Ireland’s Ancient East is an area full of history, drama, battles, wars and ancient monuments & ruins such as the Hill of Tara & Mellifont Abbey. Counties Meath and Louth are in the province of Leinster and is part of Ireland’s Ancient East. It is named after the historic Kingdom of Meath, from Midhe meaning “middle”. Within this county lies some of Ireland’s most iconic treasures from the Hill of Tara, the Boyne River the heart of the Battle of the Boyne, to castles such as Slane and Trim where Mel Gibson’s Braveheart was filmed and the glorious Mellifont Abbey ruins lie.
Tara is the ancient Irish seat of the High Kings. It is a huge site that is continually being investigated archaeologically. Tara encompassed the Rath of the Synods, The Mound of the Hostages and the Stone of Destiny or theLia Fáil.
The site of Tara, it has been discovered, has revealed a huge wooden henge, said to be even bigger than Stonehenge and would quite possibly be the size of a football stadium which means it would have been seen on the skyline for many miles around. It is haunting being surrounded by this landscape and these megaliths, something this old full of legends and myths reminds us of why we visit Ireland.
According to Mythical Ireland the Lia Fail or “Stone of Destiny” was brought here by, the Tuatha Dé Danann, as one of their sacred objects. It was said to roar when touched by the rightful king of Tara.
The “Mound of the Hostages” is a megalithic ‘passage tomb’ and is the oldest monument on the hill, dating to around 2,500BC. The name “Mound of the Hostages” comes from the custom of Kings keeping important people or family members from other royal families as hostages to ensure that the families followed the King’s rule. One of the legendary kings of Tara was named Niall of the Nine Hostages in recognition of the fact that he held hostages from all the provinces of Ireland and from Britain.
In the churchyard at Tara there are two standing stones, which are believed to be quite ancient. The taller of the two stones is thought to feature a figure of the Celtic fertility god Cernunnos, and is similar to many of the ‘Sheela na Gigs found across Ireland.
When you are in the area you must visit the Battle of the Boyne centre which commemorates the biggest battle in the history of Ireland that took place in 1690. There’s a lot to learn here and some great displays and an audio visual display with a huge 3 dimensional map of the battle. The grounds are pretty spectacular as well.
Mellifont Abbey is a 12th century Cistercian abbey with an incredible set of ruins that are quite breathtaking. There is an octagonal lavabo which is an ancient washing place for the monks before meals. The arches are quite Romanesque and the carvings really detailed. You can hear the river whispering in the background and if you listen carefully you can just imagine the chanting of monks as they went about their daily routines.
The Cistercian order were called the White Monks, which was due to the white choir robe worn over their day to day habits. The rule of St. Benedict, which was all about prayer, work, peace and a return to manual labour was literally observed by the Cistericians.
The farmland and fields around the Abbey would have been wonderfully fertile land for growing enough food to feed over 400 of the monks and lay brothers. The Abbey has a dominantly peaceful history but William of Orange did use the Abbey during the Battle of the Boyne as his headquarters.
Mellifont was a well known monastery in its day and in 1152 it hosted the Synod of Drogheda which was attended by Kings and Bishops. Mellifont was demolished during the Reformation when King Henry VII dissolved them and took any treasures belonging to the monasteries. Mellifont was sold and a fortified manor house was built on the site in 1556 by Edward Moore.
Trim Castle is where the movie Brave Heart, Mel Gibson’s Scottish epic was filmed. The castle is open to guided tour only and takes around an hour and a half. There are some who say the Castle is haunted Monks have been seen wandering throughout the ruins and guests in the Trim Castle Hotel (which is across the road) and some have seen nuns praying at the foot of their bed in the hotel. The hotel sits on the grounds of an old Cemetery for nuns.
Lots more to see and visit when getting out of Dublin check here for more stories
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