In the middle of the Ráith Na Ríogh or Royal Enclosure is a rather unique twin earthwork. From above it looks like a figure 8. I have never seen anything quite like it before. It is basically two separate ring forts with interconnecting ramparts. The fort to the east is known as Teach Cormaic or Cormac’s House. It is said to have been the home of one of Irelands most famous High Kings, Cormac Mac Airt. There is a lot of discrepancies in relation to Cormac’s Reign. But he is said to have ruled from Tara for 40 years during the time of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fenian Cycle. At one time this mound would have contained an oblong structure most likely constructed from wattle and thatch surrounding a series of large wooden posts. Cormac’s reign was said to have been a golden age for Tara with Cormac being credited for composing many of our ancient Brehon laws.
Although the mound is not particularly large for a hill fort, its banks are an impressive two meters in height and the internal area is about Seventy meters across. Sadly like the many other sites at Tara, there are no visable traces of what Tara might once have looked like in its day, so we are left to use our imaginations for this. There is a nearby barrow named after one of his daughters, Grainne whom eventually married the by now older warrior Fionn MacCumhaill. The story of Grainne is really interesting and quite similar in ways to the tragic Deirdre an Bhróin, but I’ll save that one until we make it over to Rath Grainne.
Most of what we know about Cormac comes from the Annals of Clonmacnoise. Although Cormac came from humble beginnings, his father Art mac Cuinn had previously been a High King of Ireland. Art was killed during the Battle of Maigh Mucruimhe, but the night before he had met with the Druid Olc Acha, whom some say offered his daughter Achtan to sleep with as he had fortold that Art would die in the forthcoming battle but would give rise to a great bloodline. That night as Achtan slept beside Art she had a vision in which she saw herself with her head cut off. From her neck grew a magnificent tree, with branches that spread across the width and breadth of Ireland. Then a great wave came and washed it away. Out of the roots of the first another tree grew, but this was blown away by a great wind. When she awoke, Achtan told Art of her dream and he explained it to her like this.
Her decapitated head represented him as head of the family, and he was destined to die in the following battle. The first tree was to be their son Cormac and the sea was the salmon bone on which he would choke. (Not a very fitting way for a king to die). The second tree would be his Cormac’s son Cairbre Lifechair whom would fall to the great wind that was the Fianna at the battle of Gabhra. The very next day Art was defeated by his nephew Lugaid mac Con whom became the new High King. The story of Cormac is far too great to tell here and probably deserves a post of its own to do it proper justice. Perhaps a tale for the winter months, when my opportunity for Ruinhunting diminishes. Suffice to say Cormac was stolen at birth by a she-wolf and raised in the caves of Kesh, Co. Sligo. After being found by a hunter, Cormac was eventually returned to his mother. He was raised with the help of Arts foster father Fiachrae Cassán. Then at the age of thirty, armed with his father’s sword, went to Tara and regained his father’s Crown from Lugaid mac Con. Today Teach Cormaic stands as a fitting reminder of one of Irelands best known High Kings.