Hill of Tara

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Aerial view of the Hills of Tara[1]

The Hill of Tara is an archaeological site located in County Meath Ireland. The site has several monuments and earthworks including a passage tomb, burial mounds, round enclosures, a standing stone, and a ceremonial avenue. The period of construction begins in the Neolithic Period and continues through the Iron Age.[2]There is also a modern church and churchyard. The Hill of Tara also features in Irish mythology and is where the old High Kings of Ireland were crowned beginning as early as the 7th century until around the 12th century.[3] It is perhaps the presence of the Christian High Kings of Ireland and the connection to Irish mythology that prompted ‘’’British Israelites’’’ to speculate that the Ark of the Covenant was contained within the ‘’’Mound of Hostages’’’. This belief led to the group vandalizing the site between the years 1899 and 1902.[4]

Tara of the Ancient Irish

Significant Features of the Site

The oldest visible monument on the site is the ‘Dumha na nGiall’ or in English the Mound of the Hostages. The mound is a neolithic passage tomb that dates to approximately 3,200 BC. The initial deposition in the tomb largely contains the cremated bones of somewhere between two hundred and three hundred individuals. The passage tomb was a communal final resting place for those living close to Tara for approximately a century. There is a second span of usage of the feature during the Early Bronze Age. The hiatus in its use was from the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age and spanning between 2927 and 2281 BC.[5]

The Bronze Age burials are thirty-three in number and were deposited in stages. The first to be interred in the Early Bronze Age at Tara were burials accompanied by ceramic vessels. Followed closely by a cluster of cremated remains and ceramics and then there is another gap in activity, this time for about 400 years. Some interpret these subsequent, smaller burials as being the elite of several communities. An additional feature associated with the Mound is a ‘woodhenge’ that would have been built in the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age and was found during soil x-rays of the site. [6]. There is an additional ring of 6 much smaller mound burials in an arc around the woodhenge, two of which have individual historic Irish names. They are known in English as ‘the Mound of Mercenary Women’ and ‘the Mound of the Cow’.

There are also several other large earthwork rings surrounding the Mound of Hostages built during the Iron Age. The first of which is ‘Ráth na Ríogh’ the translated title being the Enclosure of the Kings. At present, it is nothing more than an impressive earthwork as it is nearly a mile in circumference, with an inner ditch and outer bank. The enclosure is dated to the 1st century BC and was originally nothing more than a palisade. [7]

The ‘Forradh’ or the Ceremonial Seat and ‘Teach Cormaic’ or Cormac's House consist of two conjoined circular earthworks. Teach Cormaic, was regarded in the Medieval Period as being the residence of the heroic king of Tara, both the ‘Forradh’ and the ‘Teach Cormaic’ are encircled within the ‘Ráth na Ríogh’ along with the Mound of Hostages. [8]

History of British Israelism

British Israelism by definition is the pseudoarchaeological belief that people of the British Isles (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England) are the genetic, racial, and linguistic direct descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. [9] .Written documentation for this belief is seen as early as the 16th century, with the peak of the movement occurring throughout the 19th century. There are some independently organized groups of British Israelites that have been active during the 21st century in both the United Kingdom and the United States. The United States also gave birth to the Christian Identity movement. This group is racist, anti-Semitic, and white supremacist interpretation of Christianity which professes that only Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Nordic, Aryan people and those of other closely related groups are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and therefore are the descendants of the ancient Israelites. [10]

Early Figures

M. le Loyer's The Ten Lost Tribes, published in 1590 is the first published expression of British Israelite sentiments. Loyer was a French Huguenot magistrate, the Huegonots were a Calvinist sect of Protestants in the 16th century. In his work, Loyer asseverated the essential base that the British Israelites would expand upon in the 19th century. This base includes the typical Northern European countries being descendants of ancient Israelites.[11]

Another known observant of British Israelism include Sir Francis Drake was an English sea captain and explorer of the Elizabethan era. James VI and I of England and Scotland was also a supporter of British Israelite sentiments and even claimed himself as the rightful King of Israel.

