Tag Archives: Newgrange

Slieve League and Carrowmore

On Tuesday Oct. 2 we bopped around Donegal for part of the day, using an internet cafe, seeing Donegal castle (which we drove around three times because we couldn’t find it behind the trees and the wall, and then couldn’t find the parking), and doing a wee bit of shopping.

I tried to call a woman near Carrick on Shannon. I’d been given her name by a friend but the one thing we never mastered were the phones. It was a phone booth on the street. I tried punching the number. I tried putting money in. I tried various buttons on the phone and only got the long distance operator who I couldn’t hear anyways for all of the traffic. So we never did see Bee, but then we didn’t pass through her area. Of course in retrospect, it was probably only a half hour from where we did drive.

Slieve League was past Killybegs, a small fishing town west of Donegal. We drove out and it was a meandering drive along or near part of the coast. This is tweed country; lots of sheeps and a few tweed shops that we stopped in, partially for directions. So we drove and drove and weren’t sure if we there so we asked a man, dressed in that classic Irish farmer attire of cap, tweed jacket, baggy pants and wellies In Ireland the standard greetings is “How are you doing?” This man was walking along the small village road. I believe there might have been a total of 20 cottages at most and it was at the end of nowhere. I don’t know if that was Killybegs or not. I think not but I don’t know what that village was called.

He said we were on the right road for Slieve League and as it turned out it was only about five minutes past that village, and dead ended there. We were high on cliffs and below was a long reddish sand beach. It was a long hike down the stairs and would have been a long sweat up. We didn’t go down as it was getting late in the day. We could see a couple of people sunbathing down there.

As we drove back we found the sign to the Bunglass Cliffs.  Since the guy at the tweed shop had mentioned them we decided to go check them out. I’m sure if my sister realized what we were getting into she would have run screaming.

We drove through a village as tiny as the one at Slieve League, passing dogs, goats and chickens all running about the road. We rounded a corner where the family working in their yard kind of stared at us like we were mad. Then began the ascent. I’ve lived in BC and Alberta all my life. We have mountains, the Rockies, and some mountain roads are treacherous switchbacks. This was something else.

At first it wasn’t too bad but then it wound higher and higher. And then we were on a hairpin where you looked across to the other side of the hairpin (about 75 feet away) with nothing but cliffs down the curve. My sister, who is terrified of heights, said not a word, breathing heavily and grasping the car door handle so tight I thought she’d take it off. I could hear it squeaking but didn’t dare look. And she was on the outside edge.

It was in fact fairly treacherous. I was only going about 5km and if we’d met someone coming the other direction, I’m not sure what we would have done as the road wasn’t big enough for two. Then there were the spot where suddenly we were looking straight at the sky. The car was at more than a 45 degree angle facing up. I had to take it on faith that there was road on the other side and crept over the edge. We didn’t stay up there very long. My sister was a bit too nervous and once you saw the view in a few moments (and the sheep) there wasn’t much else to do. However, the Bunglass Cliffs are the highest cliffs in all of Europe so my sister had a right to be nervous with the height. And I have to say my heart was beating a little fast on the way up. It was easier going down and a pretty good view.

Names like slieve, killy, kil, bally, carrow, bun all mean something specifically in Gaelic, such as hill or bay or mound or… I have no idea what Killybegs meant or Slieve League but there are a few place names that have the similar beginning.

Ireland 2007–Slieve League & Carrowmore

We then started beetling south to outside of Sligo. We wanted to do the Carrowmore passage tombs and thought we would go that far for the night and have a head start in the morning. Regretfully I saw nothing of Galway. We made an error this night by being far too late in travelling. It was dark by the time we ended up in the vicinity and I think we were near Lough Arrow (lough means lake) because there was coast on one side. But it was so dark we couldn’t see a B&B anywhere and finally found a small pub/tavern with rooms upstairs. It was dirty and cold (no heat), the shower didn’t work in my sister’s room and the rooms were so small we had to lift our suitcases over the bed. We did find a little restaurant farther in (if we’d known we could have checked that area for rooms) that had fairly good food. Many places did a combo course of appetizer and/or dessert plus a main course, so for 25 euros it was okay. The food was decent too but never that cheap in Ireland.

