the rampart
in the south, on which settled the name Tephirún.
It was after this likeness in this place
was made boldly the first frame
of Temair, that has no match nor mate
for beauty and for gaiety.
'Temair' is the name of every lofty and conspicuous spot
whereon are dwellings and strong keeps;
'Temair' is the name of every peaked and pointed hill
except the far-seen Emain.
Temair of the cantred, and of the house,
70] without hurry, without frenzy of heroes,
was mother of the wealth of every tribe
till a foolish crime destroyed her.
It was a shield of lords and chiefs
it was a home of heroes, valiant in fray,
Temair free from feebleness and faintness
hides not its glory from womankind.
Temair noblest of hills,
under which is Erin of the furrows,
the lofty city of Cormac son of Art,
son of mighty Conn of the hundred fights.
Cormac, constant was his prosperity,
he was sage, he was poet, he was prince;
he was a true judge of the men of Fene.
he was a friend, he was a comrade.
Cormac, who gained fifty fights,
disseminated the Psalter of Temair;
in this Psalter there is
all the best we have of history.
It is this Psalter that tells of
seven warlike high kings of Erin;
five kings of the provinces it makes,
the king of Erin and her viceroy.
In it is set down on every hand
what is the right of every king of a province,
what is the right of the king of Temair eastward
from the king of every songful province;
The correlation, the synchronising of every man,
of each king one with another together;
the delimitation of every province marked by a stone-rick,
from the foot to the full barony.
Baronies thirty in number it finds
in the baronies of each province;
in each province of them there are
seven noble score of chief fortresses.
Cormac knew the number being king;
he made the circuit of Erin thrice;
he brought away a hostage for every walled town,
and showed them in Temair.
Duma na Giall (purity of palms),
is called from the hostages Cormac brought;
to Cormac was revealed in their house
every marvel that is in Temair.
There was revealed to Fergus, as it is,
the place in which is Fergus' Cross;
the Slope of the Chariots marks the limits
between it and the Crooked Trenches.
The Crooked Trenches where they slew the maidens,
The Crooked Trenches of the crooked dealings
west from Rath Grainde below,
they remain free from decay both of them.
Eastward from Rath Grainde in the glen
is the Marsh of strong Temair;
east of the Marsh there are
Rath Nessa and Rath Conchobair.
The Measure of the Head of grim Cuchullin
lies north-east from Rath Conchobair;
the dimension of his Shield under its Boss
is wonderful and huge.
The Grave of Mal and Midna
is in Temair since their slaying:
thence is their grave and their sepulchre,
on account of the head they boasted.
Let us consider too the Hall of the Heroes
which is called the Palace of Vain Women;
the House of the Warriors, it was no mean hall,
with fourteen doors.
The Mound of the Women after their betrayal
was hard by the upper structure;
south of it are Dall and Dorcha,
they were bowed down both alike.
Dall is south-west of sad Dorcha,
from them was called Duma Dall-Bodra;
each of them killed the other
in fighting over their alms.
The dwarf came, to his sorrow,
to interpose between them,
so they killed the dwarf
under their feet, through their dimness of sight.
Westward from the Grave of this dwarf
are Mael, Bloc, and Bluicne—foolish their wisdom!
over them are the three stones
that the Prince of great Macha flung.
The secret Rampart of the three Whispers
is between the Hall and the Heroes' Well;
the Stone of the Warriors is east of the road,
over against the Rath of the Synod.
The Rath of the Synods, noble excellence,
lies north of the Precinct of Temair;
eastward from the Rath beside the Stone
is the house whence Beniat escaped.
The Synod of Patrick was at the noble Rath,
The Synod of Brendan and of Ruadan,
The Synod of Adamnan thereafter,
assembled to curse Irgalach.
Below from the Rath of the Kings (it is not false)
are the Grave of Cu, the Grave of Cethen, the hill of the Ox;
east of the Rath is
the grave of Maine son of Munremar.
There remains south of the Rath of the King
the Rath of Loegaire and his Keep
and his Grave on the floor of his Keep;
the righteous one of the Lord overcame him.
Behold the noble House of Mairise
chief for beauty in Erin;
it is high to the west, very high to the north,
level eastward of it,—it was a triumph of the mason.
It is there was situated
the house, on the margin of Nemnach;
about this house away across Meath
were scattered the houses of Temair.
Temair, whence Temair Breg is named,
Rampart of Tea wife of the son of Miled,
Nemnach is east of it, a stream through the glen
on which Cormac set the first mill.
Ciarnait, hand-maid of upright Cormac,
used to feed from her quern many hundreds,
ten measures a day she had to grind,
it was no task for an idler.
