The Hill of Tara, located near the River Boyne, is today a mound in County Meath, Leinster, Ireland, on which the grass has veiled the rich heritage of the country. This is where the High King had his seat. From the Celtic invasion until the invasion of Strongbow in 1169 it was the political and spiritual capital of the island. For many centuries, historians have been working to uncover Tara's mysteries; more recently, archaeologists have joined historians in ongoing research.
The most familiar role of Tara in Irish history is as the seat of the kings of Ireland until the sixth century. This role extended until the twelfth century, albeit without the earlier splendour. However, Tara's importance extends well before Celtic times.
Previous scholarly dispute over Tara's initial importance has been advanced as archeologists identified pre-Celtic monuments and buildings, dating back to the Neolithic, about 5,000 years ago. One of these, the Mound of the Hostages, has a short passage which is aligned with sunset on the cross-quarter days of November 8 and February 4, the ancient Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolc. (Today, these festivals are celebrated a few days earlier on October 31 and February 1 respectively. Also, the mound's passage is too short to be as accurate as the others in providing alignments with the Sun; still, Martin Brennan in The Stones of Time, states that the daily changes in the position of a 13-foot long sunbeam are more than adequate to determine specific dates.)
A theory that may date Tara's splendour in pre-Celtic times is the legendary story naming Tara as the capital of the Tuatha Dé Danann, pre-Celtic dwellers of Ireland. When the Celts established their seat in the hill, it became the place from which the kings of Meath ruled Ireland with a godly status. On the top of the hill stands a pillar stone that was the Irish Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny) on which the High Kings of Ireland were crowned; it was said that the stone had to roar three times if the chosen one was a true king (compare with the Scottish Lia Fail). Both Tara as a hill and a capital seem to have had not only political but religious influence, which diminished since St. Patrick's time. Near the hill was also found a grave that is supposedly that of King Leoghaire, who was said the last pagan king of Ireland.
In the nineteenth century, the Irish Member of Parliament Daniel O'Connell hosted a peaceful Home Rule political demonstration in Tara which drew 1 million people, which indicates the enduring importance of Tara.
The name Tara can derive either from ancient Gaelic 'tara', tower, or 'tor', height, since as it is a hill (height), most ancient ruins found at the site were circular, like the basic shape of a tower.
The proposed M3 motorway will pass through the Skryne Valley, at its closest coming within 1.2km of the Hill of Tara. This development has caused widespread controversy.
- Heritage of Ireland, Tara (http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/HistoricSites/East/HillofTaraMeath/)
- Mythical Ireland (http://www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/tara/index.html)
- The Save Tara/Skryne Valley Campaign (http://www.taraskryne.org/) — campaign group calling for the rerouting of the M3 motorway
- M3 Clonee-North of Kells Archaeological Assessment Contract 2 Dunshaughlin-Navan (http://www.nra.ie/Archaeology/M3Clonee-NorthofKells/) — National Roads Authority report on the archaelogical impact of the development
- Decision due on Hill of Tara motorway (http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1348030,00.html) — The Guardian article on the controversy