Mound of the Hostages, as seen from NE, is a small passage grave
Tara Hill was one of the most venerated religious spots in early Ireland and the seat of the
High Kings of Ireland from 3rd century until 1022. Despite its importance, the superficial visitor may be disappointed in what he sees. At Tara
there are no signs of regal past, nor impressive remains, only simple earthworks. But there are
many megalithic monuments on the hill, and lots of historic and legendary events are connected
to this place.
The most prominent and oldest monument on the hill is the Mound of the Hostages. On
excavation, it proved to be a small passage grave dating to around 2000 BC.
Aligned to it is the so-called Banqueting Hall. This name originates in Medieval literature which wrongly identifies it as the place where thousands of guests enjoyed banquets and the
'feis', a pagan ceremony held at the beginning of November. This rectangular earthwork of
230x27m (755x89ft), Neolithic in date, could just have been the ceremonial entrance to the Hill
on which all the major roads of ancient Ireland converged.
Between the Mound of Hostages and
the Banqueting Hall is a ringfort with three banks known as the Rath of the Synods. In 1899
it was 'excavated' by the British Israelites who were searching for the Biblical Ark of the
Covenant. They found only some 3rd century AD Roman coins which had been hidden there a few
days earlier so that they would not be disappointed. By a curious coincidence, however, the
excavations made by Seán P.O'Riordáin fifty years later produced genuine Roman material
(a seal, a lock, glass, and pottery), dating from the 1st to the 3rd century AD.
On the Hill
of Tara there are the remains of many other earthworks. To the South of the Mound of the
Hostages, inside the bank and the ditch of the so-called Royal Enclosure, stand two linked
ringforts known as the Royal Seat and the Forradh. The Forradh has two banks and two
ditches around it. In its centre lies the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, the most obvious
phallic symbol of ancient Ireland. It once stood near the Mound of the Hostages, and it is
said to be the stone of the coronation of the kings of Ireland. It roared three times when
the future king stood on it. Other legends say it was the pillow of Jacob or the coronation
Stone of Scone of Westminster Abbey.
To the south of the Royal Enclosure are the remains of another circular earthwork known as
the Fort of King Laoghaire, where the king is said to be buried fully armed and in an upright
position in order to see his enemies coming. To the north of the Royal Enclosure there are other round earthworks, two of them known as
Sloping Trenches and one Gráinne's Fort, named for King Cormac's daughter who was the heroine of
the tragic love tale of Diarmuid and Gráinne.
Half a mile to the South of Tara Hill there is another hill-fort called Rath Maeve (after
the legendary goddess-queen Maeve or Medbh). It is about 230m (750ft) in diameter, part of its bank and ditch is well preserved near the road.