In the morning, Wednesday, we trotted off to Carrowmore and with the customary few wrong turns (though not many) found Carrowmore just as it was opening. It rained quite heavily while we were walking through the fields. These are small mounds or rings of rocks, and a few dolmen tombs. Not as impressive of Newgrange, still I found it interesting and the number of graves brought such a sense of time and history. We finished in under two hours, soaked to our knees, so we changed in the bathroom and then drove on. This was the wettest day we had in Ireland and we dropped Queen Maeve’s tomb from the walks as it would have been 45 minutes slogging through the rain.

Still, overcast sky and the wet gave very rich color to all of the photos.

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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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St Peter & Paul’s Cathedral, and Old Mellifont Abbey

First posted Oct. 31, 2007. I’d like to get back to Ireland this year.

I find beauty in stone and architecture, in details and the juxtaposition against sky and flora. St Peter and Paul’s Cathedral was in the town of Trim and not far from the castle. Trim was a very important center at one time. We happened upon the cathedral and just stopped. I loved the sense of age, the details still visible, and that the cemetery was still in use.

The days are blurring together but we arrived in the Newgrange/County Meath area on the Friday evening, then spent Saturday and part of Sunday bopping about before we went north. I can’t remember if we did Trim on Sunday or if it was one of the last things on Saturday. The time of day and that the castle was nearly closed when we hit it makes me think that the cathedral was the last place on Saturday.

We then wandered back to Slaine (that we never did get pictures of nor see the castle because it was booked for weddings). We ate at “the Old Post Office” but had drinks at the pub across the street first until they had space for us. There was a guy playing music but it was 80s tunes. Alas, N.A. rock made its mark everywhere, when we wanted Irish traditional.

So on Sunday, after saying so long to Irene of the Roughgrange B&B right near Newgrange (she was lovely and very friendly) we moved on to Old Mellifont Abbey, a cistercian monastery first founded in 1142 AD by St. Malachy. Of course, it was constructed and expanded over centuries and there were even ruins of one of the old houses on the hill. The rain spittered and spattered but never did more than that.

The detail in the columns were amazing and the sense of age was powerful. I got in trouble at the visitor center for saying we have such little history in Canada. I amended it to say architectural and civic history, because we do have history. But the artifacts of the first Nations were mostly of wood and leather and just as all the places no longer have their roofs in Ireland, we have very little (especially in western Canada) that goes back more than two centuries at most.

The sense of people living, adapting, changing through all those years is stunning. Nature is amazing and what humans have done, both good and bad, awe inspiring too.

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Hill of Tara and Trim Castle

Written on Oct. 22/07 from my trip to Ireland.
This is all still part of our very busy Saturday. After we left Newgrange we trotted up to the Hill of Tara. At one point, at a four-way intersection there were two signs at right angles, both saying Tara. Ah those funny Irish. Turns out one was for the town and one for the Hill. Hard to tell though I think we found the “brown” heritage/tourist sign at one point. Not that it pointed the right way either.

After stopping at a gas station (let me guess, said the owner, you’re lost and looking for the Hill of Tara–only about 100 people have come by) we found our way. The Hill of Tara is…well, a hill, a great big, luscious green hill, with a mound or two, with runnels around it. It’s a hill (Cormac’s House), a hill fort, a passage tomb (mound of the hostages) and numerous other things. I don’t think we saw all of it as it was a murky wet day and wet grass makes things soggy. The Stone of Destiny shown in some of the pictures was supposedly moved in 1798 to commemorate the death of 400 Irishmen who fought the British. It was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland from the 6-12th centuries and the stone was said to cry out when the true king touched it. (I wonder how they worked that miracle).

There is a little cemetery and church dating back only a couple of hundred years I believe. Or at least the stones we could see. But the age of the Hill of Tara goes back to neolithic times with other parts being of Roman and medieval times. Its significance is still great in Ireland. But there is danger of a motorway being put through this historic hill and a petition is being circulated to stop the motorway from destroying it.

We went on to Trim castle which was founded by Hugh de Lacy in the 12th century. Its more recent claim to fame is that it was used in filming Braveheart. But the ruins are quite fabulous. We hit it at the end of the day and didn’t get the tour of the inside of the castle. I believe it’s only a ruin though, no furniture. The tour would have consisted of talking about its different defenses and construction techniques as the tower has twenty sides.

There was a lovely little wedding going one with the men in coats and tails. Yeah, if I ever got married a castle would definitely be a great setting. We didn’t really stick around in Trim, the town, but drove through to an abbey, shown in the next set.

Ireland 2007–Hill of Tara & Trim Castle

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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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