The megalithic passage tomb at Tara, the Mound of the Hostages, is the oldest monument of the site. Evidence of at least 200 individual cremations have been uncovered at the mound.
Engravings within the tomb are thought to represent the sun, moon or stars as religious symbols, and one of the stones may have been used as a prehistoric calendar.
Access to the Hill of Tara is free, but if you want to hear a bit more background on the site, take a guided tour through the visitor center.
Tara is now under threat due to the construction of the M3 highway. Protestors are hard at work to save Tara: the Hill of Tara was included in the World’s Monument Fund 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world, and there is a letter writing campaign in the works in order to preserve the site.
Hill Of Slane
According to myth, the impressive Hill of Slane is the burial place of King Sláine, the king of the Fir Bolg (an ancient people of Ireland).
In more recent Christian history, the hill is also the site where Patrick lit the divine Paschal Fire in defiance of the pagan kings at Tara. Church ruins lie atop the hill, and the site remains a popular destination for Christians.
The Hill of Slane is accessible at all times, and there is no entry fee.
Stop 2: Loughcrew Oldcastle, Co. Meath
Loughcrew, also called “The Storied Hills” or “Mountain of the Witch,” is one of Ireland’s major passage tomb sites (the others are Bru na Boinne, Carrowkeel and Carrowmore), all believed to date back to around 3200 B.C. The site is made up of clusters of cairns (manmade, pyramid-like stone piles) around hills.
The winter solstice at Newgrange is well known, but the lesser-known Equinox illumination at sunrise occurs at Loughcrew. The backstone of the chamber is illuminated by a beam of light at sunrise on the Spring and Autumnal Equinoxes.
Myth says that the monuments of Loughcrew were created by a witch flying overhead who dropped large stones from her apron.
Admission to the site is free, but be aware that the climb to Loughcrew is quite steep.
Stop 3: Navan Fort & The King’s Stables Armagh, Co. Armagh
Navan Fort is a historical royal fortress on Killylea Road in Co. Armagh. The ancient monument was a stronghold of the kings of Ulster around 700 B.C. The Fort was the center of King Conchobor mac Nessa and his Red Branch Knights.
Navan Fort is surrounded by a bank with a ditch inside, suggesting that it was a ceremonial, rather than defensive, site.
It is said that the great Irish mythical hero Cuchulainn spent much of his youth in Navan Fort before single-handedly facing the army of the mythical Queen Maeve.
The Fort was eventually abandoned, which probably was a result of the creation of St. Patrick’s church two miles away. But in 1005, the Irish king Brian Boru camped there, and in 1387, Niall O’Neill chose Navan Fort as the location for a house.
One mile west of Navan Fort lies another myth site, the mysterious King’s Stables which is thought to have played a role in water rituals in the area.
King's Stables, which was built around 1000 B.C, is a 10-foot-deep man-made pool surrounded by a bank. It is believed that its significance had to do with water, because the prehistoric Celts are known to have practiced water cult ceremonies.
A brief excavation of the site in 1975 uncovered the front of a human skull that was severed from the back part, perhaps related to another famous Celtic cult ritual – the severed head, a large-scale beheading as human sacrifice to the Celtic gods.
You can take a tour of the sites through the Navan Center.
Stop 4: Beaghmore Stones Cookstown, Co. Tyrone
Stone circles in Ireland span across the Sperrins Mountains in Counties Tyrone, Derry and Fermanagh. In each area there is a concentration of sites made up of multiple stone circles. The circles have relatively small diameters and are comprised of 40 or so stones each.
The circles are typically misshapen and occur in pairs or multiples in one place.
Tyrone has the most stone circles; there are 61 known rings there. The most famous stone circle complex is at Beaghmore (“the moor of the birches”) in Co. Tyrone. The complex was accidentally uncovered in the 1940s while men were peat cutting. It took four years of excavation to remove a thick layer of protective peat and to uncover the 1269 stones of the seven-circle complex.
Thus far, seven stone circles, 13 cairns and several rows of standing stones that make up the Beaghmore complex have been uncovered, but it is assumed that even more are still hidden in the surrounding peat.