Cormac’s Palace at Tara

An account of the palace of the celebrated Cormac Mac Art, monarch of Ireland in the third century, is given by various historians. It was called Teach Miodhchuarta, signifying either the “House of Banquets,” or the “House of Conventions;” also Teach-na-Laech, or the “House of the Heroes;” and it was the place in which were held the great Feis Teamhrach, or the “Conventions of Tara.” In its halls the monarchs gave their great Banquets; and entertained the provincial kings, princes, and chiefs.

It is stated that the length of the structure was three hundred feet; the breadth, fifty cubits or about eighty feet; and the height, thirty cubits or nearly fifty feet. It contained numerous apartments besides the royal bedchamber, and had on it fourteen doors; and it is stated that there were seven other great habitations adjoining the palace. Cormac[1] was the son of Art, the son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, monarchs of Ireland, of the race of Heremon; he was one of the most celebrated of the Irish kings, for munificence, learning, wisdom, and valour; and the glories of his palace at Tara were, for many ages, the theme of the Irish bards. Amongst other splendid articles it is mentioned that he had at the royal banquets one hundred and fifty massive goblets of pure gold. Cormac’s palace was situated on the Hill of Tara, and a great part of the circular earthen ramparts, together with a large mound in the centre, still remain.

The palace is considered to have been built chiefly of wood, from the oak forests in ancient times so abundant in Ireland; and was probably in part formed of stone-work,[2] or a fortress of Cyclopean architecture, composed of great stones without cement: and though few of those stones now remain, they may have been removed in the course of ages, and placed in other buildings, particularly as the Hill of Tara was easily accessible. Though this royal residence could not be compared with the elegant stone-buildings of more modern times, yet it was distinguished for all the rude magnificence peculiar to those early ages. On the Hill of Tara were also erected several other raths or fortresses and mounds, as mentioned by various ancient historians; amongst those fortresses were Cathair Crofinn, or “Crofinn’s Fortress”—so called from Crofinn, one of the Tuath De Danan queens, and this building was also called Tur-Trean-Teamhrach, signifying the “Strong Tower of Tara.” As the term Cathair was applied only to stone buildings, this was probably a fortress of Cyclopean architecture, the stones of which may have been removed in the course of time: and the Danans are stated by the old writers to have built fortresses in other parts of Ireland, particularly that called Aileach Neid, in Tirconnell, situated on a great hill near Lough Swilly, in the county Donegal— and of this Cyclopean fortress some ruins still remain.

At Tara was also the building called Mur-Ollamhan or the “House of the Learned,” in which resided the bards, brehons, and other learned men; and likewise Rath-na-Seanadh, which signifies either the “Fort of the Conventions” or of the “Synods,” and said to be so called from great meetings held there at different times by St. Patrick, St. Adamnan, St. Brendan, and St Ruadhan; also Rath-na-Riogh, or the “Fortress of the Kings;” Dumha-na-nGiall, or the “Mound of the Hostages,” where there was a fortress in which the hostages were kept; and Dumna-na-mRanamus, signifying the “Mound of the Warlike Women,” which was probably either a habitation or burial place of those ancient heroines; there was likewise a habitation called Cluan-Feart, or the “Sacred Retreat,” which was the residence of the Vestal Virgins or Druidesses.

There were also habitations at Tara for the warriors, Druids, Brehons, and bards, and also for the provincial kings, princes, and chiefs who attended at the great national conventions; and, therefore, the place was considered as a city in those times. There are many remains of the mounds, raths, and other antiquities still remaining at Tara; but many of those mounds and ramparts have been levelled in the course of ages. According to the ancient historians many of the kings, queens, and warriors of the early ages were buried at Tara, and several sepulchral mounds were there raised to their memory. In one of the earthen ramparts at Tara were discovered, A.D. 1810, two of the ornaments called torques; a sort of golden collar of spiral or twisted workmanship, and of a circular form, open at one side, worn on the necks of ancient kings and chiefs, and similar to those which were worn by the ancient kings and chiefs of Gaul, and were called torc in the Celtic language. One of the torques discovered at Tara is five feet seven inches in length, and something more than twenty-seven ounces in weight, and all formed of the purest gold; the other torque is beyond twelve ounces in weight, and they form some of the most interesting remains of ancient Irish art.

In the celebrated work called Dinseanchus, which gives an account of the origin of the names of remarkable places in ancient Ireland, and was composed by Amergin, chief bard to Dermod, monarch of Ireland in the sixth century, the origin of the name Teamur is thus given: Teph or Tephi, a daughter of Bachtir, king of Brigantia in Spain, having been married to Canthon, King of Britain, died there, but her body was brought back to Spain, and a mur or “mound” was erected to her memory, and called Tephi-mur, or the “Mound of Tephi.” Tea, daughter of Lughaidh, son of Ith, and queen of Heremon, the first Milesian monarch of Ireland, having seen the mound of Tephi, while in Spain, caused a similar mound to be constructed when she came to Ireland, as a sepulchral monument for herself; and, being buried there, it was called Tea-Mur, signifying “Tea’s Mound,” and hence was derived “Tara” or “Temor,” latinized “Temora” or “Temoria.” In after times it was called Teamhair-na-Riogh, or “Tara of the Kings;” and Rath Cormaic, or the “Fortress of Cormac.” It is also mentioned by old writers under the names of Druim Aiobhin and Tulach Aiobhin, signifying the “Beautiful or Delightful Hill.” Kineth O’Hartigan, a celebrated bard of the tenth century wrote a poem on Tara, contained in the “Book of Ballymote,” from which have been translated the following among other passages:—

“It was a famous fortress of wisdom;

It was ennobled with warlike chiefs;

To be viewed it was a splendid hill,

During the time of Cormac O’Cuinn (Cormac Mac Art).

“When Cormac was in his grandeur,

Brilliant and conspicuous was his course;

No fortress was found equal to Temor,

It was the secret of the road of life.

“Enlightened was his train of bards,

Who kept their records in careful order,

And what they said was respected by the

Professors in each art.

“When Cormac resided at Temor,

His fame was heard by all the exalted;

And a king like the son of Art-Ean-Fhear

There came not of the men of the world.”[3]


[1] Cormac: As Conn of the Hundred Battles was the grandfather of Cormac, he was sometimes called Cormac “MacCuinn,” as well as Cormac MacArt.

[2] Stone-work: As to the art of building with stone and lime mortar, at an early period in Ireland, see Note “Caisiol,” under No. 117, p. 213, on the “O’Hara” (Reagh) pedigree, Vol. I.

[3] World: It may be permitted the humble writer of these pages to say that (see No. 125, p. 679, Vol. I.), he is the lineal descendant of that once illustrious Monarch:

“Thus shall memory often, in dreams sublime,

Catch a glimpse of the days that are over;

Thus, sighing, look through the waves of Time,

For the long-faded glories they cover.”