Tag Archives: Monasterboice

Travel: Monasterboice, Land of High Crosses

Ireland 2007–Monasterboice

Just click on the pictures to go to the album and each picture has more information in the caption.

Monasterboice is now just a cemetery but it has a long history. Founded first in the 4th century by St Buite who died in 521, it has seen many incarnations. It laso had significance to Mellifont Abbey. The tower and the High Crosses date from the tenth century though the tower might be even older. The original abbey is long gone but there are remains of two 14th century abbeys. Over a thousand years of use here, and there is still significant detail left. I can only imagine how majestic these crosses were in their virgin state. I did not know before that the reason there is the round circle on the crosses is that the versions made of gold and jewels would start to bend under the weight of the design and the circle was a support structure to hold up the arms of the cross.

The day was wettish, trying to rain and leaden. The skies in the pictures appear missing for this reason. The moisture did bring out the text of the stone and add rich colors. There might have been on or to other people in the cemetery but really we had it to ourselves, which was nice for exploring. The crosses hold great detail, in stories and early Celtic/Irish design.

The tower, it is believed, was used for protection when the Vikings came by. It is still over 100 feet high and no longer complete. As well, over time, dirt has built up around the base and the once elevated doorway is now about 6-8 feet above ground. Of course this would have been used for storage and for a lookout as well.

Monasterboice was our last stop around the Newgrange area. It wasn’t far from the towns of Drogheda, (Pronounced Droda but you’d hear different pronunciations depending on whether the person was saying the Gaelic or the English version.) Tara or Slaine.

We never did get any pictures of Slaine (two weddings booked in the castle and there after dark for dinner the second night), and though we drove through Kells the night before it was too late for the tourist center. As it was now Sunday we would have had to hang around till 2 pm to get in and as it turns out, there are two Kells in Ireland. The other is in the southwest and neither house the Book of Kells, which I regret not seeing.

By this time we were getting a better sense of driving about and learning to just stop and ask directions, especially when we’d be at a corner that had signs pointing east and south at the same time. Signs for touristy things (landmarks, historic sites, beaches) were in brown and helped a lot in finding places. Towns were in white (w/black lettering) or green (w/white lettering). It seems the secondary routes were the white signs. The roundabouts, on the other hand, never really did get easy.

Next, Belfast to Ballycastle.

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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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