The Parliament of Tara, by Geoffrey Keating

(Instituted by King Ollamh Fodhla A.M. 3082.)

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 1, edited by Charles A. Read (1880)

This illustrious assembly was called by the name of Feis Feamhrach, which signifies a general meeting of the nobility, gentry, priests, historians, and men of learning, and distinguished by their abilities in all arts and professions: they met by a royal summons, in a parliamentary manner, once every three years, at the palace of Tara, to debate upon the most important concerns of state; where they enacted new laws, and repealed such as were useless and burthensome to the subject, and consulted nothing but the public benefit in all their resolutions. In this assembly the ancient records and chronicles of the island were perused and examined, and if any falsehoods were detected they were instantly erased, that posterity might not be imposed upon by false history; and the author who had the insolence to abuse the world by his relation, either by perverting matters of fact and representing them in improper colours, or by fancies and inventions of his own, was solemnly degraded from the honour of sitting in that assembly, and was dismissed with a mark of infamy upon him; his works likewise were destroyed, as unworthy of credit, and were not to be admitted into the archives, or received among the records of the kingdom. Nor was this expulsion the whole of his punishment, for he was liable to a fine, or imprisonment, or whatever sentence the justice of the parliament thought proper to inflict. By these methods, either out of scandal or disgrace, or of losing their estates, their pensions and endowments, and of suffering some corporal correction, the historians of those ages were induced to be very exact in their relations, and to transmit nothing to after times but what had passed the solemn test and examination, and was recommended by the sanction and authority of this learned assembly.

In this parliament of Tara, that wise prince Ollamh Fodhla ordained that a distinction should be observed between the nobility, the gentry, and other members of the assembly, and that every person should take his place according to his quality, his office, and his merit. He made very strict and wholesome laws for the government of his subjects, and particularly expressed his severity against the ravishment of women, which, it seems, was a piece of gallantry and a common vice in those days, for the offender was to suffer death without mercy; and the king thought fit to give up so much of his prerogative, as to put it out of his power either to extend his pardon or even to reprieve the criminal. It was a law, likewise, that whoever presumed to strike or assault a member of the parliament during the time of the session, or give him any disturbance in the execution of his office, either by attempting to rob him or by any other violence, he was condemned to die, without any possibility, by bribes, by partiality, or affection, to save his life or escape the sentence.

The members of this triennial convention usually met together, though not in a parliamentary way, six days before the beginning of the session, that is three days before the festival of All-Saints, and three days after which time they employed in mutual returns of friendships and civility, and paying their compliments one to another.

The place appointed for the meeting of this assembly was a convenient room in the palace of Tara; the apartment was long but narrow, with a table fixed in the middle, and seats on both sides. At the end of this table, and between the seats and the wall, there was a proper distance allowed for the servants and attendants that belonged to the members to go between and wait upon their masters.

In this great hall this triennial parliament assembled; but before they entered upon public business they were entertained with a magnificent feast, and the order wherein every member took his place was in this manner. When the dinner was upon the table, and the room perfectly cleared of all persons except the grand marshal, the principal herald, and a trumpeter, whose offices required they should be within, the trumpeter sounded thrice, observing a proper distance between every blast, which was the solemn summons for the members to enter. At the first sound all the shield-bearers that belonged to the princes and the chief of the nobility came to the door, and there delivered their shields to the grand marshal, who, by the direction of the king-at-arms, hung them up in their due places upon the wall, on the right side of the long table, where the princes and nobility of the greatest quality had their seats. When he blew the second blast, the target-bearers that attended upon the generals and commanding officers of the army and of the militia of the kingdom advanced to the door, and delivered their targets in the same manner, which were hung in their proper order upon the other side of the table. Upon the third summons the princes, the nobility, the generals, the officers, and principal gentry of the kingdom entered the hall and took their places, each under his own shield or target, which were easily distinguished by the coat of arms that was curiously blazoned upon the outside of them; and thus the whole assembly were seated regularly without any dispute about precedency or the least disorder. No person was admitted beside the attendants that waited, who stood on the outside of the table. One end of the table was appointed for the antiquaries and the historians, who understood and were perfectly skilled in the records and ancient monuments of the kingdom; the other end was filled by the chief officers of the court: and care was particularly taken that their debates should be kept secret, for which reason no woman was ever to be admitted.

When dinner was ended and everything removed, they ordered the antiquities of the kingdom to be brought before them, and read them over, and examined them strictly lest any falsehood or interpolations should have crept in; and if they found any mistakes or false representations of facts, occasioned either by the prejudice or the ignorance of the historians, they were scratched out, after they had been censured by a select committee of the greatest learning appointed to inspect into those old records. The histories and relations that were surveyed and found true and perfect were ordered to be transcribed, after they had passed the approbation of the assembly, and inserted in the authentic chronicles that were always preserved in the king's palace, and the book wherein they were written was called the Psalter of Tara. This ancient record is an invaluable treasure, and a most faithful collection of the Irish antiquities; and whatever account is delivered in any other writings repugnant to this, is to be esteemed of no authority, and a direct imposition upon posterity.

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Related online articles

Tara, Pagan and Christian from Irish Essays, 1908
The Sacred Tara Hill from Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, 1894
Tara's Hall from the Dublin Penny Journal, 1832
Taragh, Tarah, or Tara parish from A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837