Irish Sporting Games: A Big Event 1,000 Years Before Greek Olympics
Like in Greece, pre-historic Irish history was threaded together with tales of giants, gods and goddesses battling for supremacy over earth, and humans. But did you know it was the latter, not the former, that gave birth to the first organized sporting games? The Greeks are credited with inventing the shower, automatic doors, computers, cartography, and sports stadiums. However, what they are not getting any longer is a shred of credit for having created the first sporting games. That gold medal goes to Ireland.
The Olympic Games were held in the Greek city of Olympia from 776 BC through 393 AD. The games thrived, then went cold for more than 1500 years before the first modern Olympics were staged in 1896 in Athens, Greece. This is the accepted historical story behind the first formal sporting games where warriors and sportsmen competed for glory. However, this is flat out wrong because the Irish sporting games were “a thing” a thousand years before the first Greek games at Olympia.
Renee Clarke with neighbor Oliver Sweeney at the old graveyard in Teltown. Renee would like to resurrect the Irish sporting games of old, which are called the Tailteann Games and according to ancient Irish history those games were first held in Teltown starting between 1829 BC and 1600 BC. This was long before the Greeks staged their first Olympic games in Olympia, Greece! (Meath Chronicle)
Renee Clark: Champion for Reviving the Irish Sporting Games
Renee Clarke has lived at 17th-century Teltown House, on the banks of the River Blackwater, between Oristown and Donaghpatrick in County Meath, Ireland, for 20 years. The historic building has been run as a bed and breakfast amidst the archaeological wonderlands that surround it, including a pre-Christian cemetery and rock art dated to around 2000 BC.
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Renee is now championing a new plan to revive the historical “Tailteann Games.” According to an article in the Meath Chronicle, Teltown is an “ancient royal assembly site” where the first Celtic sporting games were held, which became the “inspiration for the current Olympics.”
The Greek city of Olympia is located near the western coast of the Peloponnese peninsula, 10 miles (16 km) inland from the Ionian Sea. Besides being the traditional home of the first games, the site was a place of worship dedicated to the Greek god Zeus, the king of Mount Olympus, from about the 10th century BC.
Similarly, the ancient Irish sporting games were also named after a deity: the mythical goddess Tailtiu. Having defeated the Fir Bolg she became Queen of the Tuatha Dé Dannan. Tailtiu, though so very ancient, has historical connections with modern-day Teltown where Renee Clarke lives.
The 3rd Tailteann Games in Ireland in 1932. The first Irish sporting games in the 20th century were staged in 1924, a revival of the ancient games that preceded the Greek Olympics by a thousand years! (gaanostalgia)
Ancient Games, In The Name Of Older Gods
According to the 11th century “Book of Invasions,” Lugh Lámhfhada, was the foster-son of Queen Tailtiu. When she died he buried Tailtiu beneath a mound “in an area that took her name,” Tailteann, in County Meath. The grieving warrior founded the “Tailteann Games” in his queen’s honor and the event was held during the last fortnight of July and culminated with the celebration of Lammas Eve (August 1st).
The first recorded Olympic Games were held in Greece in 776 BC. And yet, many Celtic folklore resources have the Tailteann Games starting between 1829 BC and 1600 BC. The ancient Irish sporting games were presided over by kings. The ancient Irish “Olympics” lasted until 1169-1171 AD, when Rory O’Connor, the last High King of Ireland, ruled. Soon after this, the island was invaded by the Normans.
The Táilteann Games were revived in 1924 following the Irish Civil war in front of 20,000 spectators. At the opening event in that year, young men dressed as 11th-century Gaelic warriors, accompanied with regal Irish wolfhounds, paraded before the crowd. It is this lost packet of Irish history that bed and breakfast owner Renee Clarke wants to revive.
The Táilteann Games were revived in 1924 following the Irish Civil war in front of 20,000 spectators. In that year’s event, young men dressed as 11th-century Gaelic warriors, accompanied by “royal” Irish wolfhounds, paraded before the crowd. (Irish Legacy)
Games And Banqueting Fit For Kings
The home of the first organized Irish sporting games is located near a pre-Christian cemetery in Teltown, known for its rock art dating back to 2,000 BC. Clearly, this cemetery was an important site of pre-Celtic culture.
As is true of nearly all cultures, burial sites and martial arts (the root of all sports) are perhaps two of the most revealing signs of a developing culture.
An article in The Irish Story explains that the games of the early period in Ireland fulfilled three basic purposes: “to honour the illustrious dead, to promulgate new laws, and to provide entertainment for the people.”
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While the Normans were invading Ireland, the last games program famously stated, “A foreign power now held sway in Ireland and the games, with the other national gatherings, were heard of no more.” However, without such invasions occurring today Renee hopes to revive the ancient Tailteann Games amidst this historic landscape in timeless Ireland.
Top image: This image of the opening event of the first revived “modern” Irish sporting games is from 1924 and inspires a sense of regal elegance, competition, and celebration. Source: The Little Museum of Dublin
By Ashley Cowie