21 Jan 2011

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (12): Teltown, Ireland

Teltown Cottage

Teltown, also Telltown or the more Gaelic Taillten, is the name of a place in County Meath, Ireland, that once held great significance, but is now just a bend in a country lane that runs parallel to the main road between Navan and Kells, and is near the Blackwater River, a major tributary of the Boyne.

The name comes from the goddess, Tailtiu, the mother of the major Celtic god Lugh, also known as Lugus, and is explained as follows by the "Dindsenchas," traditional texts explaining the names of places:

"Mag Tailten, whence is it? Not hard (to say). Tailltiu, daughter of Maghmor, King of Spain, wife of Eochaid the Rough, son of Dua the Dark-grey. She was Lugh mac Ethlenn's foster-mother, and 'tis she that used to dig the plain. Or 'tis there that she died. On the first day of autumn her tomb was built, and her lamentation was made and her funeral game was held by Lugh [whence we say Lughnasadh, 'Lammastide'. Five hundred years and a thousand before Christ's birth was that, and that assembly was held by every king who took Ireland until Patrick came, and there were five hundred assemblies in Tailtiu from Patrick down to the Black Assembly of Donnchad, son of Flann, son of Maelsechlainn]. And these are the three tabus of Tailtiu: crossing it without alighting; looking at it over one's left shoulder when coming from it; idly casting at it after sunset. Whence Magh Tailten,'Taltiu's Plain.'
"Taltiu, slow Magmor's daughter,
'Tis she that cut down the forest.
Lugh's foster-mother, men declare,
The place of this assembly round Tailtiu."


Taltiu's death was commemorated by the fire festival of Lughnasadh, held on the 1st of August with chariot and horse races at the Taillten burial mounds. With the coming of Christianity the event was "depaganized" and became the Taillten Fair, retaining much of the character and spirit of the original event with contests of strength and skill and horse racing. It was also a time for contracting "year and a day" trial marriages, called "Taillten marriages," which were legal up to the 13th century.

The mounds on which the games centred were recently downgraded by the Irish Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht from "national monuments" to mere "landscape features," resulting in one of them being bulldozed by a local landowner. The Department later apologized for this "oversight."

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