Principles of Belief

  • Adherents believe that most Israelites are not in fact Jews. This is based on literal biblical interpretations. Believers think that the Twelve Tribes of Israel are the twelve sons of the patriarch Jacob. A division occurred among the twelve tribes during the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, as depicted in the Hebrew Bible. It was with the three tribes of Judah, Benjamin and in part Levi, that they formed the Kingdom of Judah, and the remaining ten tribes formed the Kingdom of Israel. It is by this Biblical account that they consider their views verified by evidence.
  • A second tenet is that the British descend from the Lost Tribes. The way that adherents make this claim is by suggesting that the Scythians, Cimmerians, and Goths were representatives of these lost tribes and progenitors of the later invaders of Britain.[12] While it is true that the ancient inhabitants of the British Isles are descended from the Scythians, [13]. The Scythians and the Cimmerians are both ancient Indo-European groups that occupied Central Asia and were pagans.[14] The Goths are generally associated with Central Europe and were Arian Christians, and do not have connections to the British Isles. The British Israelites make this claim of connection based on cultural comparisons and instinctual feelings that the Persian word for the Scythians 'Sacae', and the name Isaac look visually similar in the Latin alphabet. The etymology disaster train continues by their claims that the word Saxons means “the sons of Isaac”. The Saxons according to the British Israelites invaded England from Denmark, the 'land of the Tribe of Dan'. However, the country of Denmark did not as of yet exist and the Saxons also occupied parts of the Netherlands. They saw the same tribal name of Dan in the Dardanelles, the Danube, Macedonia, Dunkirk, Dunglow in Ireland, Dundee in Scotland, and London and ascribed to this lost tribe the mythical Irish 'Tuatha Dé Danann'. The Tuatha Dé Danann were a supernatural race described in Irish mythology. This supernatural race is generally considered to be the main deities of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland.[15]
  • The third principle of British Israelites is that the British throne is a continuation of biblical David’s throne. This belief is traced through their belief that the British Royal family has a connection through the line of King David through the last king of Judah, Zedekiah’s daughters. They escaped the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians, first to Egypt and then according to only to British Israelites where one of the daughters became Tea Tephi, a legendary princess married to a high king of Ireland. Hexham, Irving (2001). [16] It is through this connection to the royal lineage of Ireland that the British Israelites conjecture that the kings and lineage traveled from Ireland to the Scottish royal line and then on to the British royal family. Despite the fact, the line of British royals has been broken on multiple occasions through conflicts during the Norman Conquest and the Hanoverian takeover. [17] [18]

19th Century Promeinence

It was in the latter half of the19th century that Edward Hine, Edward Wheeler Bird, and Herbert Aldersmith created the British Israelite movement. Hine and Bird actively acted to suppress other competing ideologies. In 1878 the Anglo-Ephraim Association of London, who followed the writings of John Wilson. Who published ‘Our Israelitish Origin’ in 1840 and had a sparking effect on the British Israelite movement in the earlier parts of the movement. By welcoming the broader community of western European Germanic peoples among those who the Anglo-Ephraim Association of London believed were favored by God, they would eventually be appropriated into Bird's Metropolitan Anglo-Israel Association, giving rise to the Anglo-exclusive view promoted by Hine.[19] The movent then began to grow exponentially, in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia it was stated that British Israelism's adherents "are said to number 2,000,000 in England and the United States"[20]

