Well, first off – sorry for the multiple posts last night – my wifi was being flaky and my blog app kept telling me that my post had failed. Clearly, it lied. I tried to delete the extras. I think I did, but if not, I’ll clean it up in a couple of days on an actual computer.
Today was my last day running the roads of Ireland. My alarm rang at 5:30 and I looked out my window to the mist-filled morning. I left my B&B around when I’d hoped to. I had a good breakfast – cooked myself some eggs and stuff. I left some food behind for the next folks and I let Sinead know. She was getting the kids ready for school. And then I entered Monday morning rush hour.
Really, the drive was pretty decent. I knew where I was going up to a point and then from there, I expected the signage to be stellar. I was heading towards Dublin, after all.
And I was correct. It’s funny – 2-ish weeks later, I’m pushing the car to drive 120 km/h. Oh yes, I said km/h. Although I was doing not too badly translating the mph, it’s kind of like a language you’re not fluent in – there’s a translation moment in your head. And when I saw those circles saying 120 km/h, I said, “Hello, Republic of Ireland!” Don’t get me wrong, Northern Ireland is fantastic, but I would like to drive it with a speedometer that reads both.
So I knew which exit I needed for Monasterboice but it was also especially well signed. I pulled into the parking lot about two and a half hours after I left my B&B, and saw the broken tower peeking over the trees.
There was a tour group there, so I tried to stay out of their photos. I wandered the entire site and took some photos of the ruins and the tower. And the huge Celtic crosses with the ornate carvings. Amazing. The trees were filled with ravens just carrying on and I tried to get some strategic shots of them flying around the tower. I apparently did not, however, take any photos with the iTouch.
Then, I found my way to the Newgrange visitors centre. I hustled in to get a spot in the next tour group going – successfully. I got to wear an orange 12:15 sticker for just the tour to Newgrange. I had wanted to go to Knowth as well, but the lady told me it would take 3 hours and I still wanted to get to the Hill of Tara before I had to drop the car off at 5:00.
So I walked out to the bus stop, the first one, and was able to get right on the bus. I didn’t sit in the absolute front row but I did have a seat to myself. Not a lot of odd numbers in the parties there, apparently. And we were driven down to the site.
Our tour guide was Lisa, and she did a fantastic job. I really appreciated her balance of reverence, quiet excitement about the archaeology, honesty about the interpretation and slight bitterness at what has been lost from the site. It passed into history and became overgrown after the Neolithic people who built it abandoned the site – for whatever reason. But it was rediscovered in the late 1600s by the then landowner, Campbell’s, labourers, who he’d instructed to quarry the mound for stones because he wanted to improve the roads on his estate. Luckily, they began to dig at the doorway, which was overgrown and hidden, because otherwise they could have really damaged the site. Unfortunately, it remained under private control until the 1800s, when it passed to the state. During this time, it was left unprotected, and was further degraded with graffiti and the use of some of the stones to build a folly just to the side of the mound.
Luckily, it survived all this abuse to be standing today. The front face, which you can see is white, is controversial. This is a reconstruction that happened in the 1970s, and while the archaeologist who rebuilt the wall used scientific methods to determine as best he could where the stones were on the wall by how they had fallen, the reconstruction used concrete, so the angles of the reconstruction are not accurate to the original design.
It is an amazing reminder that Neolithic people weren’t stupid. They were us, with less technology. They were still able to engineer and build, align and transport things. The quartz of the face likely comes from the Wicklow Mountains, 30 or 50 km away to the south. The rounded granite “eggs” that also dot the face likely came from the Cooley Peninsula, 30 or 50 km to the north east. The kerbstones range from 1 to 10 tonnes, and were likely quarried 10 km away on the coast at Clogher Head. They were transported uphill using manpower and ingenuity. Probably log rolling, although the lighter ones could have been carried by twelve men with lashings and staves.
No photography was permitted inside (and one fellow “forgot” and took a picture of his girlfriend coming into the chamber). She indicated it was out of respect, since it is a tomb. Fair enough. It was amazing inside. The carvings in the stone were beautiful. An intricate spiral and diamond (lozenge) pattern was carved in the “ceiling” stones over the granite receptacle in the right hand recess, where someone’s remains once lay. In the left hand recess, a triple spiral triskele. In the topmost recess, a lot of graffiti. But also another spiral pattern. Our tour guide gave us a recreation of the Winter Solstice morning and the light has shifted with the Earth’s axis tilt change. It no longer comes directly straight across the chamber floor – now it has a diagonal to it. It ended at my toes actually, in the recreation.
We didn’t get to spend very long in there, and then we had to stoop our way out. While the one hall and the chamber allows us to stand straight, the passage was low in spots so I was very stooped, and at one point we had to turn sideways to make it through.
I walked around the perimeter looking at the kerbstones and seeing the carved ones, and then I had to go back because the bus was pulling up. One hour just flew by.
I went through the exhibit, and saw the audio visual presentation talking about the solstice alignment and how the other two passage graves of the triple complex (Knowth and Dowth) are oriented differently (equinox and sunset of summer solstice, respectively, I believe). Then, I asked the fellow at the gift shop how far the Hill of Tara was – at least half an hour. And it was going on to 3:00 at that point, and I was still at least 30 km from the Dublin airport. So I sadly skipped the Hill of Tara, where ancient Celtic kings were declared, and headed back to Dublin.
I took a city bus from the airport (at the grave recommendation of my shuttle bus driver) and the lady who sat besides me was descending at the same stop so she was able to orient me when we got off. So lovely. And I was only three blocks from my hotel.
I am sad to be leaving wonderful Ireland but hopefully I’ll be able to make it back sometime in my life. Next up, mini adventure in England and two travel days (not in that order).