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Tlachtga (Hill of Ward)
Tlachtga (Hill of Ward) near Athboy, Co Meath is 12 miles from the Hill of Tara. The earthworks which are about 150 metres in diameter are most impressive from the air. Tlachtga dates from approximately 200 AD and was the location of the Great Fire Festival begun on the eve of Samhain (eve of the 1st November). The festival probably lasted for at least several days and centred on the god Lugh. The site takes it name from Tlachtga the daughter of the Druid Mug Ruith who died there giving birth to triplets. Tlachtga is clearly visible from Tara and the fire lit on the eve of Samhain was a prelude to the Samhain Festival at Tara.
With the coming of Christianity the festival was incorporated into the Christian calendar as a time of remembrance for the holy souls, so the Samhain festival of the ancestors retained its relevance. The customs of Samhain that didn’t fit into Christianity survived as Halloween. Irish immigrants carried the Halloween tradition to North America in the 19th century. The Festival of Samhain was the great festival of the dead. It also marked the beginning of the Celtic New Year.
The old year’s fires were extinguished and, after sunset, the ceremonial New Year Samhain fire was lit on the hill. Torches were lit from this sacred fire and carried to seven other hills around the county including Tara and Loughcrew, and then on to light up the whole country.
Today, the old Celtic ceremony at Tlachtga has been revived. The ancient past meets the twenty-first century with a re-enactment of the Celtic celebration starting with a torch lit procession from the Fair Green in Athboy, Co. Meath to the top of the Hill of Tlachtga, at 7pm on October 31st each year.
The earthworks seen on the Hill of Ward today represent the last phase of development about 2000 years ago. The remains of an older barrow burial have been incorporated in the earthworks. It is likely that the hill was the centre of ritual activity long before the Celtic period. The illumination of the passage and chamber at the Winter solstice sunrise in Newgrange is world famous. Less well known is the Equinox illumination at sunrise in Cairn T at Loughcrew. The backstone of the chamber is illuminated by a beam of light at sunrise on the Spring and Autumnal Equinoxes. The sun light is shaped by the stones of the entrance and passage and descends the backstone while moving from left to the right illuminating the solar symbols.