Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tullaghoge, County Tyrone


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Tullaghoge in County Tyrone has to be one of the most atmospheric and evocative sites that we have visited for this blog. At first glance the site looks very much like a large ringfort – a common type of settlement site in the early medieval period. It has a large earthen banks topped by a ring of trees, however the ditches are far too wide to be defensive and the commanding views over the landscape of Tyrone suggest that this was a place of important ceremonies and authority.

The name Tullaghoge comes from Tulach Óg meaning The Hill of Youth. The site has never been archaeologically excavated so the exact age and function of the initial activity at Tullaghoge is unknown. It is likely to date to some time in the early medieval period, between the seventh and ninth centuries. Historical records tell us that the site was originally associated with Uí Tuirtre of Airgialla, and then became the possession of the O’Hagan family. They lived at Tullaghoge and became the hereditary guardians of the symbolic site. The O’Hagans were clients of the powerful O’Neill dynasty, and during the middle and later medieval period, it was the O’Hagans who had the honour of inaugurating the O’Neill chiefs, proclaiming them as ‘The O’Neill’. 

Image from IrishArchaeology.ie
During the crowning ceremony at Tullaghoge, the King elect was seated on a stone inauguration chair known as the Leac na Ri. He swore oaths to rule by Brehon Law (the ancient laws of Ireland) and to give up the throne if he became too old to rule. New sandals were placed on his feet by the chief of the O’Hagans and a golden sandal was ceremonially thrown over his head to indicate he would continue in the footsteps of his ancestors, and then the new king was handed the ceremonial rod of office. The primate of Armagh would then anoint and crown the O’Neill as chief and king. This image from around 1601, depicts the coronation ceremony at Tullaghoge (image sourced from this great blog article http://irisharchaeology.ie/2013/08/sacred-trees-in-early-ireland).

The last O’Neill to have been inaugurated at Tullaghoge was the famous Hugh O’Neill in 1595. Hugh was the powerful Earl of Tyrone, and he led a massive rebellion against the Crown forces in Ireland in an attempt to stop the plantations of Ireland and the erosion of the powers of the Gaelic chiefs. This series of conflicts became known as The Nine Years War. After some initial successes, like the Battle of the Yellow Ford, by 1601 the Gaelic Forces had suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Kinsale. Lord Mountjoy led the Crown Forces here, to the Royal Inauguration site of Tullaghoge, and smashed the Leac na Ri, the sacred inauguration stone of the O'Neill's, thereby symbolically breaking the O'Neill sovereignty. At the time it was recorded that Mountjoy 
spoiled the corn of all the country...and brake down the chair wherin the O’Neals were wont to be created, being of stone planted in the open field’. 
Fragments of the Leac na Ri were said to have been stored in the orchard of the glebe house of the local protestant church until 1776, when the last of the fragments were taken away.

The O'Neill's never returned to Tullaghoge to claim their lordship as Hugh O'Neill fled Ireland in the Flight of the Earls in 1607. Eventually though the O’Neill’s would return to power albeit in a more indirect way, Hugh O’Neill’s daughter Sorcha married a Magennis who was the ancestor of Lady Glamis. In 1900 Lady Glamis had a daughter, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, her daughter Elizabeth currently sits on the British throne.


The site was said to have been completely abandoned by 1622 and today it is an incredibly atmospheric place to visit. When you enter the centre of the enclosure and are shut off from the modern world by the trees and earthen banks, you can really get a sense of the history of Tullaghoge, a place of celebrations, ceremonies, inaugurations and gatherings for centuries.

Tullaghoge is just around 4km south of Cookstown in County Tyrone, off the B162 (Cookstown to Stewartstown Road), and you’ll see signposts for the site. There is a small area to park at the base of the hill, and a well made stone path leads nearly the whole way to the site. At the end of the path just pass through the small kissing gate. 

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