The Tailteann Games, Tailtin Fair, Áenach Tailteann, Aonach Tailteann, Assembly of Talti, Fair of Taltiu or Festival of Taltii were funeral games associated with the semi-legendary history of Pre-Christian Ireland.

There is a complex of ancient earthworks dating to the Iron Age in the area of Teltown where the festival was historically known to be celebrated off and on from medieval times into the modern era.[1][2][3]

History and archaeology

The games were founded, according to the Book of Invasions, by Lugh Lámhfhada, the Ollamh Érenn (master craftsman or doctor of the sciences), as a mourning ceremony for the death of his foster-mother Tailtiu. Lugh buried Tailtiu underneath a mound in an area that took her name and was later called Tailteann in County Meath.[4]

The event was held during the last fortnight of July and culminated with the celebration of Lughnasadh, or Lammas Eve (1 August).[5] Modern folklore claims that the Tailteann Games started around 1600 BC, with some sources claiming as far back as 1829 BC.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12] Promotional literature for the Gaelic Athletic Association revival of the games in 1924 claimed a later date of their foundation in 632 BC. The games were known to have been held between the 6th and 9th centuries AD.[13] The games were held until 1169-1171 AD when they died out after the Norman invasion.[14][15]

The ancient Aonach had three functions: honoring the dead, proclaiming laws, and funeral games and festivities to entertain. The first function took between one and three days depending on the importance of the deceased. Guests would sing mourning chants called the Guba, after which druids would improvise Cepógs, songs in memory of the dead. The dead would then be burnt on a funeral pyre. The second function would then be carried out during a universal truce by the Ollamh Érenn, giving out laws to the people via bards and druids and culminating in the igniting of another massive fire. The custom of rejoicing after a funeral was then enshrined in the Cuiteach Fuait, games of mental and physical ability.[1]

Games included the long jump, high jump, running, hurling, spear throwing, boxing, contests in swordfighting, archery, wrestling, swimming, and chariot and horse racing. They also included competitions in strategy, singing, dancing and story-telling, along with crafts competitions for goldsmiths, jewellers, weavers and armourers. Along with ensuring a meritocracy, the games would also feature a mass arranged marriage, where couples met for the first time and were given up to a year and a day to divorce on the hills of separation.[1]

In later medieval times, the games were revived and called the Tailten Fair, consisting of contests of strength and skill, horse races, religious celebrations, and a traditional time for couples to contract "Handfasting" trial marriages. "Taillten marriages" were legal up until the 13th century. This trial marriage practice is documented in the fourth and fifth volumes of the Brehon law texts, which are compilations of the opinions and judgements of the Brehon class of Druids (in this case, Irish). The texts as a whole deal with copious detail for the Insular Celts.[16]

Modern revivals and legacy

Fireworks at the first Games, August 15, 1924

Main article: Tailteann Games (Irish Free State)

From the late nineteenth century, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and others in the Gaelic revival contemplated reviving the Tailteann Games. The GAA's 1888 championships of football and of hurling were unfinished owing to the American Invasion Tour, an unsuccessful attempt to raise funds for a revival.[17]

The Second Dáil approved a scheme in 1922,[18] and after a delay caused by the Irish Civil War the first was held in 1924. Open to foreigners of Irish heritage, the first games of 1924 and 1928 attracted some competitors fresh from the Olympics in Paris and Amsterdam. The Games' main backer, minister J. J. Walsh, lost office when Fianna Fáil took power after the 1932 election, and public funding was cut. The 1932 games were on a smaller scale against a background of the Great Depression and the Anglo-Irish Trade War, and no further games were held.[19]

Jack Fitzsimons suggested reviving the Tailteann Games in a 1985 Seanad Éireann debate on tourism in Ireland.[20]

The Rás Tailteann ("Tailteann race") cycling race was founded in 1953 by the National Cycling Association (NCA), in opposition to the Tour of Ireland organised by the rival Cumann Rothaíochta na hÉireann (CRÉ). Cycling Ireland, the merged successor to both the NCA and CRÉ, still organises the Rás Tailteann annually, but it is usually known as "the [sponsor] Rás", or simply "the Rás".[21]

The Irish Secondary Schools Athletic Association organised annual national championships from 1963 under the name "Junior Tailteann Games".[22] Athletics Ireland continues to use the name "Tailteann Games" for its annual schools inter-provincial championships.[22][23] also independently the tailteann games are an inter-gaeltacht event that includes other activities.[24]

The Gaelic Athletic Association's (GAA) Tailteann Cup, established in 2022, takes its name from the ancient games.[25] Páirc Tailteann, a GAA stadium in Navan, County Meath, also takes its name from the games.

