Ancient Tara

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XI

According to Celtic tradition, as embodied in our annals, Tara became the chief residence of the Irish kings on the first establishment of a monarchical government under Slainge:—

"Slaine of the Firbolgs was he by whom Temair was first raised."

One hundred and fifty monarchs reigned there from this period until its destruction, in 563. The Fes, or triennial assembly, was instituted by Ollamh Fodhla. The nature of these meetings is explained in a poem, which Keating ascribes to O'Flynn, who died A.D. 984. It is clear that what was then considered crime was punished in a very peremptory manner; for—

"Gold was not received as retribution from him,
But his soul in one hour."[1]

In the reign of Tuathal a portion of land was separated from each of the four provinces, which met together at a certain place: this portion was considered a distinct part of the country from the provinces. It was situated in the present county of Meath.

In the tract separated from Munster, Tuathal [2] built the royal seat of Tlachtga, where the fire of Tlachtga was ordained to be kindled. On the night of All Saints, the druids assembled here to offer sacrifices, and it was established, under heavy penalties, that no fire should be kindled on that night throughout the kingdom, so that the fire which was used afterwards might be procured from it. To obtain this privilege, the people were obliged to pay a scraball, or about three-pence, yearly, to the King of Munster.

On the 1st of May a convocation was held in the royal palace of the King of Connaught. He obtained subsidies in horses and arms from those who came to this assembly. On this occasion two fires were lit, between which cattle were driven as a preventative or charm against the murrain and other pestilential distempers. From this custom the feast of St. Philip and St. James was anciently called Beltinne, or the Day of Bel's Fire.

The third palace, erected by Tuathal, was on the portion of land taken from the province of Ulster. Here the celebrated fair of Tailtean was held, and contracts of marriage were frequently made. The royal tribute was raised by exacting an ounce of silver from every couple who were contracted and married at that time. The fair of Tailtean had been instituted some years before, in honour of Tailte, who was buried here. This fair, says Keating, was then kept upon the day known in the Irish language as La Lughnasa, or the day ordained by Lughaidh, and is called in English Lammas-day.

The fourth and the most important of the royal seats was the palace of Temair, or Tara: here, with the greatest state and ceremony, the affairs of the nation were discussed and decided. On these occasions, in order to preserve the deliberations from the public, the most strict secrecy was observed, and women were entirely excluded.

The Dinnseanchus, a topographical work, compiled in the twelfth century from ancient MSS., is the principal source of information on this subject. Dr. Petrie, in his famous Essay, has given both the original and translation of this tract, and of other documents on the same subject; and he remarks how exactly the accounts given by the poet historians coincide with the remains which even now exist. In fact, each site has been ascertained with precise accuracy—an accuracy which should very much enhance our appreciation of the value of our ancient histories.


[1] Hour —Petrie's Tara, p. 31.

[2] Tuathal.—Very ancient authorities are found for this in the Leabhar Gabhala, or Book of Conquests.