Irish Druids And Old Irish Religions

THE SACRED TARA HILL

   TARA, Temor, Temhuir, or Temoria, is intimately connected with the early religion of Ireland, and has been associated with singular theories. As Tea-mur, it was the mount or home of Queen Tea, wife of the Milesian King Heremon. The centre of Druidical song and power, the seat of ancient royalty, Tara was a favourite subject of glorification by ancient annalists, and has been immortalized in the poem of Moore. But, while bards record a great assembly being held there 921 B.C., Dr. Petrie, the eminent antiquary, is disposed to regard the place as existing only between 200 and 300 years after Christ.
   The high civilization at Tara has been a favourite subject for Bards. The old lady guide at Tara told us that only gold and silver vessels were used at the banquets. Dr. Ledwich laughs at the yarns about its twenty-seven kitchens, and its amazing bill of daily fare. He assures us that the story of Tara rests only upon the fragment of a fragment in the Seabright collection, that had neither the name of its author nor a date. The earliest Romish ecclesiastics, and mediæval writers, knew nothing of early Irish culture or wealth.
   We must refer to the works of Dr Petrie for a description of the several halls, mounds, raths, cairns, and tombs still to be traced, with distinguished appellations connect with heroes and prophets of old. The Feis, or Irish Parliaments, were wont to meet in the so-styled Banqueting Hall. An ancient Celtic bard had this account of the grave of the Queen that came from Spain--

