Tag Archives: Knowth

Newgrange & Knowth

Ireland 2007–Newgrange & Knowth

Here’s another excerpt from my trip to Ireland in Sept./Oct. of 2007

We left Dublin on the 28th of Sept. However, trying to navigate out of a city that’s centuries old with winding streets and missing signs was quite a challenge. The 15-minute drive from the car rental place to our guesthouse took an hour and a half.

The guesthouse gave us directions north on the M1 when in fact the map showed that we really wanted M2 to get to Newgrange. Part of the problem is that here you have a map that fills your lap of all Ireland, the same as a map of British Columbia.  A map even of BC would mean hours of driving so our sense of size and distance were skewed.

On top of that, let’s say that Dublin tourism has good maps. They list some of the more known sites. They list major roads and smaller subroutes or connector roads. However, the sites are sometimes before a town when they’re shown as being in the town, or north of a place when shown to be west of a place. Some of those connector roads don’t connect to anything but a playground while there are new routes not listed anywhere on the map. We had three maps and none were accurate.

We took N1 with my sister driving and I kept trying to navigate us back to M2. What a mistake. We did end up in a subdevelopment, a schoolyard, on the M1 and back to still being on the M1 (which can disappear and become the M1 and then R125 or something and then back to being the M1). All this plus navigating the many roundabouts any time there is a road leading in a different direction. We were told to turn at a cemetery by a local at one point and either she’d never been up that road in years or they moved the cemetery, bodies and all.

So, eventually with half the day gone after starting at 11 am to get the car, we made it to the Huntsman Inn somewhere around 4 pm. We stopped in because it looked cute except for the scary horse thing outside. Thatched roof and a few hundred years old, it seems it was competing as the oldest pub/tavern/restaurant with other places. We saw several of these signs and had, while in Dublin, bought a drink at the Stags Head and the Brazen Head pubs, both the oldest for something. Though there were nice staff, I had truly awful onion rings with soft doughy outer layer and soft, too fleshy wings. Blech.

Revitalized and coming to realize that though it’s a short distance through Ireland, it’s not a fast ride, we continued on. We even found Newgrange all by ourselves…but about a half hour too late to get into that day. So we drove along the road to Slain (Slane) and asked there about B&Bs. We stayed at the lovely little Roughgrange home of Irene and her husband, mere minutes from Newgrange, itself a 17th century grange (form of ranch house). We trotted off to Donore for dinner in a pub and had fairly acceptable food with a few massive potatoes.

The next morning we decided to stay a second night as we had plenty in that area to see and drove off to Newgrange. Only done by tour (not enough time as far as I was concerned) we went first to Knowth (nowth for pronunciation). This was the first of many experiences with the stones of Ireland. Knowth and Newgrange are megalithic (or neolithic depending on the info) passage tombs that date back 5-6000 years. These were Stone to Bronze Age cultures. Knowth’s chamber was bigger and there were several mounds of varying sizes.

There have been upgrades to the mounds as over the centuries they were farmed or even had small villages starting up on the top of the mounds. Excavation was needed to bring back the kerbstones which are made of a stone called greywacke (greywacky). I believe only one was missing. In most of the passage tombs there is an alignment to one of the solstices or an equinox. As well, cremated human remains were found and in some the bodies of several people. Archaeologists know these were used for ceremonial or ritual purposes in the earliest days. Knowth and Newgrange are the oldest manmade structures in the world.

The sense of age and history is immense. I could almost see the people moving amongst these revered mounds of long ago, imagine the importance of sun and rain and the turning wheel of the seasons. This was the beginning of a growing sense of stone in Ireland, as if I was being etched, like the whorls and swirls that were set in these kerbstones of long ago to endure weather and touch, and the changing of culture and times.

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Travel: We’re in Belfast

I was hoping to post something else today but by my late hour, I’m swamped at work. So here’s another one from my Ireland trip. First posted on Blogger on 9/30/07
Well, we spent till Friday in Dublin and went to pick up the car on Friday morning. Then with at least six people asked for directions we seemed to cross the Liffey and cross back so we were on the south side when we should have been on the north side. We did Baggot St. and lots of Dublin that we never meant to do. Plus we went far east before ending up going south and north again. A 15 minute drive took about an hour and a half.

The Charleville was very good to us and didn’t charge us for being late. We also had to get her to show us how the reverse worked in the car, which even she couldn’t find so we had to call the rental company. Signs in Ireland and in Dublin can be nonexistent, or on buildings, and covered by trees. Not to mention no streets are parallel. This city wasn’t planned, it grew. Many intersections have five or six streets off of them too.

Randi drove and I navigated and it was a big big mess. Finally we got directions out of Dublin to go north but they gave us the N1 when we needed the N2. We tried to get over but they have all of these semie routes (R123, R153, etc.) and somehow not on one of the three maps we had was there any R132. The ones that showed on the map petered out into townships and at one point we asked a woman at a petrol stn. where to go and she said turn left at the garda stn. (police) and right at the cemetery. Maybe they moved it because all we saw was a subdivision with children playing so maybe they were zombies. Eventually, four hours later we made it to Newgrange, 45 minutes too late.

