Burial mounds, Earthworks, Passage grave, Ring and Hill forts
Co. Meath
Nearest town: Navan
Nearest village: Kilmessan
Map references: 13N92.60

Tara ImageThe Mound of the Hostages, as seen from NE, is a small passage grave

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Tara Hill was one of the most venerated religious spots in early Ireland and the seat of the High Kings of Ireland from 3rd century until 1022. Despite its importance, the superficial visitor may be disappointed in what he sees. At Tara there are no signs of regal past, nor impressive remains, only simple earthworks. But there are many megalithic monuments on the hill, and lots of historic and legendary events are connected to this place.
    The most prominent and oldest monument on the hill is the Mound of the Hostages. On excavation, it proved to be a small passage grave dating to around 2000 BC.
    Aligned to it is the so-called Banqueting Hall. This name originates in Medieval literature which wrongly identifies it as the place where thousands of guests enjoyed banquets and the 'feis', a pagan ceremony held at the beginning of November. This rectangular earthwork of 230x27m (755x89ft), Neolithic in date, could just have been the ceremonial entrance to the Hill on which all the major roads of ancient Ireland converged.
    Between the Mound of Hostages and the Banqueting Hall is a ringfort with three banks known as the Rath of the Synods. In 1899 it was 'excavated' by the British Israelites who were searching for the Biblical Ark of the Covenant. They found only some 3rd century AD Roman coins which had been hidden there a few days earlier so that they would not be disappointed. By a curious coincidence, however, the excavations made by Seán P.O'Riordáin fifty years later produced genuine Roman material (a seal, a lock, glass, and pottery), dating from the 1st to the 3rd century AD.
    On the Hill of Tara there are the remains of many other earthworks. To the South of the Mound of the Hostages, inside the bank and the ditch of the so-called Royal Enclosure, stand two linked ringforts known as the Royal Seat and the Forradh. The Forradh has two banks and two ditches around it. In its centre lies the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, the most obvious phallic symbol of ancient Ireland. It once stood near the Mound of the Hostages, and it is said to be the stone of the coronation of the kings of Ireland. It roared three times when the future king stood on it. Other legends say it was the pillow of Jacob or the coronation Stone of Scone of Westminster Abbey.
    To the south of the Royal Enclosure are the remains of another circular earthwork known as the Fort of King Laoghaire, where the king is said to be buried fully armed and in an upright position in order to see his enemies coming. To the north of the Royal Enclosure there are other round earthworks, two of them known as Sloping Trenches and one Gráinne's Fort, named for King Cormac's daughter who was the heroine of the tragic love tale of Diarmuid and Gráinne.
    Half a mile to the South of Tara Hill there is another hill-fort called Rath Maeve (after the legendary goddess-queen Maeve or Medbh). It is about 230m (750ft) in diameter, part of its bank and ditch is well preserved near the road.

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