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The White Mare of Tara

category meath | rights, freedoms and repression | press release author Friday August 05, 2005 01:35author by Con Connor - Ireland's Druidschoolauthor email info at druidschool dot comauthor address 6 Lealand Gardens, Clondalkin, Dublin 22, phone 01 4578343

History comes alive in the High Valley at Tara

It was while returning from such a Ritual of Protection, as I walked, reflecting on the sacred hills of Tara and nearby Skryne, that I was seized with a sudden insight or intuition: that the little-known stream that runs between these hills was made to run north.

Tara was the royal city and ancient capital of Ireland; it was the residence of supreme kings from ancient times until the sixth century. It was abandoned in the reign of King Dermot, the son of Fergus Kervall, on account of the curse of St. Ruadan. All that can be recovered of its history, it is perhaps assumed, has been done so, and little can now be added to the accounts and descriptions that have come down to us, since the tenth century when Kineth O’Hartigan, wrote the first scholarly account of Tara, now preserved in the Book Of Leinster.

We should never assume archaeological closure. For this reason it is the act of a vandal to alter and degrade any ancient sacred site, lest we lose not alone what little time has mercifully preserved but the possibilities of new insight. There is also the question of the particular architecture whereby these apparently simple buildings and monuments were shaped and aligned, reflecting as they do the religious and cultural visions of their creators, and in many cases the ruins and their ancient names are all that remain to us to work with, whether out of curiosity or, more significantly, in our seeking to form a psychological and spiritual connection with our deep history and, perhaps, reawaken some of the lost mystery of their lives.

For this reason I have sought with many others to prevent the destruction of the integrity of Tara by the creation of a new giant double toll-road, the M3, which, if it is built, will destroy for all time the exquisite record that is the Landscape Setting of Tara, unique not alone in this country, but world-wide. There are alternate routes for motorcars.

I wish now to relate a short account of an insight I had, that led to my deeper investigation into old topographical treatises and learned conversations with experts in these matters, and from these on to an understanding that expands my sense of Tara well beyond the Hill itself and forces one to find in this magical place the focus and matrix not alone of the five great roads of Ireland but of the four historical roads that traverse our Irish culture.

I am a Druid and I have worked on Tara with a ‘Ritual of Protection’, conducted on nights when the moon is full, in order to remove the blanket of darkness that fell upon Tara, and to reveal its light anew. Many other druids, student druids, members and friends of Druidschool, and especially the Dark Moon Grove (of which I am Arch Druid) have joined me in this work: many others, moved by a deeply felt love for our land and history, have joined in this work: many others, in particular trained archaeologists and historians have equally assisted us in our common cause – namely, to protect our ancient heritage and to contemplate and experience it fully and comprehensively in order to enrich our lives.

It was while returning from such a Ritual of Protection, as I walked, reflecting on the sacred hills of Tara and nearby Skryne, that I was seized with a sudden insight or intuition: that the little-known stream that runs between these hills was made to run north.

This stream is called in English the Gowra, which is a corruption of its Irish name, variously given as the Gabhair or the Gabra or Gabor, which is understood to translate as the ‘goat’: that is, the stream is named after an animal, a goat.

Returning with this insight to my topographical materials, I became increasingly certain that I was correct. The stream was fed from a raised bog to the southeast of the crossroads of Tara village and, examining the natural landscape, it should properly run eastwards. That it ran north could only have come about through engineering and modification, in archaeological terms the stream itself constitutes ‘built heritage’ (land modification other than a fort or enclosed or circumvallation or mound or suchlike). Following the present course of the Gowra, one sees that it rises in the southeast corner of the map as illustrated below, runs north between Tara and Skryne, then it turns west after Lismullen, and, passing through Blundelstown, ultimately joins the river Boyne. This entire area is a huge, extended royal complex of temples and raths and holy wells and many other ancient monuments that date back to the Stone Age, in a word it contains the signature of thousands of years of human inhabitation.

As I am a council and committee member of the Save Tara Skryne Valley group, I contacted various of my colleagues, many more expert than I am in these matters, with news of my insight and research (I should add that as a Diviner I am particularly familiar with wells, springs, rivulets, streams and watercourses of all forms, having studied extensively in this area). None of those I spoke with could find any reason to contradict my insight, and others were able to confirm it quite independently; yet others were able to furnish me with material and papers I was unfamiliar with, describing the Gowra and its history.

One of the first strange pieces of information I was given (by Muireann Ni Brochalain) was that the name ‘the Gowra’ in Old Irish means not the goat, but rather ‘the white mare’. This means that the White Mare was designed to gallop north to join the Boyne. This river-name is an Anglicisation of the Old Irish word Bōann, which means ‘cow goddess’. The area where the White Mare enters into the Cow Goddess is currently owned by the Columban Fathers and is a nature reserve [Dalgan Park] open to the public. The Columban Fathers are actively opposing the construction of the motorway, which is designed to cross the Boyne at the southwest edge of the Park. There is something ironic in the action of the priestly followers of Saint Colum Cille, who tried to seize the royal seat of Tara for the O Neill dynasty, seeking to defend it from another and perhaps more formidable usurper. Colum Cille caused a huge battle to be fought over Tara in which some 20,000 men died, not far from Sligo. As a penance he left Ireland and vowed never to set foot on it again. When as it happened he returned for a special gathering, he wore sods of Scottish turf on his feet in order to preserve his vow.