The noble king came upon her at her task
all alone in her house,
and got her with child privily;
presently she was unable for heavy grinding.
Thereupon the grandson of Conn took pity on her,
he brought a mill-wright over the wide sea;
the first mill of Cormac mac Art
was a help to Ciarnait.
The Caprach of Cormac is in the Rath of the Kings;
eastward from the Rath of the Kings (that is the truth of it)
is the Well of the Numbering of the Clans,
which is called by the three names:
Liaig Dail Duib Duirb, Tuath Linde,
and Tipra Bo Finne,
three names to designate it,
to make known the well of Temair.
Another spring (mighty force),
which flows south-west from Temair;
Calf is its name, though it never sucked a cow;
Cormac's Kitchen is on its margin.
There rise north of Temair
Adlaic and Diadlaic of the host;
two springs flow diverse thence
down to the Carn of the Boys.
Between the two Carns of the Lads
is the Deisel of Temair south of Crinna,
a sward that brings luck before going to death,
where men used to make a turn right-hand-wise.
North of the great hill
is the Rath of Colman, the brown Domnan;
the Grave of Caelchu under a like heap of stones,
lies north-east from the Hall of the Women of Temair.
Caelchu son of Loarn son of Ruad
son of Cormac Cas, who loved victory,
was the first hostage out of the men of Munster;
from him descend the princes of Ros Temrach.
The House of Temair, round which is the rath,
from it was given to each his due;
honour still continues to such as them
at the courts of kings and princes.
King and Chief of the Poets,
sage, farmer, they received their due,
couches that torches burn not,
the thighs and the chine-steaks.
Leech and spencer, stout smith,
steward, portly butler,
the heads of the beasts to all of them
in the house of the yellow-haired king.
Engraver, famed architect,
shield-maker, and keen soldier,
in the king's house they drank a cup;
this was their proper due ... a fist.
Jester, Chess-player, sprawling buffoon,
piper, cheating juggler,
the shank was their share of meat in truth,
when they came into the king's house.
The shins were the share of the noble musician,
the flute-player and rhymester both,
the horn-blower, the piper,
both consumed the broken meats.
A charge on the prince of Meath,
were the cobblers and comb-makers,
the due of the strong skilled folk
was the fat underside of the shoulder.
The backs, the chines in every dwelling
were given to druids and doorkeepers.
the uruscla belonged without question to the maidens2
after serving the house of Tara.
Colum Cille, who used to redeem captives,
broke the battle against Diarmait;
before he went away over-sea
the lords of Temair gave him obedience.
The faith of Christ who suffered in the flesh
has brought all strength to nought;
because of the sorrow of the people of God in its house
He gave not protection to Temair.
This world, transient its splendour!
perishable gathering of an hundred hosts;
deceitful to describe is the multitude of delights,
save only the adoration of the King of all things.
Perished is every law concerning high fortune,
crumbled to the clay is every ordinance;
Temair, though she be desolate to-day,
once on a time was the habitation of heroes.
There was no exhaustion of her many-sided towers,
where was the assembly of storied troops;
many were the bands whose home was
the green-soiled grassy keep.
It was a stronghold of famous men and sages,
a castle like a trunk with warrior-scions,
a ridge conspicuous to view,
in the time of Cormac grandson of Conn.
Fair is the title that protects it,
the name he chose [to mark it out] among cities;
the Fort of Crofind, pen of victory,
excels Boand, millstone of combat.
When Cormac was among the famous
bright shone the fame of his career;
no keep like Temair could be found;
she was the goal of the world's road.
Strong before hosts was the might
of this king who used to ride through Temair;
better for us than tribes unnumbered
is the tale of his household retinue.
The great house with thousands of soldiers
was not obscure to posterity;
the shining fort with the choicest of the illustrious,
seven hundred feet was its measure.
Fierce folly did not hold sway over it,
nor strictness of harsh wisdom;
it was not too small for separation,
six times five cubits was its height.
Nine walls it had, fierce fight could not demolish,
with nine ramparts round about them;
with noble equipment of the noble scions,
it was a fort illustrious and impregnable.
The dwelling of the king, King over Erin,
was a refuge, a keep, a fortress,
whereon was poured out the sparkling wine,
there were thrice fifty chambers in it.
Thrice fifty heroes with coronets,—
(it was a castle not foolish and brawling)
that was the tale, according to the counts of fortresses,
in every chamber of the number.
Goodly was the throng in this wise,
the gold gleamed from their weapons;
thrice fifty stately couches there were,
and fifty men to each shining couch.
Seven cubits, an honest reckoning,
before the crowded warlike company,
with blazing torches burning,
that was the measure of the hearth.
