St. Patrick and the Many Monuments of the Hill of Tara

Copyright Doran Cellarius Fotografie

Copyright Doran Cellarius Fotografie

The past building over the past.  it is a theme that runs through many of the photos we post here on Monumental Photography and on our sister blog, Lost Places.  There are few places in the world where the past had usurped and blended with the past like it has in Ireland.  This week, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we see the old Catholic saint himself.  This is not just any St. Patrick, though, this is the St. Patrick statue on the Hill of Tara.  This impressive photo was taken by Doran Cellarius, who says it was the shamrock in St. Patrick’s hand that drew his attention to the statue.

St. Patrick was born in Britain while it was still under the control of the Roman Empire, sometime around the second half of the 5th Century.  At the age of 16, Patrick was captured by Irish pirates, who took him off to Ireland and held him prisoner for six years.  Patrick worked as a shepherd in Ireland, where he became a devout Christian.  Patrick heard a voice one day telling him that a ship was ready to carry him home.  Patrick ran away from his captors and found passage back to Britain.  The ship landed in Britain, where the crew walked for 28 days in the wilderness and nearly starved before finding a herd of wild boar to eat.  Patrick returned to his family, but eventually felt compelled to spread Christianity throughout Ireland.  One of the ways he discussed the trinity, legend has it, was through the three cloves of the shamrock.  St. Patrick’s first spiritual mission, according to legend, was the Hill of Tara.

The Hill of Tara had a symbolic history long before St. Patrick.  The 646-foot hill was the seat of kings in prehistoric Ireland.  The coronation stone, called The Lia Fáil, or Stone of Destiny, was located on the hill.  The hill was the seat for 142 kings, who held lavish inaugural feasts on the hill.  Ancient Irish mythology holds that the hill was the dwelling of the gods and the portal to a world of eternal life and joy.

Archaeological evidence suggests the importance of the hill.  An Iron Age site called Ráith na Ríogh or the Fort of Kings sits at the top of the hill, enclosed by an internal ditch and external bank.  In the middle of two enclosed earthworks inside sits the Stone of Destiny, or what is believed to be the Stone of Destiny.  According to legend, the stone would scream once the would-be king completed a series of challenges.  The hill houses other archaeological sites with names like the Rath of the Synods, the Mound of Hostages, and the Sloping Trenches.

St. Patrick’s church is on the eastern side of the hilltop.  The modern church was built in 1822, but a Christian church on the hill dates to the 1190’s.  St. Patrick chose the hill specifically because of it’s symbolic and spiritual significance.   One sacred place–multiple meanings.  Somehow through the years, it becomes an excuse for college kids to drink too much.  History winds in ways none of us can ever foresee.