Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Tara Hill And Its Lights In The Sky

I think I visited the Hill of Tara when I was in my early teens. It meant nothing significant to me, no more than New Grange or Glendalough, and other significant sites in Ireland that our school took us to visit.

The Hill of Tara in Irish is ‘Teamhair na Rí’, meaning, ‘Hill of the Kings’. It is located near the River Boyne and is an archaeological complex running between the towns of Navan and Dunshaughlin in County Meath, Ireland. It contains a number of ancient monuments, and according to tradition was the seat of the High King of Ireland. Tara’s true identity is that of a site of sacredness rather than true central Irish power.

The focus of Tara hill is a small hilltop enclosure, measuring 318 metres (1,043 ft) north-south by 264 metres (866 ft) east-west and enclosed by an internal ditch and external bank, known as ‘Ráith na Ríogh’, meaning, (the Fort of the Kings, also known as the Royal Enclosure). The most prominent earthworks within are the two linked enclosures, a bivallate ring fort and a bivallete ring barrow known as ‘Teach Chormaic’, Cormac’s House, and the ‘Forradh’ or Royal Seat. In the middle of the ‘Forradh’ is a standing stone, which is believed to be the the ‘Stone of Destiny’ at which all High Kings were crowned. According to legend, the stone would scream if a series of challenges were met by the would-be king. At his touch the stone would let out a screech that could be heard all over Ireland. To the north of the ring-forts is a small tomb known as ‘Dumha na nGiall’, meaning ‘Mound of the Hostages’, constructed around 3,400 (cal.) BC.

In May of this year Tara took on a new significance for me. My partner lives in West Meath, only a few miles from Tara, and her back garden overlooks the Hills of Tara, County Meath, and further north, all the way across to County Monaghan. For the past two months we have, on many occasion, sat out on a warm evening and ‘watched the lights’ to the north. The show is both free and quite spectacular.

We have had friends over. Some of the locals have grown used to these lights and see them no more than as a nightly distraction to their routine of getting their children, their children’s children to bed, checking on grazing animals, or simply putting their feet up to watch X-Factor or the nightly news and weather, or whatever else is on. They may pass a window, look out, see them, and see nothing out of the ordinary, but for me, a man from the city, these lights are nothing deserving of just a casual glance.

They dance, move oddly, but without actual reason or purpose about the sky, left to right, up and down, sometimes we see four, maybe five, like parents, they have less bright lights around them, ‘feeders’ we call them, learning or mimicking the father or mother light until they too, glow brilliantly in the dark sky like the approaching of the headlight of an on-coming car. We don’t live anywhere near an airport or large town, never mind a city, yet, most unclouded nights, they are there.

We checked out the ‘balloon’ and ‘strobe light’ theory, but West Meath just isn’t that ‘rockin’ kind of place. They have talked about these lights on national radio, Today FM, with reports of them from Monaghan to Limerick, but to no avail. We’re happy with them, baffled, but entertained, their ours, for now, at least.

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