Other seven, I have heard,
made in truth a brightness beyond denial,
majestic, notable, noble,
beautiful chandeliers of brass.
This sunny shining citadel,
festive, martial, with cask-staves,
therein, amid radiant hospitality,
were doors twice seven in number.
This was the right of that king—
a vessel from which that host would drink,
a vast capacity was the full content thereof,
three hundred draughts there were in that vessel.
Harmonious and stately was the carouse
of the fiery chieftains and noblemen;—
there were none neglected of the number;
three hundred cupbearers dispensed the liquor.3
Nine times fifty beakers to choose from;
their abundance was a case of choice
except what was carbuncle, clear and strong,
all was gold and silver.
Thrice fifty steaming cooks,
in attendance unceasingly,
with victuals, an abundant supply,
on the jolly kings and chieftains.4
Fifty noble stewards
with the well-guarded honourable prince,
fifty festive spruce lackeys,
with [each] fifty of kingly champions.
Fifty men standing
guarded the sturdy wolf,
as long as the king was a-drinking,
to ward off mischances for him.
It was glory to the prince that was greatest,
every day [his retinue] was more numerous;
thirty hundreds whom he kept in attendance
the son of Art counted daily.
The chief company of the good genuine poets
who declared the rule of their assembly,
along with the professors of every art in general,
'tis certain whatever that company says is not folly.
Let us tell in full tale the household
of the house of Temair for posterity;
this is their right number,
thirty thousands in all.
When Cormac was in Temair,
beyond all high prowess for his great might,
a kingly equal to the son of Art Oenfer
was not to be found among the men of the world.
Cormac, fair of form,
was the firm set foundation of the kingdom;
he was born of white-skinned Echtach,
[he was] son of the daughter of Ulc Acha.
Since Solomon was a-searching
who was better than all progenies together,
has any progeny like Cormac
enjoyed the world?
Temair, Tailtiu, land of assembly,
Raigne, Rachru, proud rath,
Cuillend with the river Crommad,
Tromra, Trommad, Druim Suamaig,
The Mound at Brug, it shall be remembered,
Cumar Droman, Druim Calaid,
Belat, Blaitine, Bruigin,
Muincille, Mured, Maigin,
Cermna, Caprach, and Callann,
Mag Breg with numerous hills,
Cnoc Dabilla, Mag Mellenn,
Crinna, Cerrenn, Colt, Cuillend,
Muirtemne, Tlachtga, Tuirbe,
Suilighe, Slanga, Semne,
Sid Muine, majestic, many-hued,
Echtga, Ochaine, Ai, Aigle,
Nas, Carman, Cualu, Celbe,
Raigniu, Rafann, and Rairenn,
Dun Inteing, Dun Clair, Dun Crea,
Dun Brea, and Dun Cairenn,
Uisnech, Athais, Ard Feda,
Slemun, Slaine, Sid Coba,
Dermag of the oakwoods and the hills,
Lusmag, Luimnech, Lecc Loga,
Druim Ruaid, Druim Rig, Druim Rossa,
Druim Criad, Druim Cain, Druim Cressa,
Druim Dian, Druim Dailb, Druim Essa,
Druim Meith, Druim Aird, Druim Dressa,
Eithmann, Aisi, Ard Gabla,
Cernna, Collamair, Cnogba,
Crufot, Crinna, Cruach Aigle,
Uachtar Ailbe, Ard Odba,
Bri Scail, Bri Airc, Bri Aine,
Bri Breg, Bri Ech, Bri Fele,
Bri Molt, Bri Dam, Bri Dile,
Bri Leith, and Bri Ele,
Loch Da Dall, bright Loch Faife,
Loch Ing, Loch Gabur, Loch Gand,
Loch Dub, Loch Dreman, Loch Dond,
Loch Corr, Loch Cera, Loch Camm,
Loch Rib, Loch Cuan, Loch Codail,
Loch Uair, Loch Airc, Loch Enaig,
Loch Lein, Loch Laig, Loch Lugair,
Loch Cuil, Loch Cimmi Cnedaig,
Mag Breg, Mag Find, Mag Ferai,
Mag Luirg, Mag Li, Mag Line,
Mag Slecht, Mag Ce, Mag Cummai,
Mag Moen, Mag Marc, Mag Mide,
Sinann, Sligech, Sruth Domna,
50] Boand, Banna, and Berba,
shining Goistine, Grene,
Fele, Life, Lind Segsa,
Ath Cliath, Ath Croich, Ath Cuili,
Ath I, Ath Orc, Ath Ele,
Ath Luirg, Ath Luain, Ath Craibe,
Ath Fraich, Ath Fian, Ath Fene,
Lordly the roar of the five cataracts,
Ess Ruaid, that was king of the ancient cataracts,
Ess Croich, Ess Muiriath beyond,
Ess Dubthaig, Ess Tigernaig,
Rath Guill, Rath Goirt, Rath Gabra,
Rath Mor, Rath Mael, Rath Medba,
Rath Becc, Rath Eich, Rath Emna,
Rath Truim, Rath Tail, Rath Temra;—
The strongholds of Erin after these
I have left—I say without shame—
to someone else that shall be wiser,
who may traverse them unto Temair.
