In half an hour I’m heading off to Teltown, a placename that seems to come right out of a children’s story book or a TV cartoon for under-5s.
This particular Teltown, however, is in County Meath, near Kells where a satellite of the literature festival heid in Hay-on-Wye is running until Sunday.
But if we send our imaginations to the same spot 4,000 years ago, we will see a very different place and a site of huge importance as it was there that the Aonach Tailteann was held to celebrate the feast of Lughasa two millennia before the birth of Christ.
The Gaels would have known the site as Tailteann, named after the learned daughter of the king of Spain and there is a ring fort there which goes back to 2000BC.
Tailtiu was the learned daughter of Mag Mor, a distinguished king of Spain, and married to the last great Fir Bolg king, Eochaid mac Eirc, who named his palace after her,
Meath Tourism takes up the story: “Queen Tailtiu took the trouble to select a particular spot in which she wished to be buried. It was located on the side of a hill, covered with dense forest; but because of its sunlit and beautiful situation she had chosen it, and her husband, in compliance with her wishes, had it cleared of the timber. It took a host of stalwart men nearly a year to accomplish the task.
On her deathbed, Queen Tailtiu asked that funeral games be held annually on the cleared ground.
“As a national institution the Aonach fulfilled three important public functions in the lives of the people. Its first object was, to do honour to the illustrious dead; secondly, to promulgate laws; and, finally, to entertain the people. Presiding at the Tailtiu assembly or fair became the prerogative of the king of Tara.”
The games consisted of hurling, athletic, gymnastic and equestrian contests of various kinds, and included running, long-jumping, high-jumping, quoit-throwing, spear-casting, sword and-shield contests, wrestling, boxing, handball, swimming, horse-racing, chariot-racing, spear or pole jumping, slinging contests, bow-and-arrow exhibitions and, in fact, every sort of contest exhibiting physical endurance and skill.
“In addition, there were literary, musical, oratorical, and story-telling competitions; singing and dancing competitions, and tournaments of all kinds. Also, competitions for goldsmiths, jewellers, and artificers in the precious metals; for spinners, weavers and dyers; and the makers of shields and weapons of war. The fair lasted for a fortnight.
Cluichí Tailteann – the Tailteann games were revived on three occasions in 1924, 1928 and 1932 but haven’t been attempted since and there has been a cycle race called Rás Tailteann (although nowadays it’s called the An Post Rás.
So I am off to Tailtin,where people attending the Aonach would have stayed 4,000 years ago. The Hay Festival at Kells, less than five miles away will undoubtedly be very interesting and enjoyable – let’s see if matches the excitement of Aonach Tailteann!
You can read all about the Tailteann Games at https://archive.org/details/aonactailteannta00nalliala