The Lia Fail | Ancient Ireland’s Sacred Stone of Knowledge

The Lia Fail, with my daughter Carys standing in front of it. I imagine this must be just a fragment of what it once was.
The Lia Fail, with my daughter Carys standing in front of it. I imagine this must be just a fragment of what it once was.

The Lia Fail stands at the top of the Hill of Tara (Teamhair na Ri in Irish, pronounced Tee-ow-ir na Ree) near the River Boyne in Co Meath, a much weathered column of grey granular granite approximately 1m in height above the ground. Tara is an ancient archaeological site of great significance associated with sacred kingship rituals, and it was from here that the Ard Ri, or High King of Ireland ruled his land.

The Lia Fail (pronounced Lee-a Fawl) itself is located in the centre of an earthwork enclosure known as the Forradh, or Royal Seat. Originally, it stood before the Mound of Hostages, a burial chamber also located on the site, and was only moved to its present position in 1798 following the death of four hundred rebels in the Battle of Tara during the Irish Revolution.

The term Lia refers to a stone of significance, a stone with a purpose, not just your average rock or boulder, ie a stone used as a marker for boundaries, monuments, or dolmens. It is also associated with meaning grey, aged, knowledge. The term Fail means hedge or wall, bed, protection and to guard. Perhaps, then, its title could be explained as ‘the stone which protects sacred knowledge’. For more detailed information on this, click here.

According to legend, the stone was made by Morfessa of the lost city of Falias, and was one of the Four Treasures belonging to the mysterious Tuatha de Denann, which they brought with them when they came to Ireland. Also known as the Coronation Stone, and the Stone of Destiny, it was said its cry confirmed the coronation of the rightful High King of Ireland when his feet were placed upon it, and that its roar was heard throughout the land. It is reasonable, therefore, to suppose that it must have reclined upon its side in order to facilitate a man standing upon it, rather than standing tall as it does today. Additionally, the magical powers of the Stone were said to have rejuvenated him, and gifted him with a long reign. In fact, the Tuatha de Denann revered the Lia Fail so much, they named Ireland Inis Fail after it.

I must confess to a slight feeling of disappointment when I first stood before this famous sacred stone. It was not a bit what I expected. It was small, and… well, quite phallic-looking in shape, and it’s texture looked more like rough concrete than natural stone. I expected something huge, colossal,  intimidating, a platform to rival the power of the men who had stood upon it and laid claim to their right to rule all Ireland. Of course, I didn’t understand the full story then, as I do now. Onward…

The Lia Fail was destroyed when it failed to proclaim Cuchullain’s protege, Lugaid Riab nDerg as the new Ard Ri. In a fit of rage, Cuchullain split the stone in two with a mighty blow from his sword and from that point on, it never roared again.

Sadly, this was not the only occasion on which the sacred stone became the victim of vandalism. Three months ago, during the night of May 28th 2014, the Lia Fail was daubed with thick, black paint. Previously, in 2012, the stone was damaged after being struck with a blunt object, probably a hammer. Why would anyone want to do these things? Very few people in this current age believe in the power of this stone. Ireland is no longer ruled by Kings, High nor petty. What would such attacks achieve?

In AD500, a large fragment of the stone’s remains was loaned by the High King Murtagh mac Erc to his brother, Fergus, for his coronation as ruler of the Dalriada in Scotland. What happened to it following his appointment is not known, however, it was reputed to have been carried off by Edward 1st of England in 1296, whereupon it was installed in the seat for the throne upon which all future British monarchs, including our current one, parked their royal posteriors as they were crowned.

Some claim that the Lia Fail was originally the stone known as Jacob’s Pillow. Some say it was brought into Ireland by Egyptian Queen Neffertiti, who they claim has been identified with the Fir Bolg Queen, Tailltiu, also called Tea by some.

It is also whispered that the true stone lies hidden by Scottish monks, possibly beneath the River Tay or at Dunsinane Hill, and that it remains there to this very day.

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19 thoughts on “The Lia Fail | Ancient Ireland’s Sacred Stone of Knowledge

    1. Thanks Mishka! Yes, it is isnt it?!! Irish mythology is so elusive though… it used to drive me crazy for that reason; I wanted a definitive answer for all the mysteries! Now, I just love that elusive quality about it, and the imagining it conjurs.

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  1. Nice piece Ali, not many people seem to that this was not the original resting place. Legend behind the original stone is fascinating, as to its connection to the Stone of Scone, They are both two different stone types. I seriously doubt that the pillar which now rests on sacred Tara is even the real thing?

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    1. Yes I read that about the 2 different stone types! Intriguing! I have to admit, that even allowing for Cuchulain’s sword and the weathering of time, the existing stone does not (in my amateur opinion) match with what I’ve read in mythology. What are your theories?

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      1. I could probably write my first book on this. 🙂 Tara is a sore subject for me. Just look at the statue of Patrick with his back turned to our sacred site. The current stone in my humble opinion is an impostor, Placed here in the 1800’s I believe. I even heard rumors that the original was taken by Robert De Bruce. I guess we shall never really know.

        Being one of the four great Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann I would like to think that they had the good sense and took all four treasures with them when they left our world.

        That said I would love to find even one of them, how cool would that be.

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            1. Ah… in the manner of Cuchulain! I have the perfect spot in my garden. Although if it declares me High Queen you’ll have to lead my battle campaign… think you’ll be better than me with a sword lol! If it declares you, I’ll compose poems about your illustrious reign!

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