Tara Roads

Lecture delivered to the Meath Archaeological Society at Ardbraccan, September 1964

Some old manuscripts say that there were three great roads radiating out from Tara through Ireland.  Some say that there were four other say five.  Evidently there were not always five as generally supposed.  In fact the roads were made in succession and not all at once.  They were constructed when the Connaught dynasty came to the Tara Throne.  After the fall of Tara they radiated out from Dublin.

North East along the coast with a side shoot to Armagh.

North West towards Enniskillen and Donegal.

West along the great esker ridge to Galway.

South West towards Cork and Kerry.

South East along the coast to Wexford and Waterford.

There were seven different kinds of roads, each of a different width suitable to a particular type of traffic.  The law laid down the width and the chieftans through whose land the road passed had to maintain it that width.  Only two types of road come into our story.

The Slí Mór

The Slí Mór; chief or main road, wide enough for two chariots to pass each other. Originally the chief roads only needed to be wide enough for one chariot - the chieftan's - and everyone else on the road at the same time pulled in to a clearing to let the chieftan proceed along unimpeded.  Soon after the introduction of Christianity, the Bishops refused to pull in to let the chieftans pass.  The chief roads had to be increased in width to allow two chariots to pass each other.  Roads as wide as this are said to have died out after the decline of chariots.  These vehicles were used by the saints and chiefs at the Battle of Culdremhne on the slopes of Benbulben, but not much after that date in warfare.  Leaders rode on horseback later.  At all times the rank and file marched and fought on foot.  The chariot roads never ran through swamps or low lying soft ground.  They kept to high ground and the tops of esker ridges.

The Great North Western Road is believed to have run from the Hill of Tara over the hill of Balreask Old and not down by the river as the present day road does and goes out towards Enniskillen via Liscarton Castle on the Kells Road.  The straight stretch by Liscarton and Castlemartin is said to lie exactly on the ancient roadway to the north west.  It has been argued that this road may be the oldest thoroughfare in Ireland, for it may have been used for over a thousand years before the rise of Tara, but in the opposite direction, that is from Donegal to the Boyne Valley.  The Chrom Dubh and Lugh worshippers made their first footing in Ireland on Tort Island and west coast of Donegal.  They later made their way across the mainland to Meath, choosing Teltown and Newgrange for their family graveyards.  It is thought that the line of this Great North Western road is the route they likely took.


The Bóthar is an inferior type of road.  Its width was laid down by law to accomodate two cows.  If two cows are travelling along a Bóthar side by side, one cow will have room to turn right around.  The King asked his lawyers one day on Tara why the Bóthar was measured as the length of one cow and the breadth of a second cow, and the lawyers answered;  "A cow using a bóthar must have enough room to turn around and look at her calf trotting at her heels".  Then the King said "But what if the second cow wants to look at her calf?"  The lawyer replied "The second cow must wait until the first cow has finished, Your Majesty."  Bohermeen owes its name to this type of road and is the actual road this story is told about.  Ancient Irish roads were paved with large blocks of stone just like the Roman roads.

"Bó" is the Irish word for "cow" and the cow was one of the principal articles of wealth from the most remote ages.  They were in fact standards of value, as money is today.  Prices, wages, marriage portions, were all estimated in cows by our ancestors.  "Bó " is found extensively in place names throughout the country.


Belper Hill House

Belper Hill House is located near Rath Maeve, Tara.  It is now known as Belper House.  In 1835 it was described as a gentleman's residence with offices.  Attached area garden, orchard and a small portion of pleasure grounds.  The house was held by the Lynch family and then the Long family.  In 1870 T.G. Lynch was at Belper.  In 1911 Patrick Long was living at the house.  Nearby stands another house which now bears the name Belper Hill House while the original house became Belper House.  This newer house was erected in the later nineteenth century.

Source: meath-roots.com


Clowanstown House

Clowanstown House is located just off the old N3 between Ross Cross and Dunshaughlin.  The house was erected late in the nineteenth or early in the twentieth century.  An older building on the site was adapted as a farm building.  A gatelodge stands at the end of the avenue on the main road.  Part of Clowanstown was part of the estate of Lord Fingall and was sold in 1893.  In 1876 Patrick Maher of Clowanstown, Tara, Navan, held 606 acres in County Meath.  By 1919 Hubert M. Hartigan, horse trainer, was settled at Tara Stud, Clowanstown House.  In 1944 Hartigan sold Clowanstown to Clifford Nicholson, a well-known English breeder.  Mr. Nicholson owned the Limestown Stud, near Lincoln.  In the 1950s William P. Iceton lived at Clowanstown House.  Billy Iceton, who died in 2010, was manager of Tara Stud for over 50 years, and was prominent in breeding and racing through his involvement with the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association and the Curragh Racecourse.

Source: meath-roots.com


Topographical Dictionary of Ireland 1835. This gives a history of Tara as known in 1835.


Riocht na Midhe 2005

Page 1. Defining the Historical Landscape of Tara. Edel Breathnach.

Page 8.

The Geophysical Survey of the M3 Toll Motorway Corridor: A Prelude to Tara's Destruction.

Both articles have bibliographies.


Slater's Directory, 1894

Tara, a parish and village in Co. Meath, barony of Skreen, union of Navan, diocese of Meath, 2 miles east north east from Kilmessan station on the Midland Great Western railway, 5 1/2 south east from Navan, containing 9 townlands and the famed  Hill of Tara,  rising from a rich and fertile plain and commanding panoramic views from an elevation of 510 feet: in connection with it there is much legendary history, but  it is considered certain that it was from a very early period up to the 6th century the principal seat of the monarchs of Ireland, with a palace and university with other buildings clustered around it, and the place of meeting of the Druids and musicians and for great ceremonies; the wisdom and greatness of Cormac, the most accomplished of Irish kings (A.D. 213), who maintained a splendid court, being the theme of the bards: the lines commencing, "The harp that once through Tara's halls" are well known, but of the "halls" referred to there is no trace, only "raths or mounds" remaining to indicate their probable sites.

A pillar of stone standing 6 feet above ground and reputed to be the "coronation stone" of the ancient kings, was placed in its present position some time after 1798.  A triennial assembly was held here between and  5th centuries.  The Danes were in 980 here signally defeated, English settlers held assemblies here 1173, and in much later times the rebels of 1798 (May 26) were routed, and later still, in 1843 (15th Aug.), one of the largest meetings was held here for the repeal of the Legislative Union, under Daniel O'Connell.  The area comprises 3.333 acres; the population in 1891 was 221.  Post Office (Sub  Office. Letters should have S.O. Co.Meath added). The nearest money order & telegraph office is at Dunsany.

Private Residents:

Stein, Lawrence J.P. Castle Odder.

Wilkinson, Mrs. P.


Donnelly, William, Odder

Gerrard, William, Odder