Hill of Ward (Tlachtga)
(This is located in Athboy, County Meath)
This is a very special and sacred ancient site where the Samhain Celebrations were inaugurated and the Winter Fires first lit thousands of years ago. These celebrations have returned to this site thanks to many, in collaboration, who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the festivities continue. Preserving our history, sacred landscapes and celebrations are extremely important, re-claiming our past in hopes for a brighter future. The Samhain festivities occur every year on October 31st with a gathering at the Fair Green in Athboy at 6:30pm. Each year brings more and more attendees, almost 500 in 2012
History of The Hill of Ward
This hill is also known as Tlachtga (pronounced Clackda) and is the site where the great Winter fires were lit on Samhain. This place became forgotten, overshadowed by its more famous sister, Tara, 12 miles away. But this is the site where the Samhain Festival would have begun and a very important religious site. Tlachtga was a fertility Goddess whose cult was centered on the Hill. A later myth speaks of her being a Witch and daughter of the powerful wizard and chief Druid Mug Ruith.
(As mentioned, this is a later interpretation because the older legends of Mug Ruith suggest that he was a Sun God). The legend speaks of Tlachtga and Mug Ruith arriving in Italy and putting themselves under the tuition of a powerful wizard called Simon Magnus. The three constructed a flying wheel called the Roth Rámach. They used this machine to sail through the air and demonstrate how great their powers were. Mug Ruith and his daughter soon return to Ireland and brought
the flying wheel with them. We are then told that Simon’s 3 sons rape Tlachtga on the Hill and she died there giving birth to 3 sons. The great earthworks seen on the hill were raised over her grave and a festival was held in her honor. The number 3 is a very significant number for the Celts, suggesting that it represents the past, present and future. Or, it represents the world of the living, the in-between world/ underworld and the spirit world. The number 3 clearly has a female perspective because in many cases the Goddesses are described has having 3 aspects. There is a pre-existing grave here known as a barrow burial, which was a burial known to have taken place throughout the Bronze Age and continued into the Iron Age. The person who is buried at Tlachtga is undoubtedly an important figure. But without in-depth archeological digging, no one is certain what’s underneath. But it is most likely a Bronze Age burial of a local Chieftain whose prestige was very high at the time of his death.
The myth of Tlachtga being raped by Simon’s 3 sons is a newer one. It has been suggested that the rape and death of the Goddess may represent the suppression of her cult with the taking over of another tribe, suggesting that Mug Ruith’s cult belonged to the invading tribe. The memory of Tlachtga remained strong at the site, however, the arrival of the new invaders early in AD changed Tlachtga’s original role. She underwent a process of transformation from Fertility Goddess (and Goddess who protected her tribe), into the consort of the Sun God (Mug Ruith). The ceremonies at this site continued and the Samhain Festival was inaugurated.
It is believed that the tribe that introduced the cult of Tlachtga, a fertility Goddess, to this area were the Luigni, an Érainn tribe. They were partially displaced by a new wave of invaders known as the Lagin. They took over the Kingship of Tara and the focus of power shifted from Tlachtga and became centered on Tara. It’s unlikely that the Lagin completely eradicated the Cult of Tlachtga from the area, but incorporated much of its substance into their own belief system. An important festival with much of the fertility ceremonies continued at the site. In the first centuries following Christ, a new wave of invaders arrived on the scene. The focus was moved back to Tlachtga, where the cult of Mug Ruith, the Sun God, finally incorporated the fertility cult at Tlachtga. However, much of the original cult was assimilated into the new ceremonies and the original tribe, the Luigni, were displaced to the North. The Lagin became inferior to the new arrivals. The new arrivals took over Tlachtga and the great earthworks seen on the hill today would have been constructed during this time. The new festival, which included lighting the Winter Fires as a prelude to the Feast of Tara, was introduced to the site, although much of the earlier ceremonies would have been preserved. The next stage of development seen at this Hill was the introduction of Christianity in the 5th century. This site was abandoned as well as Tara in the 7th century. Later the area around Tlachtga was destroyed by numerous raids by local Chieftains and suffered badly at the hands of the Vikings. The Vikings themselves were defeated here in 1022 by the King of Meath. One hundred years later a great assembly was held on the Hill in a final attempt to unify the country but within two years the Normans had arrived and gained control of the entire country.
To make a long and confusing story short, the Hill of Ward, also known as Tlachtga was the center of Celtic religious worship over 2,000 years ago. It has been overshadowed by its famous neighbor Tara, and has not received the attention it deserves as a place of importance. This was the center of the Great Fire Festival that signaled the onset of winter. The rituals and ceremonies carried out here by the pre-Christian Irish, offered assurance to the people that the powers of darkness would be overcome, and the powers of light and life would prevail.