Annalistic references

See Annals of Inisfallen


  1. ^ a b c T. H. Nally (30 June 2008). The Aonac Tailteann and the Tailteann Games, Their History and Ancient Associations. Jesson Press. ISBN 978-1-4097-8189-9. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  2. ^ Tailteann Games place in history going for a song By Seán Diffley, Irish Independent, Saturday July 14, 2007
  3. ^ Malcolm, Nigel., & Quinn, Billy., Teltown Impact Assessment Report, 2009.
  4. ^ Lebor Gabála Érenn, original text edited and translated by R A Stewart Macalister, D. Litt, Part IV: Irish Texts Society, Volume 41, pp. 59, 115, 117, 149, 177, 179, London 1941. ISBN 1-870166-41-8.
  5. ^ Geoffrey Keating (1866). Foras feasa ar Eirinn ... The history of Ireland, tr. and annotated by J. O'Mahony. pp. 301–. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  6. ^ Tim Delaney; Tim Madigan (30 April 2009). The Sociology of Sports: An Introduction. McFarland. pp. 42–. ISBN 978-0-7864-4169-3. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  7. ^ William H. Freeman (21 January 2011). Physical Education, Exercise and Sport Science in a Changing Society. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. pp. 80–. ISBN 978-0-7637-8157-6. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  8. ^ Peter Matthews (22 March 2012). Historical Dictionary of Track and Field. Scarecrow Press. pp. 2–. ISBN 978-0-8108-6781-9. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  9. ^ Martin Connors; Diane L. Dupuis; Brad Morgan (1992). The Olympics factbook: a spectator's guide to the winter and summer games. Visible Ink. ISBN 978-0-8103-9417-9. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  10. ^ Terence Brown (1985). Ireland: a social and cultural history, 1922-1985, p. 82. Fontana Press. ISBN 978-0-00-686082-2. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  11. ^ H. E. L. Mellersh; Neville Williams (1 April 1999). Chronology of world history, p. 15. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-57607-155-7. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  12. ^ Grolier Incorporated (2000). The Encyclopedia Americana, pp. 892 & 905. Grolier. ISBN 978-0-7172-0133-4. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  13. ^ John T. Koch (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 777–. ISBN 978-1-85109-440-0. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  14. ^ "The Tailteann Games, 1924-1936". The Irish Story.
  15. ^ Melvyn Watman, History of British Athletics. Hale, London, 1968.
  16. ^ O'Donovan, J., O'Curry, E., Hancock, W. N., O'Mahony, T., Richey, A. G., Hennessy, W. M., & Atkinson, R. (eds.) (2000). Ancient laws of Ireland, published under direction of the Commissioners for Publishing the Ancient Laws and Institutes of Ireland. Buffalo, New York: W.S. Hein. ISBN 1-57588-572-7. (Originally published: Dublin: A. Thom, 1865-1901. Alternatively known as Hiberniae leges et institutiones antiquae.)
  17. ^ Cronin, Mike (2007). "The Gaelic Athletic Association's Invasion of America, 1888: Travel Narratives, Microhistory and the Irish American 'Other'". Sport in History. 27 (2): 190–216. doi:10.1080/17460260701437011. ISSN 1746-0263. S2CID 143931786.
  18. ^ "Iomadoirí Iasachta". Second Dáil debates. 8 June 1922. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  19. ^ Cronin, Mike (2016). "Projecting the Nation through Sport and Culture: Ireland, Aonach Tailteann and the Irish Free State, 1924-32". Journal of Contemporary History. 38 (3): 395–411. doi:10.1177/0022009403038003004. ISSN 0022-0094. JSTOR 3180644. S2CID 146215048.
  20. ^ Fitzsimons, Jack (5 December 1985). "White Paper on Tourism Policy: Motion (Resumed)". Seanad Éireann Debates. Oireachtas. Vol.110 no.6 p.5 c.715. Retrieved 2 August 2017. Teltown is not far from Kells. The Tailteann games were world renowned. They could be revived. There is great potential in this area.
  21. ^ "Donegal Ras Cycling Team" (Press release). Cycling Ireland. 13 May 2014. Retrieved 1 August 2017. This is the fourth year of An Post's sponsorship of the celebrated Rás Tailteann, which is more commonly known as The Rás.
  22. ^ a b "Irish Schools Athletics Champions 1916-2015" (PDF). 8 May 2015. p. 2. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  23. ^ "Tailteann Games provide another thrilling spectacle". Athletics Ireland. 26 June 2017. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  24. ^ "Incredible images from the Tailteann Games, the ancient Irish predecessor to the Olympics". 4 May 2018.
  25. ^ "Tailteann Cup Q&A". The Irish Times.