Walking the Ceremonial Path at the Hill of Tara

Looking from the boundary of the churchyard across the Rath of Synods towards the Tech Midchúarta.

I went back to Tara today to walk the ceremonial path. I thought it may be interesting, in light of recent posts and comments. to take a closer look.

The Teach Miodchuarta, or Banqueting Hall at Tara. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Looking down the length of the Tech Midchúarta from the top of the embankment.

You may recall that early writers described this feature as the banqueting hall of the Kings of Tara, naming it Tech Midchúarta, which in Irish means exactly that. Of course we now know it was nothing of the sort, but in actual fact is an ancient road by which the summit of Tara and all its monuments are approached. The evidence, such as the raised embankments with their irregular slots suggest a ritual, or ceremonial purpose.

This is how Conor Newman describes the feature:

Tech Midchúarta is a linear earthwork comprising two arcuate but nonetheless parallel banks, 25m to 28m apart and 203m long. Over this distance it rises more than 8m. It was made by scarping, or scraping away the soil in the middle and piling it into the two banks on either side. The result is that the whole surface of the interior has been lowered and is markedly below exterior ground level.

The banks rise to above head height, or at least the west bank still does; the east bank has been ploughed over and is considerably more denuded. The banks, therefore, are higher from the inside because the viewer is standing on a lowered surface. At irregular intervals along each bank are narrow gaps, possibly as many as 11 in total.

In its original state, one would have ascended Tech Midchúarta without being able to see out from either side. Moreover, up ahead would have been nothing other than the skyline; just like today, there would have been no indication of what awaited the traveller ascending the hill. It is, in short, a monument designed to deprive one of the otherwise celebrated views from the Hill of Tara. So doing, it removes the visitor temporarily from the familiar, outside world, into an enclosed, interior space.

So today, I decided to walk the length of the Tech Midchúarta from its beginning (as it exists today) to the top. Here is a short film so you can experience it for yourself.

You can see that the pathway is very broad and seems very shallow. However, if you look to left and right, you can see that the embankments rise higher than your head. The slots which have been cut away in the embankments show that you are walking at a level below ground level; all you can see through them is the grass at the surface meeting the sky.

Above you is the sky. You can see nothing but the ground at your feet gradually rising as you traverse along it, the embankments at your sides, and the sky. The embankments force all sound up and over your head so you can’t hear the wind, or birds, or other visitors to the site. As you walk along the Tech Midchúarta, all is eerily silent and still. It really is an extraordinary experience.

And then suddenly you are at the top, and all is revealed. Before you lies the remains of the Rath of Synods and immediately beyond that, the object which automatically draws your eyes: the Mound of Hostages.

The Rath of Synods at the Hill of Tara. (c) Ali Isaac

The Rath of Synods at the Hill of Tara. (c) Ali Isaac

Mound of hostages, black and white images, people standing on top of it.

Mound of hostages at Tara. (c) Ali Isaac

Newman suggests that the slots which are cut into the embankment are placed to reveal strategic glimpses of particular monuments at the site as one traverses the path. At first, I believed this to be the case. As I walked along the top of one of the embankments, I could see Rath Grainne through the first slot.

Looking through the first slot from the top of the opposite embankment, Rath Grainne can be glimpsed.

Looking through the first slot from the top of the opposite embankment, Rath Grainne can be glimpsed.

But from inside the Tech Midchúarta, all you can see is grass and sky through the first slot – no Rath Grainne. You wouldn’t even know it was there. You can see this in the video.

So either this theory is wrong, or perhaps less permanent features once stood in these niches, like carvings of Gods and Goddesses perhaps, or maybe even people, possibly spectators. It is also possible that these slots enabled other pathways to join or intersect with the main processional route. Who knows? All we can do is speculate.

Walking the Ceremonial Path www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Looking back from the Mound of Hostages across the Rath of Synods towards the Tech Midchúarta. You can see the embankments just above the red dots.

It should be remembered that the embankments have been somewhat denuded by time, erosion, and the action of agriculture and various other human activities over the centuries, and most likely stood considerably higher than they do today. The church would not have stood to the left of the pathway just as one reaches the top, either, so who knows what once stood there before it. However, none of this detracts from the experience, and if you go to Tara, I highly recommend approaching it this way, rather than through the churchyard.

