‘Ireland’s Stonehenge’

“Stonehenge”  “Stonehenge”  “Stonehenge”

Just like the pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge has become a global, archaeological icon that represents power and endurance. By word of mouth or through visual images, the majority of individuals know Stonehenge as the famous prehistoric, rock momument that is located in the countryside of Southwest England. However, not many people are aware that Stonehenge is actuallly one part of hundreds of earthworks that dot the English landscape. From Stonehenge itself to Woodhenge, from earthworks and burrows to the Stonehenge Cursus, the English coutryside relates to us the workings of our ancient Neolithic ancestors.

Across St. George’s Channel, in the rolling hills of the Irish countryside, lies another prehistoric site much like that of Stonehenge and its vast earthworks. The Hill of Tara was the home of Ireland’s pre-Christian kings. There are no stone buildings or monuments left, but the landscape is covered with great earthworkds, which even I had trouble navigating. Like the Mississippian mounds, one large iron age Hill Fort may have housed a create wooden fortress on its peak. This hill is known as ‘Raith na Riogh’ in Gaelic and ‘The Fort of the Kings’ in English. In addition, just like the Mississippian mounds and the burial mounds around Stonehenge, The Hill of Tara also includes numerous burrows where the ancient Irish laid their dead. One of the more well known ‘passage tombs’ is the megalithic ‘Mound of the Hostages’, and this particular mound dates back to 2,500 BC. The ancient kings of Ireland liked to take important individuals from all over Europe and beyond ‘hostage’; therefore, the tomb receives this name from the ancient custom. Today, like many of the passage tombs found throughout the County Meath, the inside passage of the Mound of the Hostages is covered in green mold. Of course this is caused by thousands of years of direct exposure to the air since the mounds were either never sealed or later opened. For this reason, I was not allowed admittance to many of these burial mounds; however, I learned that one of the stones within the ‘Mound of the Hostages’, the orthostats, contains neolithic rock art.

This is a picture of the Mound of the Hostages

I visited Ireland about two years ago, and I do not think I truely appreciated my experience at The Hill of Tara until last week when Professor Watrall spoke to the class about our neolithic ancestors and the burial tombs created by the Mississippians and the ones found around Stonehenge. I think it is fascinating that two cultures, which had never encountered one another took part in similar customs. Yes, the technique varied, for the Irish surrounded their mounds with carved slabs of ornate rock, and the Mississippians did not exercise the use of rock to this degree. At the same time, we must look at the resources at hand. The ancient Irish had tons of rock at their disposal where the Mississippians may not have been as lucky. Nevertheless, I have a new appreciation for Tara, Newgrange, Dowth, and all of the other ancient monuments that dot the Irish landscape.

This is a picture of the main earthwork (The Fort of the Kings) of the Hill of Tara

Look familiar to other earthworks found around Stonehenge?

For more information regarding the Hill of Tara check out http://www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/tara/