Fencing at the entrance to the churchyard and visitor centre onto the hill.

The Hill of Tara: A disgrace

This evening, I brought an American friend to see the Hill of Tara, and what a let-down it was.

Even though it’s on my doorstep, I hadn’t been up for ages, simply because it is an uncomfortable and overcrowded place to visit these days.

My friend was staying in Trim, and using public transport had visited Bective Abbey, and then Navan (where there wasn’t much to see!), and I brought him to see the Hill of Tara en route back to Trim.

The public car park was full, and while there is a private car park, there is a charge which is only recoupable by using the adjoining business, which wasn’t open at that hour, so of no use.

We found a spot near the junction, not ideal but parked tidy enough, before my friend spotted a car beside us pulling out, so he waited outside mine while I went to pull over.

All of a sudden, an SUV which had been parked lengthways at the other end of the car park came charging up, the man driving waving and claiming the spot in a “we were here first” fashion.

So they were, but there was no indication they were waiting for a spot, as they were already in situ, albeit in the middle of the way!

I let them at it, and stayed put.

“We’ve been waiting quite a while,” the lady passenger said as she alighted.

“Fine,” I said. “I’m not getting involved. I didn’t see anyone’s name on it.”

Then, up the lane to the churchyard, to discover the place is a shambles.

I thought that by now the Office of Public Works would have finished the repair job it started on the wall surrounding the graveyard in 2014. More like Office that doesn’t work.

I know state bodies can get a lot of stick, but this is ridiculous. The place was covered with metal fencing, and the back gate of the churchyard heading onto the hill was fenced off, as there is a big gaping hole in the wall where the gate used to be.

So back around (well, actually we hopped the wall, following a well-worn path which showed others had the same idea), and out onto the hill.

It was very overgrown, and while I’m all for rewilding, letting dock leaves grow up the side of the Mound of the Hostages is a bit much. There was a time when Donnelly’s sheep kept the grass and growth well tidy, but don’t you know there was probably some health and safety issue to having sheep poo on the hill. Never did anyone any harm in all the years our families have been living on the slopes of Tara, as far as I’m aware.

Then, the actual passage grave itself at the mound was full of filth and litter, popcorn bags, sticks and stones which don’t look like they formed part of the original monument, but were possibly thrown through the bars.

The paint was flaking off the signs on the monuments, the blue giving away to the older green underneath, while the sign on the Royal Seat was missing altogether.

At least there was one spectacular thing to show my American friend - the view across the country, north, south, east and west, and the magnificent sunsetting sky.

The attitude of the public bodies to the Hill of Tara is shocking. Five years ago the Chronicle was told by the OPW that the work on the wall is a delicate operation because of the fact it is a graveyard wall and the particular lime and mortar being applied by the apprentice stonemasons cannot be applied in particularly cold weather. (I’m not sure if the weather affects the mortar or the masons!) Or maybe it’s time to move the job on from the apprentices?

In fairness, the completed part looks well, and time was lost due to the pandemic lockdowns, but come on. According to a Health and Safety Regulations form on the fencing, the project began in 2014. Surely it’s time to get it finished.

And how many times have we been told by heritage ministers that there is a Tara Conservation Plan about to be published (I can’t remember whose responsibility it is at this stage, there have been so many changes of ministers and departments). It seems like this plan is more sacred than the Third Secret of Fatima.

The Hill of Tara is a joke, but is not a laughing matter in a county portraying itself as a heritage county, and a country promoting tourism and Ireland’s Ancient East. The condition of the cemetery, the yard around the visitor centre, the hill itself, and the lack of proper public car parking facilities, particularly for tourist coaches, is shocking. It is time for proper action.

(PS. I saw a group of people running which looked like an organised training session of some sort, even though the OPW asks on signs that there be no team training on the hill as the high impact activity is causing damage to the monuments.)