The well preserved markings on the portal stone just inside the passage of the Mound of Hostages.

The well preserved markings on the portal stone just inside the passage of the Mound of Hostages.

The Mound of Hostages has a very short passage in to its heart. But I am curious as to why the chamber has been bricked up just beyond the sill stone. What are they trying to hide, and why has it been made so permanent when a locked door or gate would have done?

The Mound of Hostages has a very short passage in to its heart. But I am curious as to why the chamber has been bricked up just beyond the sill stone. What are they trying to hide, and why has it been made so permanent when a locked door or gate would have done?


Flying a kite high above the Rath of Synods.

You can read more about the Tech Midchúarta here, and more about the Five Great Roads here.

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25 Comments on “Walking the Ceremonial Path at the Hill of Tara

  1. Another post that takes me back in time, Ali, and I enjoyed the video – it gave even more life to the description and words which you always supply with such power. Wishing you a great week ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Randal, thanks for dropping by. Hope you are well. I’ve not really been part of the blogging community this year, and your comment made me realise that I hadn’t seen any posts from you. I see that you have been quite busy, as usual! I really enjoyed your interview. 😁 I start back at uni next week so I am rushing to try and get as much writing done as possible over the next few days. Thanks for the good wishes, have a great week yourself. 😊


    • Thanks Noelle. Yes, it’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? I think I need to brush up on some filming techniques, though! 😂


    • Thanks Roy. I think a bit of film really helps to visualise a place. More than photos can. Maybe it just makes it seem more real, like you’re actually there. But I need to learn how to do it better if I’m going to make it a more regular feature of my blog posts. That might have to wait till next year when I finish uni, though. 😊


    • Haha! I’m an old cynic, Adele, always looking for a conspiracy theory! Seriously though, its bad form to mess with an archaeological site, so why was it done? Structural support, maybe. Who knows. 😊


    • Tara is a difficult site to visualise, as it is completely undeveloped and there is so little information available in situ. It does get very busy, though, even so. Early mornings, weekdays, any time but summer is usually best. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Ali, for this wonderful blog and video. Have you ever done this for the Hill of Uisneach? I’m new to your site and Instagram, but enjoy your work very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Heidi, I haven’t been to Uisneach in years, so no, I haven’t, although I have written about it on my blog. I really do need to go back there, so much has changed since I was last there. Hopefully soon, and I promise to video it when I do. 😊 You post lots of beautiful pictures on Instagram yourself.


  3. Pingback: Walking the Ceremonial Path at the Hill of Tara | Sun in Gemini

    • Congratulation, that’s wonderful! Does that mean you’ll be visiting more often? I have been somewhat obsessed with this topic over the last few months, for some reason. It must be time to move on to something else. Hope all is well with you, Steve, really appreciate you dropping by. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

        • Great news Steve. 😊 All well here, thank you. Settling back into school, and I will be making my choices for my final year of uni on Tuesday. Of course, what I want to do requires getting special permission, so please wish me luck with that. I’m looking forward to going back, but a little apprehensive too… this is the important one. Hope all is good with you and yours. 😊

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved your video, Ali. A great way to get to the top, instead of walking thru the grounds of a modern-day church and passed a statue of St Patrick! A model should be made of Tara so visitors can see what used to be there. The Mound of Hostages was being worked on when i was there, presumably fixing up structural problems caused when it was dug up in a previous archaeological dig. So maybe the stone wall is just for support so that it doesn’t cave in again and not trying to hide something. It’s probably a good reason why we shouldn’t rush in and dig things up to see if there’s something underneath. When it comes to putting it back together again it’s never the same. I don’t know about you but to me Ireland’s most famous monument, Newgrange, looks like a brand new structure.and although I wouldn’t want to see it as another mound of rocks, it just doesn’t look old anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Colin. Funny you should mention that about Newgrange. There was a lot of controversy over the way it was rebuilt. That white quartz facade… never existed, the quartz came from an external platform beside the mound, and some may have covered it, as was originally found at Loughcrew also. However, it probably wouldn’t have looked so impressive as a tourist attraction, so who cares about authenticity? I like to believe that today nothing like that could happen, but where money is involved…

      Liked by 1 person

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