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The Hill of Tara is best known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, who were at the height of their power in the early centuries AD. The site was occupied long before this time. When excavated, one of the many mounds on the hill proved to be a Stone Age passage tomb dated to c2000 BC.

Initially Tara was probably only the seat of a local king. There would have been over a hundred such kings in Ireland at the time. Gradually Tara gained importance, until it was recognised as the supreme kingship. A king in pre-Christian Ireland was concerned with sacred rites and rituals as well as political matters. He mediated between his people and their allies and enemies. He also intervened between them and the forces of nature and the supernatural. There were many ritual requirements and taboos associated with the office, and the crowning of a new high king at sacred Tara would have been an impressive sight.

Making a High King

Ireland, in addition to bearing the names of various goddesses, is called the 'Plain of Fál', or the 'Island of Fál', the Irish are 'the men of Fál', the king 'the ruler of Fál'. Fál is the name of a stone on the Hill of Tara. It is characterised as 'the stone penis', and in later tradition as 'the member of Fergus'. This is the 'Stone of Knowledge' which cries out under the destined king. One story speaks of a more elaborate ritual in which the cry of Fál is preceded by a symbolical rebirth. There were two flagstones at Tara, called Blocc and Bluigne, which stood so close together that one's hand could only pass sideways between them. When they accepted a man, they would open before him until his chariot went through. 'And Fál was there, the "stone penis" at the head of the chariot-course. When a man should have the kingship, it screeched against his chariot axle, so that all might hear.'



The Hill of Tara. Click to enlarge



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