The Hill of Tara is home to many ancient ruins and tombs, but none have been studied like the Mound of the Hostages. Built approximately 5,000 years ago, this tomb is thought to be the final resting place of up to 500 people, though exact numbers may never be certain.
The mound is circular and is approximately 15 meters in diameter and 3 meters high. The small entrance is inset into the side of the mound and is gated, barring entrance to the tomb but still allowing visitors to peer in. Inside, the stones and walls are decorated with ancient carvings and spirals, thought to have been related to the sun and the moon - an interesting choice since the sun’s light penetrates the tomb only twice every year.
Major excavations were undertaken between 1955 and 1959 and the cremated remains of over 200 people were discovered during that time, along with various burial gifts and earthenware. Still more objects related to the burial customs of the people who inhabited Tara between 2500 B.C. and 500 B.C. were found in stone cysts along the walls of the mound. The excavations also uncovered the skeleton of an adolescent boy from the Bronze Age, decorated with a necklace of gems and stones. These finds were considered to be the most comprehensive set of grave goods in all of Ireland and have yet to be surpassed. A close second were those unearthed at the larger passage tomb of Newgrange.
More recent explorations have uncovered the underground ruins of a giant henge. It is thought that if the henge were rebuilt today it would surround the Mound of the Hostages and many of the other ancient places on the Hill of Tara. It would be a vast and imposing monument and could easily rival Stonehenge.
As part of the Hill of Tara complex, you will also find the Lia Fáil stone (Stone of Destiny) nearby. It’s important for its association with the inauguration of the Kings of Tara. It acted as the coronation stone of Ireland, where all of the kings of Ireland were crowned up to Muirchertach mac Ercae. Legend has it whoever can pull the stone-free is the true King of Ireland.
Know Before You Go
The Hill of Tara is located off the M3 Motorway and/or the N3 Road. It is accessible by car or tour bus.