Photo: A. Martin.

Keating’s History of Ireland “It was there the Fire of Tlachtga was instituted, at which it was custom to assemble and bring together the druids of Ireland on the eve of Samhain to offer sacrifices to all the gods”. The earthworks on the Hill of Ward have suffered much disturbance in their long history and are now a national monument.

Tlachtga on the Hill of Ward is mentioned by John O’Donovan in 1836. The earthworks consists of a central raised enclosure surrounded by four banks and ditches. This was not a family home but a hill fort and ceremonial centre. The hill forts of the Celtic period were used as meeting places and religious centres for example Uisneach, Tara and Tailteann. Tlachtga was the religious centre, Teltown the sports centre, Uisneach the market and commercial centre and Tara was the royal residence. O’Donovan, in 1836 said that Tlachtga was that part of Meath taken from the province of Munster.

Tlachtga is named after a daughter of Mogh Ruith, son of Fergus who was a wizard or druid and a mythical figure. Tlachtga fled from her father’s house and gave birth to three sons – Dorb, Cuma and Muacth and then died. She was buried in the Dun at Tlachtga. Another theory is that Tlachtga was founded by the celtic god Lug and the place dedicated to the cult of the sacred fire.

Festivals such as Samhin, the first day of winter, the day of the dead, were celebrated on Tlachtga. This also commemorated the death of the sun. The sun rose again on the first day of Spring. On the first day of winter a holy fire was lit on Tlachtga and from there the fire was taken to the other hills. There was a druidic well on the lower slopes of the hill. Water from the Well of Tlachtga mixed with other ingredients were used in making a potion to give the High King immunity from danger. There are two wells on the lower slopes of the Hill of Ward – one near the town and the other on the back road to Mitchlestown from the top of the Hill of Ward. The likely Well of Tlachtga is the well near the town as it is on the old road from the Yellow Ford to the top of the Hill.

The top of the hill was the preserve of the druids. There was both male and female priests. This top of the hill was only open to the ordinary people on the great Festival of Samhain. The druids may have practised human sacrifice and it is thought that Tlachtga was a place of pilgrimage for women who were childless. These women would bring their slave’s children to be sacrificed in the hope that the spirits of the child sacrificed would enter their bodies and be reborn.

King Tuathal, in the second century, chose Tlachtga as his royal residence on being recalled from banishment in Scotland and chosen High King.

Tlachtga was difficult to pronounce for the English settlers and so Tlachtga became known as the Hill of Ward after the family Ward who possessed the townland before the rebellion of 1641. Alternatively the word bard meaning scholar which was sometimes used for the druids or wise men of the Celts was corrupted to Ward.

The men from Tyrone gave Tlachtga to the flames in 903.

Malachy regained his High Kingship on Brian Boru’s death in 1014. In 1022 the Vikings recovering from the Battle of Clontarf again devastated the area around Athboy. Malachy defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Ath Buidhe Tlachtga at the foot of the Hill of Ward. There was great slaughter that day and Malachy won back the collar of gold from the Vikings. The Vikings had stolen this chain in 846 from Tomar who was slain at Forach. It was taken to Dublin for safekeeping. After 994 it was taken into battle as a support or sort of good luck charm.

Thomas Moore commemorates Malachy’s capture of the collar of gold in one of his Melodies “Let Erin remember the days of old, when Malachy wore the collar of gold, which he won from the proud invader”.

In 1090 the Munster men under Murtough O’ Brien ravaged Ath Buidhe Tlachtga.

In 1166 Rory O’ Connor defeated his rival and became undisputed High King of Ireland.

Rory O’ Connor sought to unite his people behind himself. He summoned “the power and the patriotism of the day” to a great convention at Tlachtga. The prelates and princes of the northern half of the country (An Leath Cuinn) assembled on the hill.

Amoung the attendance were Rory, the High King, Gelasius, Archbishop of Armagh, Catholicus O’ Duffy, Archbishop of Tuam, St. Lawrence O’ Toole, Archbishop of Dublin, the Chieftains of Meath, Ulidia, Breffni, Oriel, Kildare and Dublin and a vast number of ecclesiastics and noblemen. Thirteen thousand horse men clogged the roads of the area.

The Annals of the Four Master record – “They passed many good resolutions at this meeting, respecting veneration for churches and clerics, and control of tribes and territories, so that women used to traverse Ireland alone”.

In the mid twelfth century Tiernan O’Rourke, chief of Breffni, had been granted east Meath by the High King and was not prepared to give this up to Hugh de Lacy who had arrived with the Norman English in the early 1170s. .

When Henry II went back to England, a meeting on Tlachtga was arranged between the two men. Both were to come alone and unarmed to discuss the limits of their territories.

De Lacy came attended by a small band of mounted knights in armour who tilted around the base and side of the hill. O’Rourke left his party of foot soldiers at some distance from the foot of the hill.

The two men agreed to meet at the summit. The four Masters described Tlachtga as being “crowned with a magnificent ancient rath, consisting of three circumvallations”.

The two men made their way up to the top. On one hand it is asserted that O’Rourke produced a battle axe from beneath his robes and attacked de Lacy and on the other hand it is alleged that O’Rourke was “treacherously slain”.

