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What a pity 'sacred flame' will miss ancient Tailteann Games

When they are displaying the Olympic Torch through O'Connell Street en route to the London festival this summer, it would be an appropriate gesture to pay some sort of tribute to a much more ancient Games.

That's the Tailteann Games, just down the road, a few minutes from Kells in a place now known as Telltown.

The Tailteann Games were first held in honour of Queen Tailte back in 1829BC. The ancient Olympics were first held in Greece in 776 BC, which means that the festival in Royal Meath is 1,053 years older.

In his history of athletics in these islands, Melvyn Watman writes: "...the most ancient of all sports festivals were the Tailteann Games, which are thought to have been established as long ago as 1829 BC. Staged in County Meath, this annual 30-day gathering included such events as foot racing and stone throwing, and it survived in all its splendour until the Norman invasion in AD1168".

But a gesture of appreciation towards this most ancient of all the planet's sporting celebrations?

The denizens of O'Connell Street will hardly deign to cast their eyes westwards, just a few miles down the road, and the majestic members of the International Olympic Committee will luxuriate in their graciousness of allowing the sacred flame to make an entrance to this green and misty isle of ours.

But nothing else. No question of the flame taking a detour to ensure that Queen Tailte is not forgotten.

The Kells Tourism Forum is organising a Tailteann Pre-Olympic Tournament in June to be held on the ancient site of the Tailteann Games.

And some of the events hark back to the ancient times. There is running, but also tossing the sheaf, stone throwing, throwing horseshoes, tug-o'-war for schools, javelin throwing and many running events.

The hosts on the famous site are Peter Mooney of Grangeclare Paddocks, and Bartle and Renee Clarke of Telltown House. Lucy 0'Reilly will assist -- email info@kellstourismforum.com

It is strange, really, that Baron Pierre de Coubertain was never acquainted with the historic Tailteann Games.

He was engrossed in the English public school and university culture -- the Tom Brown syndrome, Oxford, Cambridge, Eton, Harrow -- and the discovery that a local doctor in a Shropshire village had been running his Much Wenlock Olympian Society.

When de Coubertain held that historic meeting in 1894 in Paris to start the modern Olympics there was an Irishman present, Dr Laurence Bulger. But there is no evidence that Tailteann was even mentioned.

In 1924 the Tailteann festival was briefly revived, with the athletic events at Croke Park.

There was also some concentration on the cultural aspect in the newly founded state.

WB Yeats was the chairman of the invitation committee, but George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and Sean O'Casey spurned his overtures. GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were among the notables who did turn up.

Anyway, good luck to Kells and Telltown in June.

Irish Independent