"Tephi was her name! She excelled all virgins!
Wretched for him who had to entomb her.
Sixty feet of correct measurement
Were marked as a sepulchre to enshrine her."
   The Tara stone, or the Dallan, Stone of Destiny, refer to by writers of the tenth century, is declared by Petrie to be the cylindrical obelisk still seen six feet of the ground, with other so called Druidical monuments. The tourist is shown the spot where Lucad the Druid burned in the house from which Benen, St Patrick disciple, had escaped. The story, as told in Latin Maccuthenius, contains one of the traditions connected with the reputed life of Ireland's apostle, and illustrates the contest at Tara between the Saint and the Druids--
   "All these things being done in the sight of the King between the magicians and Patrick, the King says to them, 'Cast your books into the water, and him whose books shall escape uninjured we will adore.' Patrick answered, 'I will do so.' And the magician said,' I am unwilling to come to the trial by water with that man, because he has water as his god' (alluding to baptism). The contest was to be settled, therefore, by fire. A house was constructed of boughs, half green and half dry. The magician went into the green part, and Benin into the dry. The fire came and consumed the green, with the Druid, but the Christian was not hurt."
   Other stories connected with the preacher at Tara are narrated elsewhere in the present work, and relate to a period subsequent to the institution of the Ollamh Fodhla college at Tara. But the modern school of Anglo-Israel attach other ideas to that ancient seat of sanctity. Heber of the bards is to them Hebrew. Tara is named from Terah. Jeremiah fled thither after the siege of Jerusalem, carrying away the treasures of the temple; as, the ark, the sceptre of David, the Urim and Thummim, and others. Some persons at this day affect to believe that in the Hill of Tara might yet be found these memorials of Judaism, and hope to recover thence David's harp, carried to Ireland by Jeremiah and the Princess Scota, daughter of Pharaoh.
   The Rev. F. R. A. Glover, M.A., has no doubt about its possession of the sacred stone; saying, "The Foundation Pillar which the Jews regarded for six hundred years with veneration, as Jacob's Pillow, in their temple on Araunah's threshing-floor, and which, being lost in the destruction of their sanctuary, B.C. 588, has appeared in Ireland as the precious Liag Phail, brought thither by Hebrew men in a ship of Dan, cir. 584."
   The same authority elsewhere advances the following--
   "In Ireland, in the royal precincts of Tara, cir. B.C. 582-3, there was a Hebrew system and transplanted Jerusalem, set up in a sort of abeyance in sanctuary; actual, operative,; but unknown; real, but for some wise purpose kept out of sight; a throne set up by a Hebrew prophet (Jeremiah) reset in sanctuary." Some pious friends of the Anglo-Israel movement have desired a digging search over Tara, now a wilderness region, to discover the missing treasures from Solomon's temple.
   The romance connected with Tara we thus perceive still blossoming at the end of the nineteenth century. It began with heathens, was discoursed on by Catholics, is reverenced by Protestants. We still dream and sing of "The harp that once through Tara's halls."
   The Rath on the slope, between the hill of Tara and river Boyne on the west, was the site of the burial of the heroes of the Battle of Gavra. The grave of Oscar is still shown.
"We buried Oscar of the red arms
On the north side of the great Gavra."
   The palace of Teamair, or Tara, was held by the Tuatha. The chief college of the Druids was at Tara. There were held the national convention of the Teamorian Fes. It was associated with the marriage sports of the Tailtean The foundation is attributed to the wise Ollam Fodhla.
   O'Hartigan, of the tenth century, the author of the Book of Ballymote, spoke of it --
"Fair was its many-sided tower,
Where assembled heroes famed in story;
Many were the tribes to which it was inheritance,
Though decay lent a green grassy land."
   He sang its praises under Cormac O'Cusinn, when it was a fortress; when, at banquets, three hundred cup-bearers handed round three times fifty goblets, "which cups were of gold or of silver all."
   "In Meath," said Hollinshed, "is a hill called the Hill of Taragh, wherein is a plaine twelve score long, which was named the Kempe his Hall; where the countrie had their meetings and folkmotes at a place that was accounted the high palace of the monarch.--The Irish hammer manic fables in this forge, of Fin Mac Coile and his chieftains. But doubtless the place seemeth to beare a show of an ancient and famous monument."
   When Widow Feelin, the guide,--wrinkled, freckled, wasted, wizen, bent at an angle of 45 degrees,--hurried over the ground with the weight of 75 years to show us the wonders of Tara, she pointed out the "plaine twelve score long," as the site of the far-famed Banqueting Hall. She told us of the vessels of gold and silver, served by three hundred butlers. She could show no stone remains, for sure, the palace was of polished oak. She gloated over the graves of fifty croppies (soldiers); and, seating herself on the turf, sang a long ballad of past glory, in which O'Connell was duly remembered, and the Repeal meeting on Tara Hill, at which she had been present. Looking round upon nine counties, she mourned the loss of Erin's pride, as an aged Fenian Druidess might have done. She said that some persons wanted to search the grave-mounds over Tara's departed heroes, but that she had roused the villagers, who drove off the sacrilegious party. To her patriotic ardour, the sanctity of Tara and its departed Druids and Princes may be safely confided.
   Mrs. Wilkes reads in the antiquity of Temora as the Teman of Edom, of Midian as the old name for Meath, of Padan Aram, of Laban, of Levi now Lewes, of Danaans from Dan, of Jacob's pillow Lia Fail, of the Irish genealogy in the first of Chronicles, of the tablets of Druids being the peeled rods of Jacob, &c., &c., testifying to the glory of Tara. The old Patriarchal religion of Chaldæa was one. with the ancient faith of Erin.
   Lastly, and not to be forgotten, the association of the Holy Stone with Tara signifies the place above all in some persons' estimation. Dr. Petrie discourses eloquently upon the Bod Thearghais, which bears, however, a surprising phallic signification. "It is," says he, "an interesting fact that a large obeliscal pillar stone, in a prostrate position, occupied, until a recent period, the very situation on the Hill of Tara, pointed out as the place of the Lia Fail by the Irish writers of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries; and that this was a monument of pagan antiquity, an Idol Stone, as the Irish writers call it, will see evident from its form and character."
   Tara, therefore, occupies no mean position in the history of religion in Ireland.
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   HOWTH HILL, overlooking Dubhlinn or Dublin Bay not far from Eblana, Dublin, and rising 578 feet above the water, was a hallowed spot long before St. Patrick was at Tara. It was the Ben Edir or Edair of the Fenians, a so called from its oaks. The Danes destroyed its Halls in 819. The Book of Howth chronicles events from 432 to 1370. The Danish word Howeth is from Hoved, a head, Ptolemy's Edras became Edar. A Fenian poem runs thus:--
"How sweet from proud Ben Edir's height
To see the ocean roll in sight;
And fleets, swift bounding on the gale,
With warriors clothed in shining mail.
Most beauteous hill, around whose head
Ten thousand sea-birds' pinions spread;
May joy thy lord's true bosom thrill,
Chief of the Fenians' happy hill."
   Ireland' Eye, a little isle north of Howth harbour, is also associated with early religious history. It was the Inis Nessan, from St. Mac Nessan, of the Royal family of Leinster, who, in the sixth century, had his oratory at Inis Erean, as then it was called. The word Eye is from the Danish Ey, Island. There it was that the holy man was assailed, as the story goes, by the formidable chief of hell, who sought to terrify him by his gigantic and terrible form. The Saint, excited, threw his book at the fiend, driving him against a rock which, splitting open, received him within itself.
   The Abbey of Howth was erected in 1235. Fin Mac Coul's Quoit, a stone of many tons weight, is now seen covering a cromlech, upon which these verses were written by S. Ferguson, Q.C., recording the burial of the fair Fenian, Aideen--
"They hewed the stone; they heaped the cairn:
      Said Ossian, 'In a queenly grave
We leave her 'mong her fields of fern,
      Between the cliff and wave.'
The cliff behind stands clear and bare,
      And bare above, the heathery steep
Scales the blue heaven's expanse to where
      The Danaan Druids sleep.

And here hard by her natal bower,
      On lone Ben Adair's side we strive
With lifted rock, and signs of power,
      To keep her name alive.
That while from circling year to year,
      The ogham letter'd stone is seen,
The Gael shall say, 'Our Fenians here
      Entombed their loved Aideen.'"