View of Tara, from the North East
We visited the Hill of Tara on Sunday. It was a fantastic day to visit the site because of the ever-changing weather. It changed constantly from cloudy and stormy, to sunny and bright, in minutes, and then back again. But looking out from the hill to the surrounding countryside, with the ever-changing colours, the bands of rainbows in the sky, the black looming clouds, and the bright patches of blue sky, it all lent a very beautiful and magical air to the scene.
The Hill is approached up a short path with no obvious sign of an official presence, aside from a very small and dated guide to the site right at the entrance gate. A small church at the site entrance has been converted into a visitor centre, but we visited too late to get in. The church grounds are beautiful: full of trees and cawking crows, and a modest local cemetry, still in use. The trees almost seem to look out longingly at the surrounding countryside, peeking out over the old stone walls.
The hill itself is nothing more than a very low hill (or hillock even) at 197m elevation. But because the surrounding countryside is very low, the view is magnificent and uninterrupted. Fortunately, right now, the scenery remains relatively unspoilt by housing estates or bungalows. The view consists mainly of greenery, trees, and very flat terrain.
It is hard to describe the effect of walking around the site without appearing mystical or spiritual, but that is just the effect it had on me. I felt connected to something more permanent and real, something very deep. The undulating landscape has a definite softness and majesty all its own. Around Grainne’s House, about a quarter of a mile from the main hill, the surrounding trees and hillocks are profoundly peaceful. They reminded me of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis stories, of fairies and elfs, wood creatures, and magic at sunset. The peace and simple beauty are astounding.
There is a political context to all of this mystical musing. It is the startling contrast between the significance of the site, both historical and spiritual, to Ireland and its people, and the rampant consumerist greed represented by the building of a new 4-lane motorway right through the heart of this sacred land. Within less than a mile of the hill itself, a major motorway, the M3, is being built. The preliminary work has already started. But the site surveys conducted on the site revealed over 30 identifiable neolithic or later sites.
One of the most important was found at Lismullen, where the remains of a wooden Henge was discovered (a sort of wooden equivalent of Stone Henge in England). The wood has long disappeared, but the stakeholes are still visible. It is due for “preservation by record”, or in other words, destruction. The term “preservation by record” is a vile term, introduced into legislation by the last FF/PD government, precisely to create the ability to destroy ancient sites lying in the path of roads. It refers to the hasty recording of a site’s history and artefacts and then the permanent destruction of it.
The outgoing Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, signed the order for Lismullen’s destruction on the last day of his office. The current minister, John Gormley of the Green Party, took over the next day and has since claimed that he cannot reverse the decision of his predecessor. His side of the story is here. Whatever about the details: the bottom line is that the Green Party sold out on their principles to get into government. They threw in Tara, Shannon, private hospitals on public grounds, and numerous other major issues to get their hands on the levers of power. Many people – including myself – voted for the Greens in the recent election precisely to see something done about these issues. To have them ignored – or at best, negotiated away – feels like a betrayal.
But back to Tara. My advice is to enjoy it while it is still there. It is a magnificent site.