For today’s tour of cemeteries, let’s go somewhere a little different…like Ireland. I had the opportunity to travel to Ireland last year, and my travels took me to the Hill of Tara.
The Hill of Tara is the legendary seat of the High King of Ireland and figures prominently into much of Irish lore and history. Some scholars theorize that the Hill of Tara was a capital for the pre-Celtic people of Ireland, and it was later the place where the High Kings were crowned on the Stone of Destiny.
Legend states that St. Patrick lit a fire on the nearby Hill of Slaine to symbolize the light of Christianity coming to Ireland, which caused the High King Laoghaire to have him brought to Tara to explain himself. Patrick lit his fire one day before the King would have lit a bonfire to celebrate the arrival of spring, and so he essentially was usurping the King’s authority. According to the tale spun by our tour guide, Patrick so impressed the King as they debated religion that he was given leave to preach to the Irish without royal hindrance. (Our tour guide was a very good storyteller.)
Whatever Tara’s actual use in ancient and medieval times, it is symbolically important to the Irish, and was used as a camp in 1798 by United Irishmen rebelling against the English. In 1843, Daniel O’Connell, a member of the Irish Parliament, held a demonstration there to protest the Act of Union (formally uniting Great Britain and Ireland) and urge its repeal.
And what has all this to do with cemeteries? The Visitors’ Centre is a converted church, and it has a small, still active churchyard. Information at the site indicates the church was built in 1822, but the original church dates back to Hospitallers of St. John in approximately 1212 AD.
Here on this windy, sometimes even harsh, hillside, generations of Irish families are still adding their names to monuments and being buried where millions of tourists will pass by before the winds and rains obliterate their names from the rock. I wonder whether they consider that, thinking that their names may be carried further in death in tourists’ photos than they themselves traveled in life.