As we step back into an exploration of the Oran Mór, the Great Song of Ireland, I will begin by sharing a story from Irish mythic history, The Settling of the Manor of Tara. A story that calls to be told in three parts. Many have written and shared this story, my favorite is the following which is excerpted and adapted from Frank MacEowen’s book The Celtic Way of Seeing: Meditations on the Irish Spirit Wheel, a book and author I highly recommend.
A voice rumbled from deep within the empty hall.
“Where are the nobles?” one of the High King’s advisors snapped, at no one in particular. “It is the custom that they and their retinue attend the Great Feast! They should be here by now.”
A druid standing nearby nodded in agreement. “Indeed, you are correct. They are not only expected to be in attendance, they are expected to contribute to the feast itself, as it has always been done.”
The two men looked at one another and knew something was amiss. They had felt a disturbance in the Great Peace for quite some time and had noticed the seeds of chaos beginning to sprout. The usual harmony of the land and of their souls had gradually entered a troubled state.
It had always been the custom for the nobles of Ireland from the far reaches of the island – lesser kings and chieftains alike – to travel every three years to the Great Hall at Tara: to sit in council, swear fealty to the High King, to attend a banquet in his honor, and then to aid in giving a grand feast to the Irish people over several days of celebration.
It was an ancient observance, and ancient feast that involved music, storytelling, foot races, horse races, jousting, as well as the announcement of marriages, all against a backdrop of ale drinking and lovers courting. The Great Feast was a way to honor the bounty of the land, to remit the bond between the High King and the land, and to maintain the memory of who they were.
This year was different.
The nobles had traveled to the Hill of Tara. They had gathered. Yet they had not entered the king’s fortress, or the Great Hall. Instead they stood with each other discussing a troubling matter.
“I do not understand why Diarmid, son of Cerball, has taken such a large measure of land for himself,” one chieftain announced.
“What? Are you daft? He is the Ard Righ, he is your High King,” another chieftain barked. “It is within his right to occupy Tara and her surrounding lands.”
A noble from the southern hills cleared his throat and spoke. “As we all know, High Kings are married to the land. When all is right in the land, the land, in turn, provides for the people. The well-being of the people is dependent on the well-being of the land. The well-being of the land is dependent on the proper order of things. Maintaining the proper order of things is the responsibility of us all, king, druid, and commoner alike. With that said, I can find no fault with this king. And yet I find that I have lost the knowledge of the proper order of things, within and without. I feel as if a fog has settled on my brain. Where is the common spirit to which we all order our lives?”
A chieftain from the northwest argued, “I still do not see what this king needs with such large tracts of land for the manor of Tara, but I too must confess, now that we are discussing it, and knowing that the arrangement of the land must follow the proper order of things, I am ignorant of the great harmony that has ordered the inner and outer worlds from Before-Time to This-Time.”
After much discussion, the chieftains and nobles realized they were divided on the matter of whether the Great Feast should proceed according to plan.
Finally, an elder announced, “I do not share your concerns about the king, but I am disturbed that none of us can call to memory the sacred configuration of the island, the intended arrangement of Tara, or the intended alignment of things within each of our souls. I know enough to know that they all must be aligned with each other. With that said, I suggest we postpone the Great Feast until we can determine – once again – how to see the proper order of things.”
With that, the nobles and chieftains decided to send someone up to the main gates of the Great Hall at Tara to convey their message.