Hill of Tara

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(The Hill of Tara with Stone of Destiny in the Distance)

Over the last few months, I’ve been very busy and had some great friends and family over to visit me here in Ireland. This has resulted in me doing some touristy stuff (I bought a little 700 euro car) and exploring Ireland near where I live. In the last month and a half, I’ve been to the Hill of Tara twice, and might I just say it’s well worth a visit – especially because it’s free admission and what I would call an endangered site because people just roam all over it.

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(ground level view)

From Far away, the Hill of Tara doesn’t look like much. If you didn’t know it was there, other than a brown sign on the side of the road saying “Hill of Tara” with an arrow to the exit, you’d not know it was there. The entire thing is located off the new M3 motorway (controversial because they didn’t do any archaeology before putting the new traffic lanes only a couple miles from the structure), then down a narrow 1.5 car lane wide country road lined with shoulder high rock walls. When you get there, there’s a line of cars parked on the side of the road (tight squeeze to get past them), a 20 car parking area, and at a tiny pub and a tourist office at the end. The majority of local inhabitants are sheep, cows, and horses – and a handful of locals trying to make a buck to support the local economy. Getting out of the car, You have to walk up a blue gravel pathway and through a cow gate and then around and/or over several steep random mounds.

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(The great banqueting long hall remains)

Essentially, It’s a huge green pasture with what looks like lumps and bumps of unplowed and overgrown mounds that are great fun for the kids to play on (running up and down, racing dirt bikes, and so on). To the un-knowing these mounds look almost like someone took a bulldozer and some dump trucks and piled up dirt for some sort of construction site that was never completed.

The Stone of Destiny
(The Stone of Destiny on the top of the Royal Seat “mound”)

To those in the know, you can see the remains of a long storied Irish history. When viewed from above, you can see that the mounds make two giant “ring forts” for protection, along with one extremely long single halled building used primarily for banqueting. It was from this site that the Iron Age (500 AD) Celtic kings of Ireland ruled their domain for over 1000 years. It was a place not only of celebration of the Celtic religion but also assembly place and burial place for over 140 ancient kings. There are over 30 monuments on the site itself and most date over a period of 4000 years – between 3500 BC – around 700 AD.

Mound of the Hostages
(Mound of the Hostages – outside)

Mound of the Hostages
(Mound of the Hostages – inside through the barred gate)

According to Legend, this the home to the Celtic Goddess Maeve (kings here had to drink spiced ale and symbolically marry her to gain the king ship) and possesses not just one but Two Fairy trees (where one comes to communicate and present offerings to the fairies), but also here was the place that St. Patrick (the patron saint of Ireland) had his victory over the Celtic King Laoghaire in the 5th Century.

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(Two Fairy Trees decorated with offerings and wishes)

Because of the forced conversion of the populace to Christianity, there is, naturally, a Church with old cemetery overlapping part of these ancient Ring Ruins. The church, naturally, is named St. Patricks, and is now dis-used.

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(St. Patrick’s Church on the Hill of Tara)

I have to say that I really enjoyed my time exploring this historic site where thousands of years of Irish history cross – from the ancients, to the Celts, to the Christians digging into sacred Pagan ground to bury their dead. It really makes one pause and think about beliefs and preservation – and even more so when you see children playing and sheep grazing on this once holy site. But, as one day sets, another begins – and time moves on for us – and yet stands still at Tara.

Celtic Cemetery stone & Tree at hill of Tara
(St. Patrick’s Cemetery with Celtic style Cross and the edge of the mounds at the Hill of Tara)

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Leprechaun Museum Trip

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I like living in Dublin. It’s a new city, and that means all kinds of new things to explore and do. When I can get a discount like I did last month from one of the online deals websites, I tend to jump at the chance to go out and explore my new home a little bit more. One of the more recent daily deals was for the National Leprechaun Museum, for half price.

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Waiting to get into the museum

The thing is that I had 2 tickets, but I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to “borrow” my friend’s daughter (and give her parents a weekend sleep in) and her honorary uncle, and make a day of adventure for us all. Thus, I made some arrangements to meet at 10 am, take the intelligent Munchkin to the city to see the “little people”, have some lunch, and then visit the candy shop as a set of three people. I had a great time – and so did they. The Leprechaun Museum, in my opinion, is much much better with a child because they still have the innocence to enjoy the story telling.

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We got there and were the last ones on the tour. The museum itself isn’t very big – it took about an hour to go through from start to finish. Through most of the museum, you’re accompanied by a story teller, who tells the stories of Ireland – this includes legends of the Leprechaun, tales of the Salmon of Wisdom, Banshee, and those are just the ones I remember. In the beginning, our tour guide told us how Leprechauns have changed their look – it used to be that their hats were red – the red gave them the “magic” powers. They actually looked more like the Gnomes of Germany, to me. As she told us the tale, she pointed us to a tunnel – where we got to enter the magical (Abstract) world of the Leprechauns.

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From there, we were taken to a wooden abstract representation of the Giant’s Causeway, which was almost like a maze, full of things too small for me as an adult to climb on, but for the kid – exciting to climb up and perch, wander through and hide, and even look through for a different view above the museum rooms.

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Once we found our way out, the next room we entered was the Giant’s room. Everything in here was 3 times bigger than normal size. The dining table and chairs, the easy chair, lamp, and easy chair. The giant coffee cup. A huge set of dresser drawers. For adults, it’s like being a kid again. For the kids, well, it’s extra big and makes for tons of laughter and delight.

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From this room, the munchkin raced along forward and hit a hallway filled with the legend of the red socks. I read it to her and a few of the other children about the place as we walked along the hallway. The summary of the story was that there was a leprechaun who got caught by a man. Knowing that once caught, Leprechauns have to give their gold over to the one who caught them, the man was delighted. He kept his eyes on the sneaky Leprechaun and forced it to lead him to the gold. The Leprechaun led the man to a grove of trees, and pointed out where the gold was buried. Not having a spade handy, the man took off his red sock and tied it to the tree, letting the Leprechaun go. Then, he headed home to get something dig up and carry the gold with. When he returned, he found that all the trees had red socks tied to them. The result was that he decided there were too many trees with socks, and it would take too long to find the gold again. (It’s supposed to illustrate how tricky the Leprechaun are.)As we rounded the final corner, we were in a room filled with black trees and red socks – and on the walls there was a creative use of mirrors that made the room feel bigger than it was.

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From there, we walked through a few rooms with an Irish map, some Mythical Irish place names.. and on the ceiling were a series of umbrellas:

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As we left this room, and went into the next, we walked through an Irish Rainbow …

Walking through a rainbow

And found ourselves looking at the pot of gold:

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Another tale was told, and we headed into the final rooms, filled with a wishing well to make a wish in and and plenty more legends to think about on the way to Mc Donald’s for lunch, and then to the candy shop for a cupcake and candy.

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Making a Wish

Two thoughts on the Leprechaun museum – 1) Go early and try to go during the week. If you can’t get in on one of the tours, it’s about an hour or two wait for the next tour. 2) Take a child. It’s so much more delightful as they discover the legends and race from room to room with excitement.

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