Teltown Church

The historic region of Teltown is located at a bend in the river Blackwater, between Kells and Navan. About four miles south east of Kells it consists of a  ritual landscape which is difficult to access as the monuments are spread out over a wide area and almost all are on private property. Travelling from Donaghpatrick the first cul de sac provides access to Teltown House and churchyard, the second cul de sac allows one to view Leary’s hole from the roadside and the third cul de sac allows views of Rath Dhu from the roadside. The Knockans are near the road  to St. C  atherine’s church but are difficult to see from the road. Teltown was one of the more important sites of early historic Ireland where significant assemblies took place for which a wealth of literary and folklore references exist.

Teltown appears in its first literary mention in association with Queen Tailte, the last Queen of the Firbolg. It was under her direction that the plain was cleared for games. The Tailteann Games were an ancient sporting event held here in honour of Queen Tailte. A fair or gathering was held here each August in honour of Lughasana. Games, pastimes and ,marriages were celebrated in honour of Lugh and his foster mother, Tailte. Teltown marriages were trail marriages. Men lined up on one side of a wall and the ladies lined up on the other. The ladies placed their hands through a hole in the wall and judging only on the appearance of the hand the men made their selection. The couple co-habited for a year and then returned to the wall where they made the arrangement permanent or just turned their back and walked away. Lag an Aonaigh marks the site of the marriage well.

Rory O’Connor was the last of the High Kings to celebrate the Tailteann games in 1168. An annual pattern was held on the first Sunday of August until the early 1800s when it was proscribed by the Church as the dancing, wrestling and boxing became too wild.The Tailteann Games were revived in 1924 and held at Croke Park. The medals bore the head of Queen Tailte. The games were held again in 1928 and 1932. The Tailteann games are said to have inspired the Olympics and certainly inspired the Scurlogstown Olympiad Festival in Trim.

The Knockans consisted of two parallel earthen mounds perhaps the viewing platforms for the games. These were the site of the Teltown Mariages. Approximately 100 metres long and  approximately 3 metres apart the banks were partially damaged in 1997 by earthmoving equipment. The northern bank was completely demolished by machinery in 1997 and the intervening ditch was filled in. During excavations in 1997-8 it was discovered that the southern bank had a core of compressed burnt ash-like material and contained a small votive deposit of unburnt cattle bones in the lower levels. Flint and fragments of bronze  were part of the construction material.

Rath Dhú or the Black fort consisted of a flat topped mound with a diameter of about 100 metres. The central platform is about 4m about the level of the field around it and offers views of the surrounding countryside, even as far as Loughcrew. There were two artificial lakes to the north of the rath.

A ceremonial roadway  from the ford on the Blackwater still exists in parts. Traditionally called ‘Cromwell’s Pass’, it would perhaps be more correctly called ‘Crom Dubh’s Pass’. There are dug-out hollows near the Blackwater and blind loughs near Dath Dhu and near Cross Bunmuckny.  Locals  used to say that the lakes were constructed to provide watering holes for the Fir Bolg’s cattle. St. Catherine’s church may be on the site of a rath.

The church at Teltown is ancient. Dermot MacMurrough, king of Leisnter, plunder the church twice once in 1156 and again in 1170. Nearby Teltown House opened as an approved country house in 2005. In recent times Professor George Eogan uncovered rock art dating to 2000 BC on a natural rock outcrop in Teltown Graveyard indicating Neolithic stone age activity in the area.

According to tradition St. Patrick attended the Tailteann games. St. Patrick is supposed to have condemned the pagan spirit of King Laoighre to imprisonment in the lake known as Leary’s Hole. It was reputed to be a short-cut to Hell. The local landlord, Garnett, attempted to drain the hole but the water rushed out and flooded the low lying fields without the level of water in the hole decreasing a single inch. Today Leary’s hole is a marshy hollow.

The church at Donaghpatrick was founded by St. Patrick. A new church was erected in 1895 by Thomas Gerrard and his sisters, Mrs Collins and Mrs Johnston of Gibbstown House. The new church was attached to the medieval tower. There is a stone head on the east side of the tower. In the gravestone there is a medieval font and a standing stone A sundial is erected into the boundary wall.

On the opposite side of the road to Donaghpatrick church  is Rath Airthir, (the eastern fort), a large ring fort with large banks and ditches all overgrown with sycamore trees. This fort has been converted to an Anglo-Norman motte and bailey. Neither the Knockans and Rath Aithir were not recorded on the first Ordnance survey maps.

The great archaeologist, Leo Swan, wrote the text for the excellent heritage guide produced by Archaeology Ireland in 1998. I was lucky enough to have a guided tour of part of Teltown by Vincent Garvey in 2010.

Teltown, Rath Dhu