It was the hallowed spot where generation after generation of O’Neill rulers were crowned for some 300 years — until the famous inauguration seat was destroyed at the order of Queen Elizabeth I.
The future of Tullaghoge Fort at Loughry, which stands on a hilltop between Cookstown and Stewartstown, is now secure for generations to come after it was taken over by Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
The ownership and some associated land has been transferred from the Department of Agriculture to protect the site.
The date of its construction is not known, but in the 11th century it became the dynastic centre and inauguration place of the Cenél Eóghain.
These were the descendants of Eoghan, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, later known as the northern O’Neills. It remained the ceremonial seat of the kings of Tír Eoghain even after the O’Neills moved their court to Dungannon at the end of the 13th century.
The traditional inauguration, the making of an O’Neill, was carried out on the hillside outside the fort where the Leac na Ri, the Stone of the Kings, stood.
The ceremony gave the individual the right to bear the title ‘the O’Neill’, head of the family that had ruled for centuries over Tyrone an area larger than today’s county.
Announcing the transfer, Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew said: “The transfer will enable Cookstown District Council and others to protect one of the most important historic sites in mid-Ulster, as well as improving public appreciation of its significance.”
Environment Minister Edwin Poots said the land transfer would provide opportunities to improve public access and car parking while safeguarding historical artefacts at the site.
Chairman of Cookstown District Council John McNamee said: “I thank minister Gildernew for taking on board the issues surrounding the current and future status of this key heritage site.”
Telach Oc or Tullaghoge Fort (hill of youth/mound of the young warriors) resembles an early Christian bivallate rath, an enclosed homestead with two banks and ditches. Unlike a rath, the fort was not a defensive structure, but a royal centre of power.
The boundaries are of ceremonial importance and are not a safeguard from attack.