Into the Mystic
The days of magic and St. Patrick are alive in Ireland's monasteries, hand-lettered manuscripts and ancient, mysterious mounds
Devotion isn't for the lazy. Or at least it wasn't in Ireland, in the days of the druids and, later, St. Patrick.
Visitors to the Emerald Isle today see ancient earthworks and burial mounds, sites of pagan ceremony. Ruins of abbeys. The Gospel, elaborately decorated. All created with vast expenditures of human labor that honored or appeased the divine. These testaments to faith have withstood centuries of abuse: the depredations of time, of nature, of pillaging and politics, of heedless neglect. They have endured to call to the hearts of pilgrims who come, as they have for millennia, to stand in awe and to worship.
I spent time in Ireland this spring, combining historical research with reverence. I was there for a couple of weeks, but one week is plenty of time to visit the sacred sites of Tara, Newgrange, Slane and Clonmacnoise and to see the Book of Kells.
The Hill of Tara
A woman in a cloak, a spaniel on a leash at her feet, stands before an earthen mound, palms uplifted. Another woman sits on a bench in meditation. The Hill of Tara, a sacred site dating to prehistoric times, still warrants such adulation.
Known in ancient Ireland as the seat of the kings and the gods' dwelling place, it rises gradually from the plains of County Meath in a continuous swath of green. Even in this drought, Ireland is green.
Earthen ridges and mounds indicate the houses, a banquet hall and other wooden structures that once stood on the prehistoric ceremonial site. From 3,500 B.C. to the sixth or seventh century A.D., even after Ireland was Christianized, Tara was used for burials and rituals. Like other hills and high places in pre-Christian times, it was considered an entrance to the world of the spirits.
You'll have to use your imagination at this enigmatic site, because the structures have long since vanished. Imagine druids building sacred fires and conducting mystical rituals, legends of heroism, coronations, feasts, harvest festivals, trading, legislation, adjudication. ... Imagine fairies capturing mortals and carrying them off to underworld realms of enchantment. Even today, tours devoted to Celtic spirituality make Tara a destination.
The most conspicuous of Tara's earthworks is the Mound of the Hostages, a Neolithic burial mound with an iron gate over its entrance. Nearby, the Royal Seat is marked by a standing stone, which is said to have cried out when touched by the man destined to be king. Today, tourists touch the stone, but it stands silent.
Tara stands 300 feet above the plain around it; a clear day offers a fine view of sheep pastures and cultivated fields, even the mountains of east Galway in the hazy distance. Enjoy the view now, before a controversial motorway runs nearby. Construction has already begun.
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Source/Submitted by: Star-Telegram / Carol Nuckols, Star-Telegram Staff Writer
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