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Tara, Emerald of Emeralds
Tara is proudly claimed as capital city not only by the inhabitants of the Emerald Islands but by all citizens and servants of Greater Hibernia and the Federation of Worlds. Thus the "Pride of Ireland" has been a popular tourist destination for many centuries.
Access to the metropolitan area is by rocketplane to Tara International Airport or by cruise ship to the small port of Dublin and thence by public groundcar or aircar to the capital. In the capital, as throughout Ireland, groundcars may be instructed by voice, and public access network transponders for your PIEA are installed throughout Tara and all other metropolitan areas and military bases.
Visitors are advised that groundcars (apart from those operated by Palace Security) are not permitted south of the Commons (High Street, Royal Avenue and all connecting roads), between 0600 and 1800 daily. Good quality walking boots are therefore a necessity for touring the area during those hours.
Entering the core
The most spectacular and most often photographed panorama of central Tara may be seen to best effect by entering Tara's core via McIvor*. One passes the Highlands with its well-appointed High Lords' town manses on the right and the Academy buildings on the left, before emerging between shops and government offices on fabled Royal Avenue. From here, the eastern portion of the Royal Preserve and Brian Boru's statue are clearly visible to the left, and the palace itself to the right. McLatchies' Tourist Services' main offices are also here, located on the northeast corner of McIvor and Royal. Stop in and join us for complementary tea and crumpets at any time. Then discuss your travel needs with one of our knowledgeable clerks.
Old Town, a City Within a City
We recommend beginning a visit to central Tara with a tour of Old Town, which can be clearly seen to the east of the ancient mounds directly across from the terminus of McIvor*. (Included in McLatchies' basic tour packages.)
*First time visitors can avoid confusion by noting that locals still employ the original name of Misfire Street, one that commemorates the location of the premature explosion that ended the Troll conspiracy of 1601. In 1851 when explosives were banned in warfare, the old name was deemed politically incorrect and the street was dedicated instead to then bishop of Tara John Philip McIvor, a noted pacifist. However, Tara's citizens still use this corner as the starting place for their annual Trolls' Day celebrations every July 2, commencing festivities by reading the traditional proclamation you will find engraved on the plaque mounted on McLatchies' South wall just as you turn east around the corner to Royal. This brass plate is our own artist's faithful reproduction from period photographs and paintings of the original, part of an iron monument that rusted away in the late seventeenth century and was never replaced.
Walking the east end portion of Royal beyond the famous statue of Brian Boru, one passes several splendid examples of seventeenth century Irish architecture in the original government buildings surrounding the entrance to Old Town, which in turn is guarded by the Red Lion Pub. Visitors should be assured that the area around the Red Lion is well patrolled by city police and quite safe to walk unescorted during daylight hours. In the evenings there are footpads and cutpouches in this one area, but street children and beggars throughout the core are safe unless attacked. Children wearing green and gold armbands are McLatchies' associates or apprentices and may be approached for information at any time. It is customary to tip one or two pennies.
In the evening, we recommend stopping first at our office and renting a security escort at a half crown for each thirty minutes or portion thereof. Our journeyman escorts are all tested and bonded by Palace Security, and many are themselves retired guards. Note that the streets in front of the palace and its interior hallways are electronically monitored at all times for security reasons, but this does not extend to the Old Town area.
On arriving at the east end of Royal, one should observe carefully the wooden carving of a lion over the door to the pub. As local residents know, this building was once the royal palace. The original coats of arms for several royal-related families included three lions below the shield. Until the late eighteenth century, these were always portrayed in outline, exactly as they appeared on the fabled royal swords. But in the early nineteenth, following his return from the fourteenth Afghan war and a rumoured mysterious encounter with a great red cat, Seamus II had Meathe's rendered in a peculiar shade of orange-red, and related houses also began colouring their shield lions. A more mundane explanation may be that the his lions were merely the same colour as his hair. In any case, in 1830 Seamus had the same designs carved in wood to hang over his royal palace door. When Seamus III moved the government to the current uptown in 1882, the coat of arms was removed and two of the wooden lions vanished, but as you may see above the Red Lion Pub door opposite, the third remains in place to this day, faithfully awaiting the return of his royal master to his Old Town home. Indeed, attentive visitors might hear neighbourhood children skipping rope to a local ditty:
When dark the night o'er Tara lays,
And all her swords are gone to rust,
Here'll tread the russet lion's paw,
Beside the ruler God has giv'n.
Deliver us from wicked ways,
And all our men from sinful lust,
Restore the throne and rule of law,
And bless Hibernia from your heav'n.
Old Town proper is the enclosed area four hundred by five hundred staves behind the pub, surrounded by high walls and buildings that open only inward. This enclosure was the seat of Tara's kings and their court from 1014 to 1882, after which it went into decline with the move of government to the new palace. The royal residence was of course situated at the entrance to the compound because that was both the point most likely to be attacked and the place from which the King would personally lead a sortie.
