Dia dhaoibh. (Hello).
I have been quite busy the last few days. On Friday, 21/9; the group of IFSA-Butler students here in Galway had a welcome dinner at the Galway Greyhound Stadium. We had a nice meal, and got to watch several races. It was really interesting and not something I had done before. Afterward a group of about 10 of us, went to a pub in the city center that had a band playing Irish music. Everyone in the pub was loudly singling when the band was playing.
On Saturday, I was able to go on a field class trip with my Archaeology class – Landscapes of Cult and Kingship. We took a bus to the Irish Royal sites of Tara and Uisneach. To begin with, Tara is a location that is connected to sacral kingship( where the king serves as a bridge between the gods and the people) for several thousand years from being central in the pagan religion in Ireland, to being the location where St. Patrick had his victory over the druids. The royal site of Tara is centered on the Hill of Tara, which I was able to walk around and begin to get a sense about how this site was used viewed by the ancient Irish.
In order to get a sense of the deep importance of the site, the Professors Newman and Schot, lead our group on an ascension of the hill as though we were members with whom this site is related. We began our ascension of the Hill of Tara, on the north side of the hill at the base of the, Tech Mídchúarta, (banquet hall). This banquet hall was a low depression with high banks of earth arranged along ether side. Along our ascent up the banquet hall, we would come to cuts that had been made into the banks on either side, which when you would look out the cut, you could get a view of other monuments, which may be related to burials of some of the Kings of Tara. So as you would ascend the hill you would be passing among the former kings, on your way to completing rituals in order to be confirmed as a king yourself. As we crested up out of the banquet hall, we caught an amazing perspective on one of the larger mounds on the Hill, the Mound of the Hostages. The mound was used for the exchange of prisoners and hostages in ancient times. The mound was surrounded by a fence due to it being under preservation work at the moment. We continued on our journey around this landscape, and we came to a ‘rag’ tree. Where people have turned a tree into a sacred tree by tying rags, bits of paper, plastic, onto the tree as a form of offering. So, Tara even today is still considered to be a sacred and religious site in Ireland. The top of the Hill, is covered in many burial sites and other monuments but only a few are visible on the surface. Continuing on our tour we ascended up and down two banks of earth and came to the crest of the highest monument on the Hill of Tara, the Forrad. Near the Mound of the Hostages was once the Lia Fáil, (‘Stone of destiny’), which the King of Tara would cross over on a chariot and which would cry out to signify his right to rule. At the crest of the Forrad, is a stone pillar which local tradition states is the Lia Fáil, although it was moved to a different location in 1824. Standing on the Forrad, I was able to have a near complete panoramic view of a large expanse of the Irish countryside, and could see a group of hills, one of which was Uisneach, another cultic royal center.
After finishing our tour of Tara, we re-boarded our bus for the 1.5 hour bus trip to Uisneach our second stop for the day. Uisneach was regarded as a meeting place of the ancient provinces of Ireland, and as the center of Ireland, where our world met the otherworld. There are several monuments at Uisneach, one of which is known as the ‘Cat Stone’ or Patrick’s Rock, which serves to show how these pagan cultic sites were appropriated by the Catholic Church and St. Patrick in order to link the pagan beliefs of the early Irish with the Catholic religion which was spreading throughout Ireland in the middle ages. Another sacred site was a sacred spring which was important in the early literature on Ireland. We also saw a figure-eight shaped enclosure which served as a ringfort and then a farm with several houses in the 7th-8th Centuries AD. We had to the follow an ancient roadway down the hill, the road which was churned by all of the cattle on the farm which encompasses the sites on the hill. I was happy I had my hiking boots on and that I didn’t fall in all the mud. We then got back on the bus for the 2.5 hour bus ride back to Galway. We had left at 9 that morning and got back to Galway at 9 that night.
Slán go Fóill. (Bye for now.)