Heritage hot spots History, nature, art, environment


Hill of Tara What is it?The Hill of Tara, near Navan, Co Meath, is a limestone ridge that holds a wealth of historic detail in its mounds and earthworks.

It was the seat of the high kings of Ireland, making it the most important centre of political and religious power in pre-Christian Ireland. Here the five roads of ancient Ireland converged; from the top you can understand its strategic position better, as you can see up to 12 counties.

Why visit?If you don’t like the parades on St Patrick’s Day, it’s the perfect place to go for a sense of history, fresh air and open space. The most important thing to take with you (apart from warm and waterproof clothing) is an interest in how people lived thousands of years ago. Thirty monuments are visible on the hill itself, with more than 100 others underground. The most significant ones include the 5,000-year-old passage tomb called the Mound of the Hostages, which was a burial ground and pagan sanctuary for 1,500 years. The Fort of the Kings, or Royal Enclosure, is an Iron Age hill fort where enthronements and other ceremonies took place. The Hill of Tara was also the location for Daniel O’Connell’s last Monster Meeting, in 1843, at which he campaigned for home rule and repeal of the Act of Union.

Why now?It will give you a long view of history, as many of the events on the Hill of Tara predate our Christian heritage. There are connections with St Patrick, however. One of these has to do with how Patrick broke the ban on lighting an equinox fire before the high king (then King Laoghaire) when he lit a fire at Slane. When the druids saw the fire, they challenged Patrick to a duel of magic and, the story goes, Patrick’s Christian magic beat their pagan magic, and the high king was so impressed that he allowed Patrick to convert the people to Christianity. Unlike some other important pagan sites, Tara lost its religious importance with the rise of Christianity. The Anglo-Normans built a church there in the 12th century, however; it was replaced in the 15th century. A church dedicated to St Patrick was built in 1822; it is now a visitor centre (open from late May to mid-September). For lots more information about what you’ll be seeing, you could consider buying Mary Mulvihill’s excellent podcast from ingeniousireland.ie.

How do I get there?Tara is five kilometres north of Dunshaughlin, off the R147. From Dublin, leave the M3 at junction 7 and follow the signs. Bus Éireann’s 109 to Navan can drop you on the R147 about 10 minutes’ walk from Tara.