When one turns the corner on the Red Lion's tacky commercial facade and enters Inner Old Town, the royal building's fifteenth and sixteenth century architectural heritage becomes more evident. The rear portion, presently a low pawn shop of no importance, was constructed for his personal quarters by High King Sean Reilly I (the physician) in 1540, and was the last major addition to the structure. Reilly also built the small, still-functional hospital that can be seen at the end of the short street to your right.
The inner compound has the fabled but now somewhat ill-kept King's Park at its centre, with divided Derry Street between it and the ancient but well-kept shops lining both sides. The immense building on the east was originally the army barracks for the entire capital region, but the Home Guard are now too numerous to be quartered in the city proper. This long abandoned building is today home to a local school and the shops you see on the ground floor.
These Old Town shops preserve a long vanished way of life. Here you may purchase garments made as you watch on hand-operated sewing machines rather than in computerized factories. By agreement of the local merchants' association, all paintings, sculpture, and other artifacts, even trinkets sold as souvenirs, are hand crafted here in Tara, most in Old Town itself. For instance, unlike all their other stores, including their large branch in uptown Tara, Duchaine's of Old Town sells no nanotech grown jewellery or imports, but offers exclusively hand-crafted pieces, each bearing a certificate of authenticity. Tara's residents have made this street their favourite when shopping for unique gifts and the two restaurants you see on either side, though not as well known as others in the city, offer excellent and elegant dining at affordable prices for the discriminating gourmet or family group. For your convenience, McLatchies' main office can supply menus and live entertainment schedules for both, along with those of all ten uptown restaurants, and a dozen others close by. We will be pleased to make your reservations.
At the South end of inner Old Town is St. Patrick's Cathedral. Legend has it that this was the site of the original church founded by the Apostle Paul, and of a later one constructed by Patrick himself. Parts of the current structure date to 1250, with major additions or renovations having been made every one to two centuries since, the last begun in 1998. Remains of at least four prior buildings have been identified under or beside the present one, and there is evidence this site and the nearby mounds were sacred to Druids at least as far back as 1000 BC. One story claims King David of Israel visited the location, but few modern historians give this yarn any credence.
Every Irish monarch from Brian (O'Neill) II in 1250 through Conn II in 1885 was crowned here, and the building is still nominally the seat of the High Bishop of Tara, though in recent years most holding that office have preferred to use the new, much larger, but architecturally insignificant cathedral at the west end of Royal Avenue, across from the Royal Museum.
St. Patrick's, though a national heritage building, is still a working church. The rectory where the priest and his wife live is to the left as you face the cathedral, and the hall to the right is used for weekly dinners provided to all comers, whether they can afford to pay or not, a custom at least a century old.
Upon exiting Old Town back to Royal, and depending on how much time they have taken thus far, visitors have the option of touring the Druidic ruins just to the west on the edge of the two mile square Royal Preserve. But in any case, they should time their arrival back at McIvor not to coincide with lunch time, so they will not have to compete with thousands of palace servants taking their meal break.
Alternately, they may wish to take a longer circle tour through High Street past the academies and great manses, to the new cathedral and back along Royal, visiting the palace in the late afternoon or on a following day. In that case, they should download supplementary guide #3 and may wish to consider our deluxe tour, which incorporates both halves of the core and includes a complementary ticket to view council proceedings. Prices start at two shamrocks for armed guides (one for unarmed apprentices), availability varies by season, and places on the tour are reservable from the chief clerk by presenting in person at our Tara office.
At the very centre of Royal Avenue (some would term it the centre of the world) is a nameless bakeshop that some say is worth the trip to Tara on its own, a stop frequented alike by Court nobility, palace servants, and discriminating tourists such as yourselves. However, once you have treated yourself to one of its delicacies, and resolved to return following the tour for a package to take home, stand for a while a few steps from its front door and drink in Greater Hibernia's most photographed scene.
Before you, across the wide plaza often used for state occasions, is the fabled Court of Tara, mistress of the Emerald islands, ruler not merely of the seas, but of both Federated Worlds. Think of it. This building or its nearby Old Town predecessor has been a capital for nearly two thousand years. At first Tara ruled only the district of Meathe, later the whole of Ireland, then the Scottish highlands and the Welsh coasts. Once the divided and constantly warring Anglo Saxon tribes came under her sway following the war of 1505, Tara's wealth and influence grew swiftly.
Her proud armies defeated far larger continental forces numerous times, as Tara bent enemies into willing vassals. When Irish North America was discovered, it was only a matter of time until Tara's rule over all Ortho was undisputed. After the mysterious Metans provided timestream vehicles and thus the means to contact Para Earth, it took less than a decade to persuade the Parans to federate, and less time still for Ortho to consolidate her position as the senior partner.
