These lumps and bumps in the ground as you emerge from the churchyard onto the Hill of Tara belong to the Mound of the Synods.


I went to the Hill of Tara yesterday. I haven’t been in quite a while; the sun was shining, and I’d been cooped up in the house for a couple of days, and I just felt drawn, so off I went.

Going anywhere on my own these days is such a treat. And as I got nearer to my destination, I could feel the excitement mounting, until by the time I arrived, I was giddy as a schoolgirl!

In some ways, visiting Tara on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of July was a bit of a mistake; the Hill was packed. Not crowded, its much too big and open for that. But there was too much noise, human noise, and it was impossible to take a photo without it being invaded by unwanted guests.


Looking through the churchyard gate towards the Mound of Hostages.

Looking through the churchyard gate towards the Mound of Hostages. You can see how busy it is.


Don’t get me wrong; we all have an equal right to be there. But somehow, I had mixed feelings over the way this ancient monument and symbol of our heritage was being used. Mostly, people were sunbathing, or kids were running gleefully up and down the bankings, climbing over all the ancient monuments.

Harmless, and yet I’ll admit that a part of me was appalled; they can do that anywhere, why come to somewhere special and fragile like Tara to do it? It seemed so disrespectful. On the other hand, it was good to see so many people congregating there, and enjoying the site. Tara has not been forgotten. It still draws people, and is still being used today.

I had a really good wander, and discovered parts of the site I had never been to before. But what I really came to see was these two fellows…



You might be wondering what’s so special about them… they’re just two stones in a graveyard, right? Well, yes… and no.

These two particular stones aren’t decayed headstones marking someone’s grave; they’re standing stones. According to legend, these are the two stones known as BlocΒ and Bluicne. As part of his inaugural ceremony, the newly elected High King had to drive his chariot at full speed towards these stones, and if his claim on the throne was honourable, and he was the rightful heir, the stones would recognise him as such, and move apart, allowing him safe passage between them.

I know what you’re thinking; sounds ridiculous. But these two stones weren’t the only ones on Tara… there were others, too. Remember the Lia Fail,Β also known as the ‘Stone of Destiny’, which cried so loud in recognition of the rightful King, its voice was heard all across the land? According to author Michael Slavin, ancient texts revealed the names of other sacred standing stones on the Hill of Tara, all now lost: Dall, Dorcha, Maol, in addition to the three previously mentioned. I love that they all had names, and that their names are still remembered.

The taller of the two stones was said to have a carving of the Horned God, Cernunos. If you look closely, you can see a raised indistinguishable area which could have been a carving, but it is badly eroded now, and unidentifiable.



I’d love to think this was true. However, there was once a headstone in this area of the churchyard called the ‘Cross of Adamnan’. Adamnan was a C7th saint. I’m sure he’d be turning in his grave if he realised the likeness on his gravestone had been interpreted as an image of a pagan fertility God! That thought made me chuckle on and off all afternoon. 😀

These two companion stones remind me of the two sentinels which guard the entrance to BrΓΊ na BΓ³inne’s Knowth;Β it’s thought that they represent fertility symbols, obviously the tall one is a phallus, and the shorter rotund one represents the rounded belly of the pregnant female form.


Entrance to main central mound at Knowth, showing the two sentinel stones, one phallus shaped, the other, well... not.

Entrance to main central mound at Knowth, showing the two sentinel stones, one phallus shaped, the other, well… not.


I’m just not convinced; we know from the stories and the grand monuments these people left behind that they were highly sophisticated and knowledgeable. They used complex engineering and calculations to build their cairns with lightboxes, and all their various other structures, all without the aid of computers and mechanisation, a feat most of us could not manage today.

Then in the next breath we accuse them of being so basic and crude as to worship their own penises and ovaries and immortalise them in stone. Ok, perhaps there are a lot of men out there today who secretly do worship their manhood and would love to see their body parts carved in stone, lol! But, you know what I’m saying.

Although Tara is most commonly thought of as the inaugural site of pagan kings, it also has strong Christian links. The church which stands there now is home to a Visitor Centre, and dates from 1822. It has a beautiful stained glass window. The first church was built in the early C13th, and was followed by a much larger one, the only trace of which remains is a crumbling section of wall, which you can see in this picture. You can also see Bloc and Bluicne close by.


The current church, now a Visitor centre, with the last crumbling remains of its predecessor in the foreground, with Bloc and Bluicne to the left.


Finally, I couldn’t mention the church without paying respect to the marble statue of St Patrick, which dominates the approach to the site. It’s weird; his eyes seem to follow you about and his gaze is piercing and none too friendly. Β Given all the things he is supposed to have done for his religion, I shouldn’t be surprised.


 


I have so much to show you and tell you, but it will have to wait for another day. Have a great week, everyone!


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42 Comments on “The Sacred Stones of the Hill of Tara

  1. Really enjoyed the post, Ali πŸ™‚

    I’ve been to the Hill of Tara twice, and neither times were a good one. The first, was on a organised trip, and since we took too much time to go there, night was falling when we arrived so we didn’t even properly stop.
    The secont time was on an organised trip too. It was raining. But I mean, it was heavily raining and the place was a bog almost. We tried to brave the mud, I tried to get to the Stone of Destiny. No way to do so.

