The Hill of Tara

The Hill of Tara

Introduction

Tara is one of Ireland’s most renowned ancient sites. A prehistoric centre of ritual and burial, the site featured in medieval manuscripts as the seat of Ireland’s High King. Known as a royal complex it started in 3500BC with the construction of the passage tomb, the Mound of the Hostages. Bronze Age and Iron Age monuments like Ráith na Rí and the Lia Fáil were added as the complex grew.

Medieval texts describe the elaborate use of these monuments in the coronation of the High Kings. The dramatic feasting, battles and feats of the kings retold in folklore would fuel 19th century nationalism movements, with Tara becoming a symbol of independence and Irish identity.

On the map are a series of interest points which will allow you to explore the different monuments on the Hill of Tara. Use the navigation bar at the bottom of each way-point to navigate through the sites or click the map button at the side to display this map as you explore the site.

Statue of St Patrick

In the 7th century accounts of St Patrick’s Christianisation of Ireland, a dramatic tale sees the saint lighting an Easter fire within view of Tara in defiance of King Lóegaire. Statues dedicated to the tale have been at Tara since the 19th century.

St Patrick's Church

There has been a church in Tara since at least the twelfth century and by the thirteenth century the Knights Hospitallers, an order of monks, controlled the church. The church on the site today was constructed in 1822 and is now used as the visitor centre for the site.

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The Banqueting Hall

This prehistoric ceremonial avenue visible as two earthen banks extends over 200m and is orientated on the Mound of the Hostages. It is colourfully described in medieval texts as a great banquet hall of the High Kings.

Rath of the Synods

The Rath of the Synods is a circular enclosure with four banks and ditches. Archaeological excavations in the 1950s revealed that the enclosure was built in the 2nd century AD. Many of the finds, including high-status drinking vessels, originated from the Roman world, indicating important foreign contacts with Tara. The site is named after the synods reputedly held here by early Irish saints.

It suffered extensive disturbance in 1899–1902 when a group known as the British Israelites dug into it looking for the Arc of the Covenant.

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Mound of the Hostages

This passage tomb was built around 3500BC. Like the nearby and more famous passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowth, it contains a long passage, divided into three compartments and covered by a stone cairn and soil mantle. A decorated orthostat is visible on the left-hand side of the passage. Hundreds of individuals, most of them cremated, were buried here during the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

Ráith na Rí

Ráith na Rí, the largest enclosure at Tara, was constructed in the Iron Age, around 100BC. It consists of a substantial bank and deep internal ditch and has a circumference of about 1 km. The enclosure is considered to be ceremonial in nature, and the manner in which it encloses older burial mounds shows that they retained an importance long after they were built.

The Forrad

The Forrad (Royal Seat) is a large, flat-topped mound surrounded by two banks and ditches. It lies near the centre of Ráith na Rí and is thought to be a Bronze Age burial site that was later used for the inauguration of the kings of Tara. It is one half of the figure of eight.

The 1798 Memorial

The 1798 rebellion was one of the bloodiest conflicts in the campaign for Irish independence.  Three hundred and fifty rebels were killed at the Battle of Tara on 26 May 1798. This memorial was erected to commemorate those who died in the battle, who according to tradition were buried in the central mound of the Forrad.

The Lia Fáil

A stone reputed to be the Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny), a phallic-shaped stone pillar, stands on top on the Forrad. The stone is said to have cried out in recognition of the rightful claimant during the inauguration ceremony of the kings of Tara. 

Tech Cormaic

Tech Cormaic (Cormac’s House), a ringfort with two banks and ditches, is joined with the Forrad in a figure-of-eight arrangement. A low grassy mound near its centre may be the remains of a house. Medieval literature describes the enclosure as the royal residence of the mythical king Cormac mac Airt.

Ráith Lóegaire

Although partly levelled today, Ráith Lóegaire was once an impressive circular enclosure (130m in diameter) defined by two banks and a ditch. Geophysical survey revealed a large circular structure or building near its centre, and an entrance to the enclosure on the east. Tradition links the site with king Lóegaire mac Néill, who is said to have been buried standing upright in the rampart, facing his Leinster enemies.

Henge/‘Ditched Pit Circle’

This remarkable monument no longer survives above ground and was discovered through geophysical survey. It is an oval-shaped enclosure consisting of a wide ditch flanked on either side by a ring of regularly-spaced pits, about 300 in total. It is thought that each pit originally held a wooden post, creating a large timber circle or ‘henge’. The enclosure is older than Ráith na Rí and could date from as early as the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. The Rath of the Synods lies at its centre and it also encloses the Mound of the Hostages. 

3D Reconstruction of Ditch Pit Circle at Tara

Ráith Ghráinne

Ráith Ghráinne dominates Tara,  70m in diameter,  it is the largest visible monument. A prehistoric burial ring-barrow, an earthwork with central mound, internal ditch and external bank. Its medieval name is derived from Gráinne, who according to legend eloped with Diarmait of the Fianna, rather than marry Finn McCool.

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Clóenfherta (Sloping trenches)

Clóenfherta

The Clóenfherta (Sloping Trenches) are located on a sloping part of the Hill of Tara and dramatic tales were told to explain their appearance. The legend that King Lugaid macCon made a false judgement that led to the collapse of the Northern Clóenfherta, whilst the southern monuments where the site of the slaughter of virgins by Dulaig, King of Laighin on Lá Samhain (1 November).

The northern monument of the Clóenfherta is the largest barrow at Tara and many smaller mounds and barrows are visible around it. The southern monument consists of a central mound or barrow surrounded by a ditch and enclosing bank.