Emerald Isle

The Cursing of Tara

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Historical Cycle

A thousand years of high kings fail at The Cursing of Tara

Ah Tara, Temair of old, seat of more than a hundred High Kings of Ireland for better than a thousand years, home to the royal lines of Cormac and Tuathal, where is your wisdom and beauty? Where are the mighty warriors and poets who once danced in your halls? Why now do cattle and livestock graze where the mighty Fionn faced the Tuatha sidhe with a noxious spear? And well you may ask, and well you may be answered!

They were troubled times in Ireland back in those days, the Christians and the Druids were often at odds and the land needed a strong king to keep the chieftains from raiding one another and wreaking havoc. And so it had one in Diarmuid son of Fergus Cearrbhoil, only there is a fine line between strength and harshness, a firm hand can all too often become a tyrant's lash.

King Diarmuid paid the monastery in Clonmacnoise well and looked after their needs, but he kept to the old faith and courted the dark wisdom of Druids in his halls. Strict were their ways and so they counselled the high king, until one day he tore from the arms of Saint Columcille a youth accused of murder but guilty only of sad mischance.

The lands of the north were angered by the king's actions and rose up against him in war, leading to his brutal defeat at the battle of Cuildreimhne, but he was humbled not. His servant and herald travelled the land to ensure the king's power and authority were respected, and this individual had the habit of carrying his spear crosswise on his chest - if he couldn't enter a building so, he'd have it pulled down.

Well he went into the wrong building when he came to the newly built fort of Aedh Guaire! Aedh had just finished strengthening his home, planting a stout wooden palisade around the place for his new wife, and keeping the entrance narrow, all the better to fend off enemies. As you might imagine, when the herald arrived and couldn't pass, he said "Tear it down!"

Aedh told him to tear it down himself, and with that cut the head clean off his shoulders. This was treason, Aedh knew, so he fled the scene to his relation Bishop Senach, and then to Saint Ruadhan, but he was told he'd be best to get out of the country and go to Wales.

Even there the king followed at the bidding of his Druids, demanding Aedh's return, so in fear he flew back once again to Saint Ruadhan. The king arrived in person shortly after to demand the criminal, but Ruadhan said, "If he's not beneath this thatch I've no idea where he is." The king couldn't find him and was about to head off when he recalled that Ruadhan couldn't lie, so he knew the fugitive was in the building after all. He searched more thoroughly and found Aedh, hauling him in chains back to Tara.

This deed was done against the highest laws of sanctuary, forbidden by the God and man, not that the Druids gave a whit. Ruadhan gathered up all of the Saints at Clonard and followed the king to Tara, asking for the return of Aedh to sanctuary. The king told them to be on their way but they'd have none of it, and so began the last battle between the Druids and the Saints of Ireland.

For a year and a day they fasted, calling upon miracles, workings and wonders to convince the king, and for a year and a day the Druids within hurled back curses, imprecations and foul black magic. Psalms were chanted, bells were rung hard whether or not the sun was in the sky, storms wracked the seat of kings and strange creatures were seen abroad. Young men and women in Tara died suddenly and it seemed the Druids were getting the worst of it.

After that time had passed the king had a dream, where he saw a great tree on top of Tara hill hewn down by people from a strange land, and he knew it to be himself. Awakening, he went to the assembled saints and handed over Aedh, his Druids scattered to the four winds, but not before they and the king cast one final curse.

Filled with rage, Diarmuid said "I'll have ye done to undo my kingdom, for I maintained the righteous cause, and may thy diocese," to Ruadhan, "be the first one that is ruined in Ireland, and may thy monks desert thee." And so it came to pass.

Ruadhan then went to Tara and in its great halls he proclaimed that never more should smoke rise from the roof tree of Tara, and so this also came to pass. The king died a bloody death at the hands of his enemies within the year, and no king after him dared set foot on the Royal Hill.

The Hill of Tara can be seen on the map below here.

More Tales from the Historical Cycle

If you'd like to leave a tip, just click here!

Archaeological information is licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence from the National Monuments Service - Archaeological Survey of Ireland.

Note that this license DOES NOT EXTEND to folkloric, mythological and related information on the site. That data remains under full private copyright protection