The monumental landscape around Teamhair na Rí or the Hill of Tara in County Meath features several springs closely associated with stories and traditions from early Irish literature and history. Of these sacred or holy wells probably the best known is Tiobra Bó Finne, the “Well of the White, Fair Cow”, which goes under various other titles including the ubiquitous Tobar Phádraig or “Well of Patrick” (almost every third water source in Ireland is named after the national saint). A pleasingly understated restoration of the well some years ago has made the Bó Fionn spring a favoured spot for tourists and believers in various types of New Age ritual.
However my preferred well at Teamhair lies somewhat off the beaten path, in a broad hollow to the south of Ráth Laoghaire or the “Fort of Laoghaire”. This formerly large ringfort sits on the southern boundary of Ráth na Rí, the “Fort of the Kings” on the summit of the hill. In the grassy dip below can be found the tree-hidden Tobar Neamhnach or the “Well of Neamhain”, the source of a small local river known as the Niodh, which was subsequently diverted by drainage channels into the local field boundaries. The spot is overgrown, subject to periods of silting or drought, and like most of the lower profile monuments at Tara is relatively neglected.
On a broader level, the monument rich region surrounding Teamhair is divided into a complex pattern of public and private lands. While agriculture is hugely important to the area (and one can still hear the bellowing of cows from the lower slopes of the hill, as for the last two or three thousand years), the neighbouring countryside is dotted with a number of farm buildings, homes and businesses. Prominent among these are some visitor-orientated shops selling ersatz items like statuettes of “fairies” and fridge magnets with “inspirational” quotes.
I have long argued for the historically important Hill of Tara zone to be declared a National Park in addition to being a National Monument (at the moment some one hundred acres is under the management of the Office of Public Works or OPW). This could be enhanced by the Irish state purchasing and planting with native flora the large fields running parallel to the site on the western side (excluding some well-known archaeological features). The restoration of the oak woods of Teamhair na Rí, “Tara of the Kings”, would be a wonderful thing to witness and visit. And it would go some way towards ameliorating the very real fears that the prehistoric site is in danger of further destruction and loss. Fears which led the Smithsonian Institution to add Tara to its list of fifteen must-see endangered global cultural treasures.