I started 2017 with a trip to Teltown. It was the morning after the night before, and I looked like it, but I didn’t bring you here just to admire my good looks (ahem); I have something far more interesting to show you…


Tailtiu, the Church of St Patrick, and the Eastern Fort. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com


No, that’s not me, but I can see the resemblance. Ok, not really. 😁 She’s Tailtiu, last Queen of the Fir Bolg. Some say she was the King of Spain’s daughter, or even that she was of Egyptian origin, and that her name was Neffertiti. In which case, I suspect she may have  looked a little different to the woman in my image…

Her husband, Eochaidh mac Eirc, was killed by the Tuatha de Danann in the First Battle of Moytura, when they invaded Ireland. After their victory, in order to establish good relations with her and her people, the Danann gave her one of their noble-born sons, Lugh, to foster. This was common practice in ancient Ireland.

Tailtiu retired to the area located on the River Blackwater between Navan and Kells now known as Teltown. In Irish, its name is Tailten. Here she established her home, and set about the back-breaking task of clearing the land for farming.

Meanwhile, she loved Lugh as if he were her own, lavishing care and attention on him. She found for him all the best tutors, and had him trained not just in the arts of battle and strategy, as befitting a high-born son, but in music, poetry, healing, the secrets of the forge, and many other skills besides.

When she died, Lugh was heart-broken. He buried her beneath a great mound at her beloved Teltown, and set up the Tailten games, known as the Oenach Tailten, in her honour every year at Lughnasadh (August 1st), that she might never be forgotten. This festival continued on, in some form, well into the nineteenth century.


 


Teltown is a vast and complex ancient site of some significance dating to the Iron Age. Features include the remnants of mounds, ring forts, earthen ramparts, artificial lakes, and an ancient roadway, but much of these have been erased from the landscape through the actions of farming over the years.


 


I came to see Donaghpatrick Church, and Rath Airthir, which means ‘the Eastern Fort’. Donaghpatrick, from Domnach Pádraig, meaning the ‘church of St Patrick’. According to legend, Conaill, brother of the High King Laoighre, gave the land to St Patrick after his baptism.

It’s kind of hard to imagine that the Irish would have handed over such an important site so willingly, but not so hard to imagine why Patrick would have wanted it. What better way to stamp out pagan activities than to establish a Christian church right there in the middle of it all?


 


In fact, there are six churches in total, though not all are still in use. Donaghpatrick is itself very intriguing. It appears to be constructed upon a mound or platform, possibly an earlier ancient one, and contains a standing stone, and the old medieval font from the previous church in its grave yard. It is built upon a medieval tower house, which has a strange stone head embedded three quarters of the way up one wall, slightly offset to the right.


The magnificent Rath Airthir


But most wonderful of all, if you stand with your back to the church, Rath Airthir faces directly opposite, in a field just across the road. It is a trivallate ringfort, meaning it has three ramparts circling it, and stands at around 30m (98ft) in diameter. The ramparts could not be seen from this angle, but even so, it really is quite spectacular.

Apparently, Rath Airthir has been identified by archaeologist Michael Herity as the Tredua (triple rampart) fort of Tailtú, as noted in the Metrical Dindshenchas: ‘the Tredua of Tailtiú, famed beyond all lands, where the Kings of Ireland used to fast that no disease might visit the land of Erin.’ (see Voices from the Dawn)

This, coupled with the triple rampart, seems to me to be ritual in nature, possibly the site of some ancient Kingship purification rite, but don’t quote me on that… it’s just my guess, I’m no expert.

I was gutted when I walked up the road and found a sign on the gate prohibiting entry. As much as it maddens and disappoints me, one has to respect the wishes of private landowners; trespassing does not win their favour.

Rath Airthir was, on this occasion, only to be admired from afar.


Happy New Year to you all!
Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise daoibh!
(AH-VLEE-in fwee hayn iss fwee WISH-uh deev)


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51 Comments on “Tailtiu, the Church of St Patrick and the Eastern Fort

      • Actually, my friend Lauren is graduating from seminary sometime next year. The two of us are planning to come to Ireland after that which will be a celebration for both of us because I never got to go myself after grad school. So, we’re set on it happening but not entirely sure when yet. I can’t wait to be able to go! I would so love to be able to see you in person. Lauren would be excited to meet you also.

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        • Oh wow that would be fantastic! You have mentioned Lauren to me before. How lovely it would be to meet you both. I know though how difficult it can be to fit everything in on a holiday when you have limited time, but if you do get to spare an hour or two to meet up I would be so happy!

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          • Will definitely find time to come see you. I’ve been wanting to meet you for over a year. 🙂 i’ve told Lauren about you and shared several of your blog posts with her, she is as passionate about Irish mythology as you and I are. She also knows how to see and talk with my ancient family. The two of us actually spend a lot of time with them together. It would be a blast for all of us and you to do something.