We drove into Slane, a cute little town with a castle and asked if there were any B&Bs and it turns out there was a wedding in town so that there were no openings. But we got a place just 2 km from Newgrange and Roughgrange farm with a lovely woman, Irene, and her husband. Clean, cheapish, and friendly. We went into Donore that night for dinner at Daly’s a pub and a restaurant.

Next day, Saturday, we went to Newgrange and Knowth (neolithich passage graves), then on to the Hill of Tara (soggy soggy weather), then on to Trim Castle and St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral in Trim. We drove into Kells but were too late and would have had to wait till 2 pm today. So we drove back to Slane and had a drink at the Village Inn Bar (disappointment is that there is only one type of cider so far in Ireland–Bulmers) then across to the Old Post Office Restaurant and B&B, one of only 2 places in Slane that serves food. It was pretty good but food is not cheap here. (Meals can be about 20€ average though you can get pub meals for cheaper.) We also had a good, not cheap meal in Dublin at Fitzers; very yummy and good for celiacs which my sister is.

I should say that I took over driving on Saturday and we’re both much happier. My sister tended to scream and freeze if she saw a car coming at her. The Garda swerved into our lane to get around traffic and the streets are very narrow and windy and the speed limits relatively fast. Except for getting down that center line thing and not going too far left, I’m doing okay. The care we have is crap and very hard to shift into the correct 1st or 2nd gear. And we couldn’t find a way to open the gas tank today, nor the gas jockey. Turns out you just push the lid.

This morning we did Monasterboice and Mellifont Abbey before heading north.

Time’s nearly out but we’re hoping to see the Crown saloon here and go off towards Giants Causeway tonight. Whoo and we made it into Belfast without a map of the city.

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The Stones of Ireland: I

Giants Causeway In October, 2007 I travelled to Ireland, a place I had wanted to visit for years. I’m not sure why exactly as there is no Irish in my blood and other countries have more and bigger castles. It was more the sense of rolling green hills and the land of faery, a romantic notion perhaps.

We circumnavigated Ireland in two weeks, going north, then west, then south and east, starting and ending in Dublin. There were some key sites we wanted to see but then let ourselves be guided by road signs and guide books.

This was a mostly outdoor expedition involving trips to old castles and monasteries and some cemeteries, as well as driving through the changing landscape. The history of the architecture and how it had changed over time was fascinating, small enclosures and Viking settlements built over with increasingly sophisticated fortifications or ecclesiastical buildings.

Newgrange and Knowth were amazing in that these structures were built over 5,000 years ago and are older than the pyramids of Egypt. Some of the passage tombs fell apart or were scavenged for stones for other buildings and roads. Many of these barrows have a corridor or an interior built with slabs of stone, then dirt is mounded over. Newgrange’s corbeled stone roof has never leaked in 5,000 years. The hummocked hills gave rise to the tales of the homes of the sidhe and the Tuatha de Danan.

Knowth BarrowsOther barrows were built over with time, dirt being added, and villages or cattle settling upon them. Some of their original use is a mystery but some contain bones or human ashes. Others may have been ceremonial or religious structures. Newgrange is the most impressive as it was built upon a hill and the outer wall lined with white quartz (this was rebuilt in more recent times and there is argument as to how it may actually have been placed), which would be striking in the bright sun and visible for miles around.

Giants Causeway on the north coat of Northern Ireland was a natural structure of basalt rock that had been rapidly heated and cooled millennia ago causing large octagonal pillars to form. They break apart in slabs, maintaining their structure and can be walked over like steps. Some form natural seats or chairs. There is a section called the organ because it looks like a giant pipe organ in the hill. There seems to only be that one area in Ireland that has such unique stones.

The castles and monasteries abounded as well as the very old cemetery of Monasterboice with the millennium old tower (imagine Rapunzel) that they believe was used for storage, sanctuary and to watch for marauders. Some of the carvings on pillars still showed wonderful detail; leaves, faces both animal and human, various designs. Some of the blocks of stone seemed to have been placed with a sense of tone, dark and light stones alternating, or smaller pebbles placed in the mortar between larger stones.

Over the centuries many of these castles and churches fell into ruin but they were not abandoned. Tombs and graves pepper every place. The oldest monastery floors are nothing but tomb after tomb. There is nothing to do but walk over the bones of the past. Even walls have been taken over, a person interred into the very foundation and a plaque sealing them in. The oldest readable stones go to the 1700s. Older than that, the words become too worn away, by feet and weather. There are graves dating over a thousand years in some cases, right up to months of the current date.

Some graveyards have been held by the ruling families or clans and there might be dozens of McDonnells buried in one area such as Ballycastle. Other graves are family plots and in the more modern ones, configured by a low fence, a bar, about six inches from the ground. These more modern plots have pebbled glass or stone in different combinations of color, and some flowers, real or not. Some are very individual. Headstones often denote many generations entombed in the plot, going back a century or more. At one Benedictine monastery there was a family of four cleaning and smoothing the stones of their family’s plot on a sunny day.

Continued tomorrow

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