Hill of Tara
Royal Sites of Ireland Survey
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Hill of Tara
Tara, Co. Meath
During the 7th century the Uí Neill dynasty rose to power in the territory of Mide, the area today called Meath and Westmeath. The Uí Néill saw the Hill of Tara as their royal centre, and developed the legend that the High Kingship of Ireland was traditionally associated with Tara. The biographer of Patrick, Múirchú, writing about AD680, described Tara as ‘the capital of the Irish’.
The royalty of the site is evoked by names attributed by medieval poets to the various monuments, such as the Rath of the Kings, the Banqueting Hall, the Rath of the Synods and Cormac’s House, after the legendary king Cormac Mac Airt. The Banqueting Hall captured the imaginations of medieval scholars who described it as a hall with seven opposing doorways, at the top of which the king of Tara presided over his court.
The oldest monument on the Hill of Tara is the Mound of the Hostages, a Neolithic passage tomb, subsequently reused as a burial mound during the Bronze Age. To the north is the Banqueting Hall, probably a ceremonial avenue to the summit of the hill. A large bank with internal ditch formed a ceremonial enclosure around the top of the hill during the Iron Age. The standing stone called the Lia Fáil (the stone of destiny) was traditionally associated with the inauguration of a king. According to legend a voice cried out of the stone when a proper king was inaugurated. To the north-west is Ráith Gráinne, the largest of a complicated series of burial monuments known as ring-barrows.