As her empire grew to encompass two planets, so did her capital city, and although no part of the building before you is much more than a century old, the complex has been added to and refurbished many times, most recently in 1991-1992 when the so-called "twin towers" you see rising to the right rear were constructed by CRAE, the Core of Royal Army Engineers.
The interior has likewise been re-done many times, with the last extensive work by CRAE in 1997-1999, coincidentally with the construction or refurbishing of several other buildings in the area.
As we walk across Royal Avenue, note that the palace building proper occupies only the central portion of the Preserve's north boundary. It is accessible to the public only via the main entrance opposite. Tourists should bear left off the Kings' Way to the small door at the left side of the entry porch. This is sometimes called "Hell's Gate" as it is the one through which the corrupt, those caught practicing law for money, and traitors to the realm are brought before being beheaded on the steps or taken below to the gallows. Executions of the utterly dishonoured are conducted in shameful privacy in a room underneath the steps. The door can be seen on the wall beneath the executioner's block at the railing, but McLatchies has no access to the aptly-termed "Rust's Basement Entrance".
On entering the Great Hall, visitors are routinely scanned for unconventional weapons, that is, any other than sword, stick, and knives. Since the sorry affair in the fall of 1998, guns have been added to the scan list. All cameras, PIEAs and other electronic devices must be examined at the door. The accompanying check for hostile biologicals includes a complete medical scan and DNA analysis. Should any untoward conditions be revealed at this time, McLatchies offers complementary and confidential referrals to competent physicians practicing in the capital area.
At this point, visitors should download one of the many artificially intelligent maps of the palace to their own PIEA (Personal Intelligence enhancement Appliance) or to a unit rented at the cloakroom. McLatchies' version consists of a guide that can be set to lead to a specific office or, for a mere half crown, generate interactive tour information as desired. A basic palace tour is, however, included in all our guided walks. Heed all cautions diligently, for intrusions into palace living quarters or other secure areas results in immediate and forcible eviction by guards. Since all the latter are officers rather than enlisted troopers, three degrees of respect language are recommended toward them at all times. They have orders to skewer recalcitrant visitors rather than permit potential security risks.
Note the many display cases and enclosed art around the halls. These and many others throughout the miles of Palace hallways exhibit trophies and symbols of Tara's authority and conquests over the last ten centuries. Visitors are cautioned not to touch any of the cases, as they are protected by a sensitive alarm system said to have been designed and constructed by the infamous Lady Katherina Rourke prior to her demise at Glenmorgan.
Speaking of Glenmorgan, Death in the Glen, the most famous historical play of all time, has been performed nightly at Tara's Little Theatre ever since September 1980, the month Lady Katherina was exonerated of murdering Donal X. Tickets for the performances are of course available from our main office or from our subsidiary kiosks in Old Town and across from the uptown cathedral.
It is impossible to tour the entire palace complex. For once thing it has more floor space than any other building complex on all Hibernia. For another, many portions are strictly out of bounds to anyone not identified by DNA and retinal scans as a resident. Moreover, this free brochure is no substitute for the tour software, which adjusts itself to the visitor's location and provides descriptions on any desired level of detail for the architecture, art work, and functions of all parts of the palace. Of course our personal guides have even more information at your command.
In general terms, however, we advise lingering at the water clock, walking south to the stub end of the Kings' Way, visiting the Health and Science domains, and having pictures taken before the doors to the "New" palace. The garrison and staff can sometimes be seen working out in the well-appointed gym and pool farther to the south. Most have sword ratings over seventy, and visitors would be ill-advised to challenge anyone to a bout. However, McLatchies would be please to contact your survivors with respect to funeral arranagements.
A stroll along the famous promenade or garden walk can be followed by a climb to the second floor and a visit to the bards' quarters. The palace almost always boasts renowned bards in residence, and the daily recitals in their upper auditorium are by donation. We suggest a crown for adults and a half crown for children, up to a shamrock for a group of twenty or fewer. Major public performances are held Friday evenings in the extended council chambers or in Tara Music Hall. McLatchies always carries tickets.
The public entrance to the court and council chamber is also on the second floor, but visitors are cautioned that it is a capital offence to carry arms of any kind within the chambers without proving a right to bear them before the Master of Swords. Thus all weapons without exception must be deposited before entering the spectators' galleries. Note that young children are not permitted in the galleries. When debates lead to duels in the chamber, distractions could be deadly, and relatives have been known to seek satisfaction from noisy spectators.