Though there be over imperial Banba
famous kings—high their mirth!
no kingly authority is binding on them
save from the king that possesses Temair.
Maelsechlaind, branch of bright fortune,
spreads peace about the ancient plain,
free from mortal pain beyond all generations,
may he be in the kingship of Temair!
Thereafter, till Doomsday, may it be shared,
before and above everyone without shame,
by his line, ever famed for hospitality;
80] may it never be extinct in Temair!
Achall which confronts Temair,
the youths from Emain loved her;
she was mourned when she died,
the white bride of Glan, son of Carbad.
The daughter of Cairpri perished,
the daughter of Fedelm Noichruthach,
from grief for Erc, which fills the stanza(,
who was slain in vengeance for Cuchullin.
Conall Cernach brought the head of Erc
to Temair about the hour of terce;
bad was the deed was done by him,
the breaking of the cold heart of Achall.
The Mound of Finn, the Mound of the Druids,
the Mound of Creidne, cheek by cheek;
the Mound about which was fought the famous fight,
the Mound of Erc, the Mound of Achall.
The nobles of Ulster came
round Conchobar of the champions;
they held races bright and pure
for Achall which confronts Temair.
The Mound of Erc (it was no narrow work)
on the hill south of Temair;
Erc, it is there his time came,
the comely brother of Achall.
Brothers were Finn from cold Alend,
and Ailell from stern Cruachan,
of Cairpre Nia from Temair in that country,
whose noble daughter Achall was.
The Mound of the Druids, south of it
lay Temair of the Kings, the royal hold;
eastward of Temair yonder,
it is there Achall died.
It is there the woman was buried,
the daughter of the high Kings of the Gaels,
for her was raised this rath on that spot;
there did Achall meet her death.
The six women that are the best that were in the world,
after Mary the mother of God;
are Medb, Sadb, Sarait who adorn stanzas,
Erc and Emer and Achall.
A squire of Cairpre Nia Fer,
Eochu the fierce, champion of the Gaels,
attempted to have one of his children
by the maiden, by Achall.
I give sure testimony thereon
to the daughter of Cairpre ...
that a stolen hour with her was not to be had in that place;
Achall surpasses all damsels in beauty.
I pray the Son of God who brought decay
on Medb Lethderg, on Medb Derg,
on Sadb, on Sarait, on Fand,
on Garb, on Erc, on Achall,
That there may be a place in high heaven
for Cinaed ua Hartacain:
he knows the rule of rhyme for every verse;
it is he that goes to and fro in Achall.
Never set foot on earth
one that surpassed her in herds nor horses;
never was bred there in Temair
a woman that surpassed Achall.
Boy, take my horse in thy hand;
let none come to trouble me;
the Gael and the Gall are on the foray;
swift are their horses across Achall.
The place where our horses are,
there was a wood through it on every hand;
the land of the poet Mane the indolent,
it was called from him before it was named Achall.
The rath of pure Conaire endures,
the rath of Cairpri ... endures;
Essa endures not, here or elsewhere,
Erc endures not, nor Achall.
Fogartach was at Dind Rig;
he was a king of Fodla with doughty deeds;
the Gael and the Gall knew
the valour of that single hero at Achall.
Pleasant the folk, brisk and cheerful,
the clan of Cernach, son of Diarmait;
they have slain hosts till now
round the cold flanks of Achall.
Amlaib of Ath Cliath the hundred-strong,
who gained the kingship in Bend Etair;
I bore off from him as price of my song
a horse of the horses of Achall.
There came to Temair of the kings
Colum Cille free from sorrow;
by him a church is founded there
on the hill where Achall was buried.
The Hill of Tara can be seen on the map below here. If you'd like to visit you can find a good list of hotels, B&Bs and other accommodation here. While you're enjoying this site you might also enjoy a little Celtic and Irish music to set the mood, or just the one or two songs if you're not interested in the whole albums. Don't forget you can get some very nice Irish jewelry for yourself or someone else as well, or for the craftier maybe make your own!
You can find a lot more information about Tara and the mad quest for the Ark here as well.