Maurice Fitzgerald, whose nephew, Griffith, was in command of de Lacy guard, also accompanied de Lacy. Griffith dreamed the previous night that O’Rourke would attack his master and this was the reason that the mounted knights were present.

De Lacy beckoned to his men to approach and O’Rourke reacted by raising a battle axe to strike de Lacy. The two men were supposed to be unarmed so where he got the battle axe we are not told. De Lacy fell twice trying to flee from O’Rourke. The arm of the interpreter was cut off by a blow from O’Rourke’s axe. It was only then that the mounted knights rushed to the rescue and cut down O’Rourke and the party of Irish infantry.

The other version of the story is that Tiernan O’Rourke who was an old man was slain by de Lacy. De Lacy was helped in this treachery by the interpreter, Donal O’Rourke, a relative of Tiernan. Before O’Rourke was overpowered he managed to strike an arm off his relative with a battle axe. Whatever the correct version de Lacy left the Hill the undisputed Lord of Meath.

Athboy was taken and retaken many times during the 1640’s. Owen Roe O’ Neill was also supposed to have camped on the Hill of Ward and cut up the ancient fort of Tlachtga.

Cromwell arrived in Ireland in 1649 and is said camped on the Hill of Ward. He is said to have killed all the family of Plunketts from Rathmore. One story is that Cromwell had a cannon turned on the Plunkett family as they approached the Hill of Ward. All the Plunkett family were killed in an instant. Lady Plunkett who was watching from the tower of Rathmore castle saw what happened and fell to her death. The late Diocesan historian Rev. John Brady wrote an article in Riocht na Midhe which prove that these stories could not be true.

There is tradition that Bligh received Rathmore Castle and estate from Cromwell on the Hill of Ward. It was said that he would be granted all the land he could see from the top of the hill. He could see Rathmore, Athboy, Ballivor and Kildalkey.

Two men went up the Hill but only one came down -1172.

Hugh de Lacy

In early 1172 Henry II of England granted the kingdom of Meath to Hugh de Lacy. De Lacy had to conquer the land in order to take control and his rival for the ownership of the kingdom was the Irish Chieftain Tiernan O’Rourke and so a meeting between the two was arranged  on the Hill of Ward, Athboy.

Treating Ua Ruairc as an equal de Lacy did not altogether deny him his claim but suggested a parley should be held to define their respective areas of control. It was arranged that the two should meet at the Hill of Ua Ruairc near Athboy. The Hill of Ua Ruairc has been identified as Tleachtga, today the Hill of Ward, Athboy. Half way between Dublin and Bréifne and on the borders of the territory under Ua Ruairc’s control, Tlachtga was an ancient assembly or ceremonial site.

That neither party trusted the other is indicated by the fact that they exchanged messages at a distance before agreeing to a personal meeting. Both de Lacy and Ua Ruairc were reluctant to give ground to the other as both felt they had the rightful claim to the territory. It was agreed to meet with a small number of lightly armed men on either side. Hugh retained a small band of mounted knights on the side of the hill and Ua Ruairc had a party of foot soldiers. As to what followed, both parties accuse the other of treachery. On one side it is asserted that Ua Ruairc produced a battle axe from beneath his robe and attacked de Lacy while on the other side it is alleged that Ua Ruairc was treacherously slain.

Giraldus described the events from the Anglo-Norman side under the heading ‘The treacherous conduct and death of Ua Ruairc.’ Griffin, nephew of Maurice Fitzgerald, foresaw treachery by Ua Ruairc in a dream on the night before the parley. At the meeting Ua Ruairc produced an axe and signalled his men to attack. Maurice Fitzgerald warned de Lacy who rose to defend himself. It was recorded that the invading lord fell twice while trying to escape Ua Ruairc’s axe, a circumstance not to his credit considering his opponent, Ua Ruairc, would have been an old man at this stage, having been king of Bréifne for nearly fifty years.  The Irish interpreter was fatally wounded and the Anglo-Norman company were saved by the arrival of Griffin and a group of mounted knights. Griffin dispatched Ua Ruairc and his head was cut off and sent to the English king. The Irish were pursued until they reached the safety of the forests. Giraldus made de Lacy a bit player in the event, granting the hero’s role to his relatives, Griffin and Maurice fitz Gerald.

Accompanying the new lord of Mide was a rival of Tigernán Ua Ruairc, Domnall, son of Annadh Ua Ruairc, who assisted in the slaying of Ua Ruairc. A year later, in 1173, Domnall was slain by the supporters of Tigernán Ua Ruairc and his hand sent to Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair who nailed it to the top of his castle of Tuam.

The Irish claimed that Ua Ruairc was treacherously killed and beheaded. His headless body was sent to Dublin and gibbeted with the feet upwards on the northern side of the city with his head erected over the door of the fortress. Giraldus stated that the head was dispatched to King Henry II.

Acting as expediency dictated de Lacy removed the major obstruction to his rule and he was left undisputed lord of the whole of Mide. Ua Ruairc’s death may have been regarded at the time as a major breakthrough in the conquest.

Two men went up the hill but only one came down.