The Teltown complex is vast, and rather elusive. Despite following signs and maps, the various monuments are hard to find and easy to miss. Teltown (Tailteann, in Irish) is an area located between Navan and Kells on the River Blackwater in Co Meath. Today, there is not much left of this once massive and important ancient site.
The Yellow Book of Lecan (in Irish Leabhar Buidhe Leacáin) written in C15th records over fifty monuments, including several artificial loughs and an ancient roadway. Only the partial remains of two mounds and an earthwork embankment are all that have survived the irrepressible advance of farming on the landscape.
Rathdhú (Rath Dubh in Irish, meaning ‘the Black Fort’) is a large mound dating to 2000BC, which spans some 85m across, with a flat surface 4m high above the level of the field. In mythology, the site is named after the woman who lived here. She was the last Fir Bolg Queen, and her name was Tailtiu. She was said to be the daughter of Mag Mor, the King of Spain, although there are those who name her Tefffi Tea, and equate her with the Egyptian Queen Neffertiti.
In any case, when the Tuatha de Denann invaded Ireland, her husband, the High King Eochaidh mac Eirc went to fight against them, but was killed. Tailtiu survived, and as a mark of trust, the Denann gave her one of their own, a high-born son, to foster. Fostering children in those days was a popular way of gaining alliances and forging goodwill between clans and nations. Tailtiu dedicated her life to clearing the land to make way for farming, and raising her foster-son, Lugh. She must have done a good job, for he later won for himself the titles Lamfadha (‘of the long arm’ for his prowess with spear casting) and Samildanach (‘master of all arts’, because he was multi-talented), and went on to become High King.
According to the Book of Invasions (Lebor Gebála Érenn in Irish), Tailtiu died from exhaustion clearing the land. Lugh was so devastated, he founded the Festival of Lughnasa (in Irish Aenach Tailteann) on August 1st at Teltown in her honour.
The Aenach Tailteann was held not only to commemorate Tailtiu, but to proclaim laws and entertain the people. It was presided over by the High King, and the whole affair lasted two weeks. There were sporting contests in hurling, spear throwing, sword fighting, handball, running, wrestling, boxing; horse and chariot racing; staged battles, displays of Irish martial arts, and possibly even swimming competitions in the artifical loughs.
But Lughnasa wasn’t just about the strength and agility of warriors; it also sponsored music, poetry and story-telling, singing and dancing, and competition amongst goldsmiths, jewellers, spinners, weavers, and the forging of weaponry and armour.
A curious feature of the festival was the event known as the Teltown Marriages. Young people could be married by joining hands through a hole in a large stone, or wall. If the relationship didn’t work out, the marriage could be dissolved at the following year’s festival by standing back to back on top of Rathdhú and walking away from each other.
The Teltown Marriages were associated with a monument known as the Knockauns (in Irish Cnocan, meaning ‘little hills’), which consists of an earthwork featuring two parallel embankments 92m long, with a ditch between them.
To see images of Rath Dubh, where Queen Tailltiu is supposed to have lived, the largest fort of the Teltown complex, please click here.
Rath Airthir, meaning ‘the Eastern Fort’ is located nearby; it measures 30m in diameter, and boasts three ramparts.
Incidentally, despite there being no obvious signs of a burial mound when we visited, despite the proximity to a busy road, and the power lines marching like giant aliens across the land, there was an immense feeling of peace and contentment which descended upon us as we entered this field. It felt a fitting resting place for Queen Tailltiu.