The Sacred Stones of the Hill of Tara
Updated: Jul 27
These lumps and bumps in the ground as you emerge from the churchyard onto the Hill of Tara belong to the Mound of the Synods.
I went to the Hill of Tara yesterday. I haven’t been in quite a while; the sun was shining, and I’d been cooped up in the house for a couple of days, and I just felt drawn, so off I went.
Going anywhere on my own these days is such a treat. And as I got nearer to my destination, I could feel the excitement mounting, until by the time I arrived, I was giddy as a schoolgirl!
In some ways, visiting Tara on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of July was a bit of a mistake; the Hill was packed. Not crowded, its much too big and open for that. But there was too much noise, human noise, and it was impossible to take a photo without it being invaded by unwanted guests.
Don’t get me wrong; we all have an equal right to be there. But somehow, I had mixed feelings over the way this ancient monument and symbol of our heritage was being used. Mostly, people were sunbathing, or kids were running gleefully up and down the bankings, climbing over all the ancient monuments.
Harmless, and yet I’ll admit that a part of me was appalled; they can do that anywhere, why come to somewhere special and fragile like Tara to do it? It seemed so disrespectful. On the other hand, it was good to see so many people congregating there, and enjoying the site. Tara has not been forgotten. It still draws people, and is still being used today.
I had a really good wander, and discovered parts of the site I had never been to before. But what I really came to see was these two fellows…
You might be wondering what’s so special about them… they’re just two stones in a graveyard, right? Well, yes… and no.
These two particular stones aren’t decayed headstones marking someone’s grave; they’re standing stones. According to legend, these are the two stones known as Bloc and Bluicne. As part of his inaugural ceremony, the newly elected High King had to drive his chariot at full speed towards these stones, and if his claim on the throne was honourable, and he was the rightful heir, the stones would recognise him as such, and move apart, allowing him safe passage between them.
I know what you’re thinking; sounds ridiculous. But these two stones weren’t the only ones on Tara… there were others, too. Remember the Lia Fail, also known as the ‘Stone of Destiny’, which cried so loud in recognition of the rightful King, its voice was heard all across the land? According to author Michael Slavin, ancient texts revealed the names of other sacred standing stones on the Hill of Tara, all now lost: Dall, Dorcha, Maol, in addition to the three previously mentioned. I love that they all had names, and that their names are still remembered.
The taller of the two stones was said to have a carving of the Horned God, Cernunos. If you look closely, you can see a raised indistinguishable area which could have been a carving, but it is badly eroded now, and unidentifiable.
I’d love to think this was true. However, there was once a headstone in this area of the churchyard called the ‘Cross of Adamnan’.
Adamnan was a seventh century saint. I’m sure he’d be turning in his grave if he realised the likeness on his gravestone had been interpreted as an image of a pagan fertility God! That thought made me chuckle on and off all afternoon. 😤
These two companion stones remind me of the two sentinels which guard the entrance to Brú na Bóinne’s Knowth.
It’s thought that they represent fertility symbols, obviously the tall one is a phallus, and the shorter rotund one represents the rounded belly of the pregnant female form.
Entrance to main central mound at Knowth, showing the two sentinel stones, one phallus shaped, the other, well… not.
I’m just not convinced; we know from the stories and the grand monuments these people left behind that they were highly sophisticated and knowledgeable. They used complex engineering and calculations to build their cairns with lightboxes, and all their various other structures, all without the aid of computers and mechanisation, a feat most of us could not manage today.
Then in the next breath we accuse them of being so basic and crude as to worship their own penises and ovaries and immortalise them in stone. Ok, perhaps there are a lot of men out there today who secretly do worship their manhood and would love to see their body parts carved in stone, lol! But, you know what I’m saying.
Although Tara is most commonly thought of as the inaugural site of pagan kings, it also has strong Christian links. The church which stands there now is home to a Visitor Centre, and dates from 1822. It has a beautiful stained glass window. The first church was built in the early thirteenth century, and was followed by a much larger one, the only trace of which remains is a crumbling section of wall, which you can see in this picture. You can also see Bloc and Bluicne close by.
The current church, now a Visitor centre, with the last crumbling remains of its predecessor in the foreground, with Bloc and Bluicne to the left.
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