Took the car and headed out into the country. I had originally planned on going out to Galway or the west, which is meant to be pretty. Based on the mount of little historical markers in the area though, I decided on a trip up north, to County Meath area, which would be a lot less driving. And given that I had a shitty (brand new) renault megane, less driving was a fine option.
Headed off north. The Motorway was quite impressive. Barely any traffic, mid morning on a Saturday, and you could absolutely eat up the miles. Admired the Boyne Bridge as I passed. I had a Dolmen on my list of places to see, but missed the turnoff for it, and decided to see it on the way back.
Nearly missed my next turnoff, and almost ended up in Northern Island. Not really on my list of things to do. Might have just been a drive across, but wasn't really interested. (Later that night, Belfast collapsed into three days of firebombing and rioting, the worst they'd had in a couple of years)
I had my eye on a nice hill road through the mountains, passing a couple of historical markers (according to the map) and down to a big long fjord/bay.
Scratch one. There was a lookout place, but it was fenced off, and had no signage when I walked up there anyway. No idea why it was fenced off. Seemed like a pretty standard carpark/picnic area/lookout.
Driving down the bay, passed a nice old ruined castle, that wasn't on the map. So much for that one. Still couldn't shake the feeling that all of ireland was just a rundown dump buried in a sea of green.
Came back down and took the turnoff to the Dolmen marked on my map. It was also marked on the street sign. "Dolmen, this way!" And then I got to the end of the street, and the sign was now pointing the other way. Did another lap, but fucks me where it was. I guess it was on someone's farm. But you'd never know. You don't actually get a view driving on irish country roads. Not unless you count watching hedges rush past as a view.
Whatever. Let's go and look for this Newgrange place that people had talked about.
Yet more wonderful navigation, trying to follow road signs and the map. Not a very obvious area, and not a very good map, though it appeared good before I started trying to actually use it.
Eventually got to Bru Na Boine, which is the "entrance" to Newgrange, Knowth, and some other place. A bit of a confusing system of coloured stickers, times and buses and bus stops out in the farmland, which eventually took me back to a place I'd driven past earlier.
And, lo and behold, it was actually worth it. Newgrange is a mound tomb, 5500 years old, (a few hundred years older than the pyramids at Giza) The stone wall, though impressive looking, turns out to be a total reconstruction, based on what they think it might have looked like, though naturally, there's been debate about that. And they have have a big cutout section that they've faced with black stone to symbolise that it's not original. Even though the rest of the wall isn't either. Back to the tomb!
You get a bit of time to walk around out side, and admire the rolling green irishness of it all. You can see another small mound down on a neighbouring farm, and a couple more in the distance. This area has lots of them it seems, but three big big ones. And it is big!
Eventually, you get to go inside, and you walk/stoop/squeeze along this passageway for a good 40-45m or so. (I can't remember exactly, but it's a long way) And there's a small domed chamber, with three alcoves off to the side. There's even a block of shaped granite sitting in one of them. It's been ground back to make a great big dish.
The construction in here is all original. Which is damn cool. A stacked domed roof, 5500 years old, and completely watertight to this day. And then they turn the lights off, to reveal the cool trick that newgrange has to offer. It's far enough inside, and the track slopes up enough that it's completely dark in here. Cave dark, not just dark dark.
Now, it turns out that the passageway you walked in on, is aligned for the winter solstice, and the "window" over the front door, actually let's light reach all the way back into the floor of the centre of the tomb, for about 15 minutes on the winter solstice, and a few minutes on each day either side. The park people have set up a light that simulates this, mounted in the window box, and it's damn impressive.
I signed up for the lottery to be one of the 50 odd people from around the world that are invited to come and visit around the solstice each year, and sit in the dark for half an hour hoping for a clear morning.
This was a really worthwhile trip. The visitor center was pretty good too.
Then onwards, trying to track down another one of these dome mounds. There was one marked on my map, called Four Knocks, but again, the correlation of maps and signs to actual real life was surprisingly slim.
Stopped at Ardcath, where I had signs pointing in both directions, and ended up having a lovely time wandering around an old churchyard/cemetary. The photos describe it best. Basically, the church is long gone, just the walls remain, and now the graves are inside the church even, and on all sides.
Quite a spread of ages of graves here, from only a few years old to a few hundred, and some with new headstones for old graves, from rededications. I was also quite impressed at the dedicated nature of people, keeping the cemetary (and others I saw while touring Ireland) positively overflowing with flowers at all times. I guess it just goes with being Catholic? (Same goes for the motivation to put "I have suffered" on your headstone.)
Driving home, and following my nose, I all of a sudden came on another sign for Four Knocks! Crazy roads. This tomb you can enter on your own, but I was too late in the day to go and pick up the key from the farmer who holds it, but had a look around outside anyway. It's much smaller, maybe 8m in diameter, and looks a lot cozier and less flashy than Newgrange. Looks like a great big grass igloo more than anything else actually.
Ireland was turning around after all!
That night, I went out with a colleague, and had a fabulous time, drinking around Temple Bar, and eventually some other places, and then wine and pizza into the early morning with some people I met that night. (this continued again the next weekend with concerts, more dancing and more beer, but it's not illustrated and is really a story of it's own right)
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