British Israelites At Tara

The British Israelite movement had been gaining in followers and in extreme tendencies during the second half of the 19th century. These largely came to a head when a small group from, the movement decided to vandalize the Mound of Hostages in an attempt to excavate the Ark of the Covenant. This self-styled excavation went on between 1899 and 1902, it was led by retired Anglo-Indian judge Edward Wheeler Bird who was one of the key founders of the British Israelites. At the time of Bird’s defacement the land that the Hill of Tara occupies was owned by Gustavus Villiers Briscoe. The Bird and his followers were able to bribe Briscoe who according to a local newspaper was “ a bankrupt Meath squire, and ex-Imperial Yeoman [4] into allowing them to destroy the site. According to the same newspaper in the process of their ravagement of the site they levelled several of the smaller burial mounds and earthworks as well as completely erasing some of the markings done on the Seat of Kings. The excavation seems to have been supervised by a man only known as Groome. However, by the time vandals work had been interrupted in the summer of 1902, much damage had already been done. And when the British government did intervene it was largely to give asylum to those they had apprehended vandalizing the site. This inspired outrage and protests in the local community as well as throughout Ireland. These protests featured many Irish academic and authors, may of whom were contributed to the Gaelic Revival movement of the 19th century, includingDouglas Hyde, Arthur Griffith, Maud Gonne, George Moore and William Butler Yeats . [21] It also appears that the actions of the British Israelites were known for some by the public and protests were ongoing throughout excavations. Douglas Hyde tried to interrupt the dig but was ordered to leave the Hill of Tara by an unknown man wielding a rifle. Maud Gonne made a significantly more ostentatious protest by reigniting an old extinguished bonfire that Briscoe, the land owner had lit to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII. She then went on to sing Thomas Davis's song "A Nation Once Again" by the fire, a song with anti-Imperialist inclinations. All of which was much to the consternation of Briscoe, the landlord and the British Imperial authorities.[22]The British Israelite organization in its very conception is antisemetic as are interactions with the site of the Hill of Tara. As are their linguistic interpretations of Irish Gaelic, Hebrew, and the entire contents of the BIble. They are part of a larger historical narrative perpetrated largely by the English that the Irish heritage, history and culture do not have intrinsic value. These narratives are only exempted from British peoples’ disdain unless it one can tie back to something that the British were involved in. This narrative is also a key factor in why the excavations were able to go on for so long at Tara.
  1. Veasco, Manuel 2010 La Colina de Tara (Irlanda). Electronic document, http://tierracelta.blogspot.com/2010/11/tara-irlanda.html, accessed December 13, 2019.
  2. "Hill of Tara". Ancient History Encyclopedia
  3. Michael Roberts; et al. (1957). Early Irish history and pseudo-history. Bowes & Bowes Michigan University Press.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "The Ark at the Seat of Kings". The Irish Times. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Vandalism" defined multiple times with different content
  5. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Colin_Quinn2/publication/259197032_The_tempo_of_life_and_death_during_the_Early_Bronze_Age_at_the_Mound_of_the_Hostages_Tara/links/0046352a626507fb4d000000/The-tempo-of-life-and-death-during-the-Early-Bronze-Age-at-the-Mound-of-the-Hostages-Tara.pdf
  6. https://www.knowth.com/woodhenge.htm
  7. https://www.jstor.org/stable/30078991?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  8. http://www.3dicons.ie/3d-content/sites/9-tech-cormac-the-forrad-tara
  9. Brackney, William H. (2012-05-03). Historical Dictionary of Radical Christianity. Scarecrow Press. pp. 61–62
  10. "Christian Identity". www.adl.org. Anti-Defamation League.
  11. Fine, Jonathan (2015). Political Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: From Holy War to Modern Terror. Rowman & Littlefield.
  12. Chryssides, George D. (2012). Historical Dictionary of New Religious Movements. Lanham: The Scarecros Press, Inc. p. 65.
  13. https://youtu.be/KqvdRN7gnWQ
  14. "Ancestry and demography and descendants of Iron Age nomads of the Eurasian Steppe". Nature Communications
  15. Jacobs, Joseph (1901). "Anglo-Israelism". In Singer, Isidore (ed.). Jewish Encyclopedia: Anglo-Israelism. New York: Funk and Wagnalls. p. 600.
  16. "British Israelism". In Elwell, Walter A. (ed.). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (2 ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company. p. 187.
  17. Morris, Marc. The Norman Conquest: the Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England. Pegasus Books, 2014.
  18. https://www.royal.uk/hanoverians
  19. Kidd, Colin (2006). The forging of races: race and scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000 (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge [etc.]: Cambridge university press.
  20. Jacobs, Joseph (1901). "Anglo-Israelism". In Singer, Isidore (ed.). Jewish Encyclopedia: Anglo-Israelism. New York: Funk and Wagnalls. p. 600.
  21. Tierney, Michael (1980). Eoin MacNeill:Scholar and Man of Action 1867–1945. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 16
  22. https://www.newgrange.com/tara-ark-of-the-covenant.htm