Tara: Seat of the High Kings of Ireland
The ancient site of Tara (Teamhair na Rí, “Hill of the King”), is one of the most ancient sacred sites in Ireland. Tara is located in Meath, the symbolic center of Ireland. Tara is home to numerous monuments, including the Mound of the Hostages, a Neolithic era passage tomb; various earthworks; and the standing stone Lia Fail, the “Stone of Destiny,” which according to legend was one of the four treasures brought to Ireland by the Tuatha Dé Danann.
Tara is the legendary seat of Irish kings. It is where the high kings of Ireland would be chosen and where they would celebrate their coronations. The Hill of Tara is surrounded by an Iron Age-ringed fortification known as the Fort of Kings or the Royal Enclosure. Within this circular boundary are two interior rings, a smaller ring fort and a circular earthwork, which have the appearance of breasts when viewed from above.
It was here that the Feis Teamrach (“mating of Tara”) was held, a great assembly of lawmakers, scholars, and priests. This assembly, also known as the Parliament or Feast of Tara, was, according to legend, instituted over 3,000 years ago by King Ollam Fodhla, the namesake of Ulster.
In the manner of ancient tribal assemblies, the Feis Teamrach met every three years (or seven, depending on the account) at the feast of Samhain to discuss matters of history, decide laws, and record history. The ritual owes its name to the ancient king-making rite of sacred marriage, the symbolic mating of the Morrigan and the Dagda before the battle of Mag Tuiread. It is very likely that the ancient assembly evolved from a sexual ritual designed to reinforce the high king's symbolic marriage with the land, represented by the goddess Sovereignty.
Sadly, despite the immense cultural, spiritual, and historical importance of this ancient site, Tara faces serious threats from the encroachments of civilization. In 2006, despite strenuous and continuing protest from activists worldwide, construction began on an extension of the nearby N3 commuter roadway. The extension, dubbed M3, is designed to ease traffic congestion, and its path will cut directly through the Tara-Skryne Valley, where it will pass less than a mile and a half from the Hill of Tara. The proposed path cuts through an area rich with unexplored archaeological sites, including newly discovered monuments and tombs that lie directly in the path of construction.
In 2007, archaeologists discovered the remains of a massive circular henge complex several acres in size, a find of enormous historic significance. Because henges are a rarity in Ireland, this is a significant find. At the time of this writing, however, plans call for a rapid excavation of the site, after which it will be destroyed so as not to delay construction of the new roadway.