Hill of Tara
We all remember Scarlett O’Hara’s father pining for his homeland and the hills of Tara, don’t we?
Did you know the Hill of Tara is the mythical and spiritual center of Celtic Ireland? It was even the seat of the High Kings. The coming of St Patrick and the spread of Christianity eroded its importance, but the historical significance of the spot wasn’t lost on Daniel O’Connell (the Great Liberator of the Catholics) when he chose that spot for a rally in 1843 that was attended by over a million people.
One of the most anticipated and fascinating stops on my upcoming tour of Ireland and Scotland is the area around the Hills of Tara; Newgrange, Knowth, and the Bru na Boinne Visitors Center.
The Boyne Valley, also known as Bru na Boinne, or Palace of the Boyne, is a river valley that was the cradle of Irish civilization. The fertile area supported a sophisticated society in Neolithic times and the remains of ring forts, barrows, passage graves and other sacred enclosures gives evidence to this early Celtic civilization.
According to Celtic Lore the High Kings of Tara are buried at Newgrange. Excavated in the 1960’s it is the oldest solar observatory in the world (during the winter solstice the sun’s rays enter the tomb and light up the burial chamber).
Knowth is another site that actually has more megalithic art treasures than Newgrange. Knowth was also inhabited longer, from Neolithic times up until about 1400. Knowth actually has two passage tombs and visitors are able to peer into several of the 17 satellite tombs.
Celtic Ireland was divided into chiefdoms, these owing allegiance to their chief, who owed allegiance to the Kings of Tara. These Celts lived free of invaders up until the coming of the Vikings in the 9th century. Even then Ireland remained a country living in relative peace until the Anglo-Normans (Strongbow) arrived in 1169 and Henry II of England declared himself King of Ireland.
The English did not control substantial areas of Ireland, mostly the small area around Dublin, known as the “pale”. The majority living outside of the pale opposed English rule, hence the origination of the term ”beyond the pale” which has come to mean outside the boundaries of polite or civilized behavior.
When Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church (Ireland had been predominantly Catholic since the arrival of St Patrick in 432) in 1532 Ireland became a battleground between Irish Catholics and Henry’s forces. When the Irish were defeated their lands were confiscated and given to Protestants from England.
In 1690 William of Orange defeated James II of Ireland at the Battle of the Boyne and English victory over the Irish was complete.
Irish Catholics suffered greatly under their Protestant rulers, denied even the right to buy land, and with the arrival of the potato famine in 1845 any Irish Catholic who didn’t die did their best to immigrate to America. By 1900 the pre-famine population had fallen by half. Did you know there are more Irish in America than there are in Ireland?
The Irish today honor their Celtic roots, as well as their religious backgrounds and are much more tolerant than previous generations. Best of all, the Irish love Americans. They literally flock to you in pubs and on the street, as fascinated it seems with us as we are with them.
If you haven’t already been to Ireland I suggest adding it to your bucket list today.
Joy Gawf Crutchfield owns and operates The Joy of Travel.