When you are visiting the famous Hill of Tara in County Meath, you are not just in for an experience of history and mystery. Indeed, it could be said that the Hill of Tara, one of Ireland's most important ancient places, is an Irish Glastonbury. Of sorts. And in a miniature version. The Hill of Tara is one of the most revered places in Ireland, with links to ancient High Kings, a whole mythology attached to it from Pagan to Christian times, and the local shops are certainly riffing on this theme. But while Glastonbury is a bustling town, Tara is ... well, a hill in the middle of nowhere, with some huddled buildings adjacent to it. But these small buildings do pack a bit of a punch. Because they'll satisfy the casual tourist, as well as the visitor trying to get a more spiritual experience out of this Irish "sacred site". Let us have a look at what s on offer here, at an essential stop on the Boyne Valley Drive:
Tara Open Studio
But first a flashback. If you were at Tara some years ago, you'd remember a lot of Pagan and New Age stuff being on offer in Maguire's ... it is not gone, a lot went downhill (literally, not in the sense of losing quality) to the Tara Open Studio, run by well-known artist Courtney Davis. Who actually is Welsh. Well, born in Wales at least. A friendly, approachable man who has made his name in what could roughly be termed "Celtic art" (tattoo artist Pat Fish apparently once summed this up as "ubiquitous fine art designs reproduced on all manner of New Age kitsch"). Davis has transformed an old stone building at the sacred Hill of Tara into a sacred space of sorts. Which also doubles up as his studio, office, and shop. A brillant place full of color. And with a ley running right through it (he told me, and it made sense).
If your religious sensibilities are easily ruffled, don't go here - Courtney is a bit of an artistic magpie, and combines all sort of sacred elements in his art, freely mixing old and young, east and west, Christianity and Paganism. This is as Glastonbury as it gets outside Glastonbury, yet with a very special energy that occasionally seems to be missing at the foot of the Somerset tor these days. An energy that seems to spring from the artist himself, who is happy to talk to visitors and has a knack of making everyone feel welcome.
Opening Hours: I quote the artist, "normally midday to about five", give him a buzz if you need to be sure.
Maguire's Café and Gift Shop
From humble beginnings, Maguire’s shop and café have grown and grown throughout the years. Without losing its homely feel, despite becoming more professional, and larger. And, more important, without becoming a fast-food joint for thousands. Seating is limited, and on busy days you may well have to queue or simply come back later. Which, thanks to usually very efficient staff, is not as onerous as it sounds. And while waiting in the gift shop you might even pick up this and that ... maybe even an audio guide to help you explore the Hill of Tara.
For me, the main attraction here would be Maguire's Café, though - the gift shop used to be better in the old days (when they still sold more Pagan, esoteric stuff), but that might just be me. A friend from the US was totally enchanted, to be fair. On through to the café, quick, and grab a table. And a menu. Which will start with the breakfast specials (served until noon and forsaking the typical "greasy spoon" Irish breakfast for healthier stuff, or at least more variety), and end with the tea special (tea or coffee, two homemade scones with homemade jam, cream and butter - delicious, and at a quite good price too, unless they are sold out, which might happen on busy days). The main meals are filling and of good quality, the seafood chowder comes highly recommended (and with homemade brown bread, too).
Opening Hours: 9.30 to 18.00 daily during the season, phone for winter opening hours.
Michael Slavin's Bookstore
And off we go to the bibliophile den, a cave of wonders, a place to explore. Housed in an old farm building just a bit downhill from the café is the bookstore run by local author (and Tara expert, at least when he is not following his passion for horses) Michael Slavin. Originally a Cavan man, Michael moved to Dublin, became an equestrian journalist and commentator, and now lives near Tara. Where he runs the "old book shop". Well, at times it seems more that he is content to let the shop run itself, sitting in a cozy corner with a good book and letting prospective customers browse through the mostly antiquarian offerings. And, of course, new editions of his "Book of Tara" and "The Tara Walk". Which he will be happy to sign for you. Both are worth the investment, well written, with insight and some helpful hints on how to make the best out of a visit to the Hill of Tara.
If you have the time, go and explore the shelves ... Slavin’s shop is strong on Irish history and Irish literature, prices tend to be within the normal range for antiquarian bookstores (this is not your cheap "5 paperbacks a buck!" second-hand stuff, but neither is he prone to over-charging), and if you cannot find what you are looking for, just ask for help. That elusive old book might be just an informed arm's length away. A treasure trove of sorts, and an outbuilding every bibliophile will find an excuse to spend some time in. Beware the old-fashioned-ness here, though – you won’t be able to pay with credit cards.
Website: none ... it would be out of character, I guess
Phone: just drop in.
Opening Hours: 10.00 to 17.00 (or so) Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.