Digging Tlachtga: Getting into the trenches with Ireland’s past
HAVE YOU EVER wondered about how archaeologists discover the story of the past? In the second of three articles in an exclusive series for TheJournal.ie, archaeologist Neil Jackman will take you behind the scenes of the exciting excavations at Tlachtga (The Hill of Ward) in Co Meath... continues...
Tlachtga is an important site in many early Irish sources, incorporating several strands of Irish mythology. The site is reputedly named after a druidess, the daughter of the quasi-mythical sun-god figure Mog Ruith, named in another tale as the executioner of John the Baptist.
According to Geoffrey Keating's History of Ireland, Tlachtga was one of four great fortresses (along with Tara, Teltown and Uisneach) built by the high king Tuathal Techmar following the creatio of the kingdom of Mide in the early decades of the first millennium AD. Each of these fortresses was constructed from part of an existing kingdom: Uisneach from Connacht, Tlachtga from Munster, Tara from Leinster and Teltown from Ulster.
Tlachtaga was strongly associated with the festival of Samhain. It was reputed to be the site of the 'Fire of Tlachtga' which was used to summon 'the priests, the augurs and druids of Ireland' to assemble on Samhain eve in order to 'consume the sacrifices that were offered to their pagan gods'. It was decreed that all fires within the kingdom on that night were to be kindled from the Fire of Tlachtga, under penalty of fine. In recent times the tradition of a Samhain gathering on the hill has been revived, and fire once again burns on Tlachtga on Samhain eve.
In 1167 Tlachtga was the site of the last of the reform synods to be held under Irish kingship. Presided over by Ruiadri Ua Conchobair, the last high king of Ireland, 13,000 horsemen are said to have attended, along with provincial kings and key ecclesiastical figures of the day, including Gelasius of Armagh, St Laurence O'Toole of Dublin and Cadhla of Tuam. Five years later, in 1172, Tigeman Mor Ua Ruairc, king of Breifne for over 40 years, was slain on the hill 'by treachery' following failed negotiations with Hugh de Lacy regarding the succession of Meath to the Anglo-Normans. Later still, both Owen Roe O'Neill (1643) and Cromwell (1649) are reputed to have encamped on the Hill, accounting for some of the disturbance evident at the site today.
From 'Heritage Guide no. 63: The Hill of Ward: A Samhain site in County Meath.' (Archaeology Ireland, December 2013).
In this district there is a large stone on the top of Ward's hill. It is said that when the Giants were in Ireland one of them was standing at Tara and threw the stone from there so it landed on the top of Ward's hill. This stone is on the hill ever since and the track of the Giant's five fingers is on the stone. Some people say that the Giant was at the races in Mullacurry and threw the stone from there. The fairies were supposed to dwell under the big stone.
A story from the Schools Collection at Duchas. ie. Perhaps that's the stone in Ryaner's photo.