    So, I still feel like I never really visited the place. Maybe next time will be the time πŸ˜‰

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  2. Pingback: The Wolf King of Tara | aliisaacstoryteller

  3. I’ve long felt this about overcrowded monuments, Ali. In fact, I think only people with passport IDs matching certain monuments should be allowed to visit. I’d bring you, like. As a friend. πŸ˜‰

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  4. I know how you feel about the crowds. Some places just need to be quiet, so you can hear the old voices whispering. Almost missed this post. I saw it in a tweet. WP doesn’t bother telling me any more 😦

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    • WordPress did not send me any of my weekly blog notifications this week! I normally get them all on a sunday. Also, I did a lot of blog work this afternoon, and all of it just disappeared! Completely gone. Had to start all over again. It was fiddly stuff, too, tidying up, setting up links, you know, the really shitty stuff… I wasn’t amused!

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  5. It’s a difficult balance that – between encouraging people to partake in heritage and ensuring the sacred spaces are maintained. This is the problem with people Is that not everyone has the same values – it would bug me too if they were Disrespectful

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  6. Ali, what a wonderful post. I know so little about Ireland, and yet I have Irish blood in me. Your posts are always filled with such interesting information.

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  7. I have the same mixed feelings when I go to a sacred/special/historical place and see lots of people. (Except you seem nicer about it.) πŸ™‚ Love the stones that recognize and move for the king. And, of course, Cernunos.

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    • I like that, Adele. I keep seeing a face, but when I try and look more closely, it disappears. You know, all the other times I’ve been to Tara, I walked right by and never noticed them. I suppose they could be mistaken for really old headstones. This time, I wanted to see them, and thought I was going to have to search the churchyard for them, but I spotted them straight away. I dont know how I could have not noticed them before. And nobody else stopped to look at them. So sad really. They’re so old.

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  8. Lovely photos took me to Tara. I know what you mean about seeing kids running all over sacred ground – I’ve seen them all over Burial Hill in Plymouth, but on the other hand, I am glad they are there and may someday understand what it means.

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  9. great post and images Ali. I know what you mean about having those mixed feelings. I remember on Machrie Moor when I had it all to myself( it’s remote) then thinking “dammit here come the tourists!” lol. Of course I am one of “them” though never think of myself as such. I love Tara and all the stories that are part of it. Thanks Ali.

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  10. Fantastic tale Ali. I too get disturbed when people take for granted or have no concept about frolicking in sacred territory. ❀

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  11. St Patrick looks about as friendly and forgiving as I always imagined him to be – I imagine that sculptor might have had a sense of humour ;-D But wow, what a beautiful and special place. I imagine it would be quite something when you’re there with less people, though I bet it still holds a lot of power, even with the crowds.

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  12. I never worry about the careless enjoyment, frankly. I do see the worries about damage but I want people to appreciate they are there and wonder at them, not be kept away. It is a difficult balance for sure

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  13. I’ve wanted to see Tara for a long time. I agree… I cringe when a fragile sacred site is used as a people-playground, though doubtless they were always places of festival and gathering, so they are still fulfilling their function. Maybe I just want them to myself, but I am conscious of how easily damaged they are.
    The polarity in the stones symbolises more than a crude phallic worship. We don’t always see the true depth of a symbol when its origins are lost… imagine what a stranger to the planet must make of millions worshipping the image of a dead man, tortured on a cross. To Christians, that symbol has a far deeper meaning though… and a symbol might be seen as a simple form that holds the essence of something formless and incommunicable by direct means.

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  14. Could you do some more Tara stories….please. Did you have any trouble locating the two stones in the churchyard? Also, is Michael Slavin still alive and working in the bookshop? And how is that motorway going that runs through the outskirts of Tara’s wider area? To me, it doesn’t get much better than Tara. But to my wife she felt it was associated with a lot of wicked things and she would never go back. Also, I would have liked to have seen St Patrick’s statue put on the Hill of Slane. What do you think, Ali.

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    • Hi Colin! Tara is a wonderful place.I can’t imagine why your wife felt that way, it has never affected me like that. I guess the effects of the motorway will not be noticed for quite some time. How it has affected the locals is another matter; there may well be a greater number of visitors, I’m not sure. But there has been no further development, so far anyway. The two stones I found easily; I must have walked right past them every other time I visited and not noticed them, I don’t know how I could have managed that… too eager to get out on the Hill, I suppose. I don’t know about Michael Slavin; did you meet him when you were there? And yes, I’m going to post some more on Tara next week. Hope you’re keeping well!

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  15. Whilst I love that Tara brings people back time and again and that there is full access unlike Stonehenge, it worries me that this special place seems to have no protection. Children climbing the stones can damage them totally changing the look of them for future visitors. It’s lucky you take such good pictures.
    xxx Huge Hugs Ali xxx

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