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Holy Wells And A Proposed Hill Of Tara National Monument And Park

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.

Tobar Neamhnach or the Well of Neamhain, Teamhair na Rí, Hill of Tara

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.

A plan for a Hill of Tara National Monument and Park, protecting the main enclosures and associated sites. The circumference of the park would be planted with native deciduous trees
The Hill of Tara national monuments from the OPW and National Heritage Service

1 comment on “Holy Wells And A Proposed Hill Of Tara National Monument And Park

  1. Graham Ennis

    Thank You for this posting. It both heartens Me, and depresses Me, as it is a sort of parable for how things are, these days, in the Republic. The “Officials” of the State, in public works, etc, have done their usual dreary job, and carefully ignored anything that might entail work, imagination, and expenditure, as usual. They show very clear evidence of not understanding basic UNESCO rules (which apply here) on treating historical and archaeological sites as a holistic system and cultural treasure. The absolute basics, such as ensuring that undergrowth and time do not allow things such as the well system, to fall into near collapse, etc. are being ignored. I am astonished that the whole area is not a national park. In most countries, given its huge historical and cultural importance, it would be. So why is it not?….What is the Government minister responsible doing?…..not much, it seems. Do we even have a Government minister that grasps these things, or cares?….apparently not. I would go further. The whole zone, needs to be conserved, made into a National park, and extended for about at least a kilometre beyond the proposed boundaries, and a complete ecological restoration made of the original wild woods, and ancient field systems and settlement sites. It could be greatly improved and conserved as a Tourist site, whilst better safeguarding the cultural and archaeological heritage. But that would take imagination, and money, and the Gombeen men who hold various offices of state are terrified of such ideas. It is almost a parable for what the present state of Ireland is. The bright and shiny bits are kept polished up, but as soon as you get away from them, you discover decay, neglect, and lack of interest. I suspect that the entire site, not just the glossy main tourist bits, does not meet basic UNESCO standards for conservation and ecological, archaeological and cultural protection. sad, but typical. if this is what is going on on the core historical site in Ireland, then I shudder to think of how bad it is elsewhere. What is wrong with modern Ireland?….it is a state higher on the UN development index than the UK, but cannot even manage to keep the undergrowth back on a major UNESCO site. Typical.
    I also have to declare an interest here. My ancestors were landowners there, directly across from the site, until they had to flee and become “Wild Geese”. So it saddens myself, particularly, that the place is not properly protected.


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