Banqueting Hall at Tara

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XI

The Rath of the Synods obtained its name at a comparatively recent period. The situation is distinctly pointed out both in the prose and verse accounts. Here was held the Synod of Patrick. the Synod of Ruadhan and Brendan, and lastly, the Synod of Adamnan. The next existing monument which has been identified with certainty, is the Teach-Miodhchuarta, or Banqueting Hall, so famous in Irish history and bardic tradition. This was also the great house of the thousand soldiers, and the place where the Fes or triennial assemblies were held. It had fourteen doors—seven to the east and seven to the west. Its length, taken from the road, is 759 feet, and its breadth was probably about 90 feet.

Kenneth O'Hartigan is the great, and indeed almost the only, authority for the magnificence and state with which the royal banquets were held herein. As his descriptions are written in a strain of eloquent and imaginative verse, his account has been too readily supposed to be purely fictitious. But we have already shown that his description of the gold vessels which were used, is amply corroborated by the discovery of similar articles. His account of the extent, if not of the exterior magnificence, of the building, has also been fully verified; and there remains no reason to doubt that a "thousand soldiers" may have attended their lord at his feasts, or that "three times fifty stout cooks" may have supplied the viands. There was also the "House of the Women," a term savouring strangely of eastern customs and ideas; and the "House of the Fians," or commons soldiers.

Two poems are still preserved which contain ground-plans of the different compartments of the house, showing the position allotted to different ranks and occupations, and the special portion which was to be assigned to each. The numerous distinctions of rank, and the special honours paid to the learned, are subjects worthy of particular notice. The "saoi of literature" and the "royal chief" are classed in the same category, and were entitled to a primchrochait, or steak; nor was the Irish method of cooking barbarous, for we find express mention of a spit for roasting meat, and of the skill of an artificer who contrived a machine by which thirty spits could be turned at once.[5] The five great Celtic roads [6] have already been mentioned. Indistinct traces of them are still found at Tara.

The Slighe Môr struck off from the Slope of the Chariots,[7] at the northern head of the hill, and joined the Eiscir Riada, or great Connaught road, from Dublin via Trim. Dr. Petrie concludes his Essay on Tara thus: "But though the houses were unquestionably of these materials [wood and clay, with the exception of the Tuatha Dé Danann Cathair],it must not be inferred that they were altogether of a barbarous structure. It is not probable that they were unlike or inferior to those of the ancient Germans, of which Tacitus speaks in terms of praise, and which he describes as being overlaid with an earth so pure and splendid, that they resembled painting." And the historian Moore, writing on the same subject, observes: "That these structures were in wood is by no means conclusive either against the elegance of their structure, or the civilization, to a certain extent, of those who erected them. It was in wood that the graceful forms of Grecian architecture first unfolded their beauties; and there is reason to believe that, at the time when Xerxes invaded Greece, most of her temples were still of this perishable material."


[5] At once.—See Petrie's Tara, p. 213.

[6] Roads.—See Napoleon's Julius Caesar, vol. ii. p. 22, for mention of the Celtic roads in Gaul.

[7] Chariots.—St. Patrick visited most parts of Ireland in a chariot, according to the Tripartite Life. Carbad or chariots are mentioned in the oldest Celtic tales and romances, and it is distinctly stated in the life of St. Patrick preserved in the Book of Armagh, that the pagan Irish had chariots. Different kinds of roads are expressly mentioned, and also the duty of road-mending, and those upon whom this duty devolved. See Introduction to the Book of Rights, p. 56.