Tara greeted the liberator
of Tarašs history is based on legend, on stories that have
been passed down from generation to generation and which
add to the great romance associated with one of Irelandšs
most ancient and significant sites.
The famous hill has been the home of many great events in
Irish history, including The
Battle of Tara during the 1798 Rebellion of the United Irishmen,
but its doubtful if anything could compare with the
sheer size of the gathering which assembled on the grassy
slopes in 1843 to listen to Daniel OConnell, The
The date, to be precise, was August 15, the Feast of the
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the amazing assembly
was to mark the climactic moments in what had become, during
1843, the most fervent, peaceful expression of Irish sentiment
in favour of Irish rule in the history of the country.
British Prime Minister William Pitt had been alarmed by
the 1798 Rebellion, so much so that in 1800 he passed the
Act of Union, which meant that Ireland lost its parliament
and became part of the United Kingdom.
Kerryman OConnell had successfully achieved Catholic
emancipation and the removal of the punitive Penal Laws
during the early decades of the 1800s and now he turned
his attentions to the repeal of the Union.
Accordingly, in 1843, in a bid to bring the attention of
the people of Ireland and the British government to the
call for repeal, OConnell organised a series of approximately
40 huge rallies around the country and travelled up to 5,000
miles by coach to address 31 of these meetings himself.
Some going for a man who was closing in on his 70th birthday.
These rallies were punctuated with what were known as monster
meetings held at important historic and Celtic sites.
The Curragh and Cashel hosted gatherings estimated at close
to 300,000 people, but the mother and father of all the
meetings took place at the Hill of Tara as, for up to three
days in advance, people thronged to the famed hill from
a wide radius by carriage, horse and on foot.
By the day of the meeting, bands, ceremonial floats and
thousands of banners added extra colour and the whole occasion
became as much a festival as a political rally. The gathering
was estimated as the biggest ever to assemble on this island.
OConnell, being the great propagandist that he undoubtedly
was, estimated the number at one and a half million people.
That was probably something of an exaggeration, as others
described the assembly in more conservative terms, like
the mere 100,000 mentioned by the Illustrated London News.
But it also described the historic occasion in more glowing
terms, saying that "the procession from Dunshaughlin,
which conducted Mr. OConnell, fully occupied a mile
What a remarkable sight it must have been as the procession
included a trumpeter on horseback, drummers, a harper on
an open carriage drawn by six grey horses playing The
Harp That Once Through Taras Halls, horsemen
four deep, footmen six deep and flags and banners carrying
the emotive word Repeal.
Altars were erected on the various mounds around the hill
and Masses were celebrated on the morning of the rally.
Two bishops and 35 priests were present as, soon after midday,
OConnells carriage made its way up to the top
of the hill through an archway that included the words Tara
of the Kings hails the Liberator with 100,000 welcomes.
Such was the extent of the gatherings that, obviously, huge
numbers of people wouldnt have been in a position
to hear the great mans words. Accordingly, it is believed
that OConnells words were relayed down the hill
by officials assigned to that task.
"Tara is surrounded by historical reminiscences which
give it an importance worthy of being considered by everyone
who approaches it for political purposes and an elevation
in the public mind which no other part of Ireland possesses,"
OConnell proclaimed to the vast throng.
"We are standing upon Tara of the Kings, the spot where
the monarchs of Ireland were elected, and where the chieftains
of Ireland bound themselves by the solemn pledge of honour
to protect their native land against Dane and every stranger.
"This was emphatically the spot from which emanated
every social power and legal authority by which the force
of the entire country was concentrated for national defence.
On this important spot I have an important duty to perform.
I here protest in the face of my country and my God against
the continuance of the Union."
They were powerful words from one of the greatest Irishmen
in history, but the cheers that echoes across the vast hill
and beyond in response to his speech didnt have the
desired impact further afield and, if anything, sounded
the death knell of OConnells popular movement.
The extent of the rally at Tara didnt go unnoticed
by the government and pressure grew to call a halt to such
A local magistrate from Trim was particularly concerned
and reported to his superiors in Dublin and London on the
"Mr. OConnell, accompanied by a large cavalcade,
arrived on the hill shortly after one oclock,"
he wrote. "He was received with loud cheers. No-one
could contemplate the display made on this occasion without
having the conviction forced on his mind that the very excitement
caused by such a meeting must, in all human probability,
eventuate in some attempt at a subversion of government
of the country - which will involve us in all the horrors
of a civil or either a religious war."
The likelihood is that OConnell also feared the same
outcome, for almost as an aside during his address he said:
"What could England effect against such a people so
thoroughly aroused they rose out in rebellion? While I live
such an uprising will never occur."
The British government clearly wasnt convinced and
heeded the magistrates warnings. With the next monster
meeting set for Clontarf, Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel
issued a proclamation at the last moment banning the rally
for fears that it would have a military character.
The area was ringed by armed militia and OConnell
faced a dilemma - confrontation or submission. Fearing bloodshed,
he opted for submission and messengers were sent along all
roads leading to Clontarf to turn the people back. It was
a humiliating occasion for OConnell and one from which
he never recovered.
Unlike his great victory in the quest for Catholic emancipation,
this was a disastrous defeat for his repeal effort. He was
arrested, tried for conspiring to change the constitution
by illegal methods, and imprisoned. He was released
a year later on appeal and, though he continued his campaign,
his power to influence matters in London was gone.
Interestingly, a friend of OConnells in the
British government was Lord John Russell, who actually owned
the land of Tara at the time of the rally. Its not
known if he gave permission for its use, but under the laws
that applied to Tara regarding access to the monuments,
permission had to be accorded to the applicant subject
to such reasonable conditions as the owner shall specify.
When he became British Prime Minister in 1846, Russell didnt
give way to OConnells demands on behalf of Ireland.
Indeed, he presided over some of the most harrowing years
in the countrys history, including the Great Famine.
Daniel OConnells voice, which had once rung
out over Tara, went silent forever in 1847 when he died
at Genoa on his way to Rome.
He had packed some amount of effort and so many memorable
moments into his amazing life, among them that monster meeting
Taken from Royal Meath