Walking the Ceremonial Path at the Hill of Tara
Updated: May 17, 2020
I went back to Tara today to walk the ceremonial path. I thought it may be interesting, in light of recent posts and comments, to take a closer look.
You may recall that early writers described this feature as the banqueting hall of the Kings of Tara, naming it Tech Midchúarta, which in Irish means exactly that. Of course we now know it was nothing of the sort, but in actual fact is an ancient road by which the summit of Tara and all its monuments are approached. The evidence, such as the raised embankments with their irregular slots suggest a ritual, or ceremonial purpose.
This is how Conor Newman describes the feature:
Tech Midchúarta is a linear earthwork comprising two arcuate but nonetheless parallel banks, 25m to 28m apart and 203m long. Over this distance it rises more than 8m. It was made by scarping, or scraping away the soil in the middle and piling it into the two banks on either side. The result is that the whole surface of the interior has been lowered and is markedly below exterior ground level.
The banks rise to above head height, or at least the west bank still does; the east bank has been ploughed over and is considerably more denuded. The banks, therefore, are higher from the inside because the viewer is standing on a lowered surface. At irregular intervals along each bank are narrow gaps, possibly as many as 11 in total.
In its original state, one would have ascended Tech Midchúarta without being able to see out from either side. Moreover, up ahead would have been nothing other than the skyline; just like today, there would have been no indication of what awaited the traveller ascending the hill. It is, in short, a monument designed to deprive one of the otherwise celebrated views from the Hill of Tara. So doing, it removes the visitor temporarily from the familiar, outside world, into an enclosed, interior space.
So today, I decided to walk the length of the Tech Midchúarta from its beginning (as it exists today) to the top. Here is a short film so you can experience it for yourself.
You can see that the pathway is very broad and seems very shallow. However, if you look to left and right, you can see that the embankments rise higher than your head. The slots which have been cut away in the embankments show that you are walking at a level below ground level; all you can see through them is the grass at the surface meeting the sky.
Above you is the sky. You can see nothing but the ground at your feet gradually rising as you traverse along it, the embankments at your sides, and the sky. The embankments force all sound up and over your head so you can’t hear the wind, or birds, or other visitors to the site. As you walk along the Tech Midchúarta, all is eerily silent and still. It really is an extraordinary experience.
And then suddenly you are at the top, and all is revealed. Before you lies the remains of the Rath of Synods and immediately beyond that, the object which automatically draws your eyes: the Mound of Hostages.
Newman suggests that the slots which are cut into the embankment are placed to reveal strategic glimpses of particular monuments at the site as one traverses the path. At first, I believed this to be the case. As I walked along the top of one of the embankments, I could see Rath Grainne through the first slot.
But from inside the Tech Midchúarta, all you can see is grass and sky through the first slot – no Rath Grainne. You wouldn’t even know it was there. You can see this in the video.
So either this theory is wrong, or perhaps less permanent features once stood in these niches, like carvings of Gods and Goddesses perhaps, or maybe even people, possibly spectators. It is also possible that these slots enabled other pathways to join or intersect with the main processional route. Who knows? All we can do is speculate.
It should be remembered that the embankments have been somewhat denuded by time, erosion, and the action of agriculture and various other human activities over the centuries, and most likely stood considerably higher than they do today. The church would not have stood to the left of the pathway just as one reaches the top, either, so who knows what once stood there before it. However, none of this detracts from the experience, and if you go to Tara, I highly recommend approaching it this way, rather than through the churchyard.
The first image shows the bricked up back wall of the Mound of Hostages' short passage way. The second shows some of the well preserved markings on the portal stone just inside the passage of the Mound of Hostages.
The Mound of Hostages has a very short passage in to its heart. But I am curious as to why the chamber has been bricked up just beyond the sill stone. What are they trying to hide, and why has it been made so permanent when a locked door or gate would have done?
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