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  1. Beautiful, Ali. Glad you took photos whether from afar or not. There’s a similar situation in Clare where I’m from – a very ancient church (1,000 years+) with connections to Brian Boru built on an even more ancient pagan site, and no immediate access without a lot of enquiry. I think public liability insurance or lack of is both a very real problem and a handy excuse for many private landowners or organisations who have these kind of sites within their boundaries. But unless the OPW or An Taisce are going to staff and maintain them all, I suppose there’s little hope of it changing.

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  2. Interesting photos and tale, Ali. Why don’t you just knock on the door of the homeowner and ask for permission to walk on his land and take some photos for your blog? I can’t imagine that he would mind.

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      • I’d knock on the door of the home nearest the site. If they did not turn out to be the landowner, then they probably would know who is. If they didn’t know, then I’d try the next closest home to the site, and so on. It probably wouldn’t take that long to locate the landowner. Farmers know each other and know who owns the nearby land parcels.

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  3. Well I admire your law abiding nature; I’d have popped over that gate and stolen a couple of piccies if I could. Great weather for a romp mind you; Ireland looks stunning (again) though you look hypothermic. It is intriguing why Ireland is so stuffed full of ancient sites – I wonder if, because it’s the end of the significant land masses, if you are escaping across the pan-continents of Asia and Europe, all sorts end up here and have to stay because well, the Atlantic is a pretty fearsome barrier. Goods they all did to give you all that lovely intriguing and oft impenetrable history.
    Hope the essay was good to write!!
    See you soon
    Best to all the Isaacs in 2017…

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  4. I have to say that even though it was a beautiful day on the day of your visit, your photography is just as beautiful, Ali. A lovely read made even better with the scattering of images. Sorry – I ‘ve got my blogging hat on. 😀

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    • Aw thanks, Hugh. It was lovely and so peaceful. The light was so bright though, and the contrast so great, that I couldn’t get a decent picture of the church from the front. I need to learn how to take pictures in different conditions… I don’t have a clue. Those pics were all taken on my Samsung phone. 😁

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      • I think the light at this time of the year is fantastic, Ali. Blue sky and a crisp Winter’s day is a favourite of mine.
        I’m always amazed by just how good our mobile phones are when it comes to taking photos. However, the person behind the phone also makes the magic.

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        • You’re right, it is, but it does make photography harder. I think, when the photographer loves what they see, it can be seen, or at least felt, in the images they produce.

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  5. Another fascinating tale, and a beautiful place, Ali. Ireland is just jam-packed with such wonderful history and legend, isn’t it? I would agree – I think we’ve had this discussion before – about the Christian appropriation of pagan sites and holidays so as to make it easier to convert the population. I imagine that’s just what happened here. Interestingly, when I went away with Sue last year, she mentioned that there’s evidence to suggest anti-clockwise was the preferred direction of worship at the ancient stone circles. I asked her if perhaps that’s why widdershins is now associated with the devil, and she felt it was very probable.

    Anyway, another great post, Ali, and a lovely way to start the new year. Good luck with your exams this week xx

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    • Yes! The widdershins theory! Love that, Helen! Makes sense. That weekend with Sue sounded amazing! And thanks… trying to write an essay right now… 😣

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      • Oh, it was so amazing, it really was. Hoping to do another one this year 🙂 Good luck with the essay – they’re just not as much fun to write as stories, are they? 🙂

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  6. I’m with David there. It would be another very good reason for the monks to have built a Christian church directly opposite. Intimidation medieval style. Have an instructive New Year, Ali 🙂

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  7. Hi Ali, it’s a pity the Teltown games can’t be resurrected to keep the ancient tradition going. I agree with you that it’s maddening sites of such great significance as the three-ringed fort are on private property and out of bounds to the public. I’m glad you got out and about to visit Teltown and to write about it. I hope you do more of that sort of thing because it’s very interesting. All the best and have a happy new year.

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    • Apparently the games list their association with Tailtiu and degenerated into a drunken free for all, Colin, as far removed from its origins as could be. I think they were brought back several times and moved to Dublin, but it never worked. I intend to get out a bit more this year… watch this space! 😂 And a very happy and positive new year to you and yours.

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      • Ali, what did that lecturer of yours tell you – there’s no such thing as Irish myths and legends. Well, it’s a real pity that factual Irish history seems to be rapidly disappearing. We may never know the purpose of the fort you saw from over the fence, the peculiarities of the church such as the ugly face in the wall, what the previous building on the same site was, or what St Patrick actually did there, not to mention what games were originally played at Teltown perhaps 3000 years ago. We may never even find out something physical, like if a tunnel connects the church with the fort across the road. So, just taking Teltown as an example, if we don’t know the physical, historical or mythological things about it then, In my opinion, a great deal of Irish history will rapidly go down the gurgler. Unless the guardians of Irish mythology, like you, continue to write then there will not even be a course like the one you’re doing at uni and anything that gets dug up in future by a farmer’s plough will go into a museum with no description because nobody will have a clue what it is. The further we get from the times of people like Tailtiu, the cloudier and more confusing everything will become. In short, keep up the good work.

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  8. Thank you for another tale well told Ali. It would be interesting to know if there was a high status female burial beneath the great mound.
    Happy New Year
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

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