From your gallery vantage point, look down at the chamber floor. Hibernian nobility stand to their right of the centre aisle, first swords of the realm in the front row, bards and bishops in the second, high officers in the third, royal and protector sword holders in the fourth, other regional domain lords in the next two, additional hereditary nobles behind them, and court servants ("lords for the day") at the back. To their left stand the Paran (Babylonian) delegates, executives in the front row, their immediate assistants behind, and other staff in subsequent rows. This makes a total of roughly three hundred people on a typical day, not counting guards, pages, and other chamber servants. However, when joint council is not in session and only Hibernia's court is meeting, Para sends one executive and perhaps ten staff as observers. The MT in front of you has the day's floor plan keyed to names and positions on channel three.
The circle between the two sections near the dais is for petitioners' to await disposition of their cases. On rare occasions, such as when a senior officer or official is accused of wrongdoing, the chambers become a courtroom of a different sort to hear the case, and the same area is then called the witness circle. In a few such instances, say, if the accused is a general or high lord, the court appoints a neutral Senchus as presiding brehon, and he takes the King's chair and powers for the duration.
Hibernia's form of government is a constitutional monarchy, and technically the nobles on the floor advise the crown. However, since the deposition of King James IV in 1941, the high nobles have, in effect, been the crown. The Donal carries the name "First Lord", which is equivalent to "King", and like the kings before 1941 is required to surrender all his possessions and other titles, even his very name, on taking office. However, by agreement of the high families, he may not use the term "High King." Though the ban on the King and his family is in effect until 2001, he is widely rumoured to walk the halls of Tara in a variety of disguises, influencing the course of his once and future kingdom from behind the scenes. Legends aside, as only a few of the Royal swords are known still to exist, it seems unlikely anyone will ever ascend to the green chair by the three-sword rule that brought the last dynasty into power. Barring an even more unlikely successful civil war, the current system seems to be entrenched indefinitely. Visitors with a particular interest in the many legends surrounding James IV should consider subscribing to our subsidiary brochure #15, entitled "In the Steps of James".
Tara Meta Ollamh--No, You Can't Meet Rhiannon
Those who have secured a scholar or student pass may proceed to the third floor, where is housed the public portion of Tara Meta Ollamh, the Palace school. Though rightly renowned throughout the Federation of Worlds for its administrative degrees, Tara Meta Ollamh is also the finest all-round children's academy in Ireland, and many of her graduates have gone directly to Kilkarney, Geneva, Moscow, or other prestigious graduate academies. Tara Meta Ollamh embodies the maxim: "Do not claim you can do it until you have also effectively taught it." All instruction, even when offered virtually, is by live teachers holding current or former Palace appointments. The Academies jealously guard the identities of virtual teachers, and though local students must sometimes guess what the masking software hides to outsiders, none has breached confidentiality in more than a century. The most common visitors' request is to meet five-times Ollamh Rhiannon, but it is said that only the Head Academician, High Lord Donal XII himself, knows her real name.
Academics from abroad might wish to consider McLatchies' tours of Kikarney cadet School (guide #19) and the Armough Seminary (guide #20). Guided versions of these tours can be arranged at the office.
Dining at Tara
If the visit has been well-paced, it is now time for dinner. Should the visitor not be a regional domain lord, or lord by position, and also fail to win one of the two hundred or so meal lottery tickets (the exact number drawn depends on whether court is in session), there are numerous high quality restaurants throughout central Tara. McLatchies' free restaurant brochure is guide #5. For the fortunate ones, enjoy your complementary dining at the world's most famous restaurant, The Kings' Kitchen, directly across the great Hall from Chambers.
In accordance with ancient custom, Palace residents take turns from an early age serving tables at the Kitchen, as payment for their own meals. Thus a dinner servant may be a bard in residence, a diplomat, or even a great lord who disdains living in a High Street manse. Who knows? Perhaps your meal will be brought by the mysterious Rhiannon, considered the greatest scholar of our times, and reported still to live part time at the palace. Royalty once served at the Kitchen, and first lords do to this day, as much to eavesdrop on their subjects' conversations as to fulfill their duties to them. Perhaps Lord Donal XII himself will serve your meal.
Again, visitors should be cautioned that some Kitchen servers are the very security guards who have watched over them all afternoon, and that the latter are highly protective of the non-combattant servants, especially the children, whom they do not permit to be impressed into visitors' service. But if one insists on disputing matters with them or another patron, duels occasioned by events at the Kitchen are by palace custom consummated for other diners' entertainment in the automated circle at the centre of the eating area. Besides recording hits, the duelling computer can vaporize blood sprays, so as to prevent them from leaving the circle and contaminating nearby meals.
Other Tara Tours
For a second day in the capital, we recommend a tour of the many parks and formal gardens in the area, beginning of course, with the Royal Preserve itself. McLatchies' complete Tara parks brochure is guide #10. If a third day is available, consider returning to the core and visiting Royal Museum, which houses a splendid collection of artifacts from three millenia of Irish history. See McLatchie's guide #12. For either, a one-day use for hire incurs a charge of half a crown. Personally escorted tours begin at one shamrock per half day, not inclusive of armed protection.