The justly world-famous Newgrange, where one finds one of the oldest structures on the planet, is better known in Irish as Brú na Boinne, which translates as ‘the other world of the Cow Goddess’. Here was the main residence of the Dagda, the good god. The Dagda predates the Celtic period by thousands of years. Clearly, it is here than we find the deepest root of the Irish race. The bend in the Boyne at the Brú (Newgrange itself) is a main tourist attraction and a World Heritage Site.

Newgrange is part of the oldest monument tradition in Ireland. In ancient times, it was understood that the God of the Brú would ritually marry the Boyne (the Cow Goddess) to ensure fertility and happiness for the people and the land. In these early days the people were agricultural. Only later did the Celts arrive and with them, the horse. The Celtic culture was different from that of the Dagda and naturally conflicts arose. The horse (a short stocky creature) gave the Celts a military advantage: control over distance. In due course, the Celtic position was supreme and imposed its own traditions on pre-Celtic practices. Thus the sacred ceremony of the marriage to the land was by ritual marriage of the king to a white mare.

We can now begin perhaps to discern the significance of the diversion of the Gowra Stream - the White Mare, to enter into and become the Boyne, and appreciate the widening of the sacred terrain beyond Tara’s hill itself. In volume 6 (see pp.106ff.) of the Discovery Reports ISBN 1 874045 95 X we can read under the entry Horse about the discovery of horse bones at Tara – the highest incidence from an Irish prehistoric site – and how many of the bones were broken, deliberately shattered to facilitate the extraction of the marrow. A small number of the bones displayed gnawing marks. It is tempting to equate these bones with the inauguration rite described by Geraldus Cambrensis that entailed the slaughter, butchery and consumption of horseflesh. (To come back to the Irish names for the Gowra, the rarer word Gabor evokes an array of mythological equine associations. It is defined as an ‘ech gel’ or airegale ‘bright, white, silver horse’: primarily a poetic word for a white horse and a mare.)

One can evoke an ancient ceremony whereby the High King married the White Mare in a sacred ritual of union with the land. This White Mare was reflected in the naming of the stream that even today winds its way northwards between sacred Tara and sacred Skryne. The whole valley would form a central part of the royal city. The White Mare was the stream of life because it bestowed fertility on the land. Dadga ritually married the Cow in a ritual of union with the land, but in the newer culture it was at Tara that the marriage was held, when the High King was joined with the White Mare. This Mare was then killed, divided and eaten by the King, so that the ritual was internalised and made one.

There are other deep resonances. The Opus Dei lands in the Valley of the White Mare are called Lismullen, a name meaning ‘the Fort of the Mill’. The oldest known mill location was said to originate in the 1800s, but we can now locate the oldest mill in Ireland in the Valley of the White Mare. It was built by Cormac mac Art (reigned A.D. 254-277) for his mistress, a slave who carried his child.

The Valley has other historical significance, not least as the graveyard of the Fianna. The last battle of the Fianna was fought in the ‘Valley of the Gabair’. This has been understood to mean ‘the valley of the goat’, but no one to date has identified its exact location until now. It was also in this Valley that Oscar, son of Oisin, son of Finn, drew his last breath; and for him Finn cried tears of sorrow. The only other time Finn cried was when Bran, his faithful hound and other world voyager, died.

Finn and his band of warriors were at Tara in the reign of Cormac mac Art and link the King Cycle of Tales with the Finnian Cycle. It is highly probable that the warriors of the Fianna are buried in the horseshoe-shaped mound that is today called Rath Lūg. (Lūg was the father of Cū Chulainn.) We have descriptions of the graves of the Fianna and a careful archaeological investigation could indicate the truth or otherwise of this thesis.
The place names are also linked and so is the death of Ulster’s greatest hero, Cu Chulainn. Both the head (the cauldron of wisdom) and the sword hand of Cu Chulainn are buried at Tara. Thus we have the four cycles of Irish history are interlinked in this lovely valley in the Royal City of Meath.

The whole complex of Tara, Skryne and the Valley of the White Mare is surrounded by a series of defensive embankments and huge ring forts. This Royal city is uniquely rich and varied, forming a historical tapestry of many axes. It should seem insane to disturb this sacred landscape, let alone to disembowel it with a double tolled motorway.

But, alas, the sacred landscape will be sifted not by hand, but by 22 tonne earth-moving machines, indifferent to everything. The NRA, for example, intends to destroy the south-western section of Rath Lug for the proposed double-toll road. Is it possible, one asks, even at this eleventh hour, some form of sanity will prevail and the State will appreciate its responsibilities to future generations. Insofar as the compulsory purchase order for the lands needed for the MS double-toll road has been issued, the State now owns these lands at Lissmullen and this existing semi-modern complex of buildings and roads with mature trees is highly suitable for an Interpretive Centre for the Tara Skryne World Heritage Park, were it to be created.

To proceed with the double toll road through Tara will occasion not alone the immediate destruction of the landscape and its heritage, but will create conditions ideal for the gradual commercial development of the area, such as is planned for the northern slope of Tara. Given time, the last lark will desert Tara, and the curse of Ruadan will be completely implemented.

Those of us who oppose this are few, but we believe it is because the public at large are unaware of the richness and coherence of the Landscape Setting of the Royal City of Tara, and that this ignorance is the vehicle whereby the whole plan of campaign for the destruction of Tara can be carried forward.

Original essay by Con Connor 4-8-05 of

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