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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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Filed under Culture, driving, food, history, Ireland, life, memories, myth, spirituality, travel

Things Irish

First posted in Oct. 9, 2007
Blarney–we heard many a tall tale in Ireland and the gift of the gab runs through many, it seems. Now that we’re nearly on the home-front we’ve checked the internet and if Liam’s fish whacking is a record it’s only in Killybegs or Donegal as there is no listing. But somehow we’re not surprised by this in the least.

Almost all the toilet bowls in Ireland are quite roundish, kinda cute…as toilet bowls go. The handles are on the right instead of the left in Canadian/US toilets. Why one side or the other, who knows?

Latches on almost every bathroom door are slide latches. It seems to be the latch style of choice. Door knobs on exterior doors are often in the middle of the door.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a face cloth at any B&B or guesthouse. I hate water in my face so I always use one. Luckily I brought my own.

About 80% of the places we stayed didn’t have hairdryers.

Everything from toothbrushes (equiv. of $8-13) to hair mousse (equiv. of $10) is really expensive.

I’ve been called love or lass but no other form, besides “girls.” So my friends who think chicken (never heard this one even the first time around Eng. and Scotland many years ago) must be remembering a local idiom from somewhere.

I was told that no matter where you are there pretty much would be the friendly Irish and you wouldn’t be sitting alone for long or they would start buying you drinks. This friendliness was apparent in the towns but by no means universal. The resort areas and modern cities were as friendly…or as unfriendly as every big, trendy place. Kilkenny would have been the same except for the lads from the North.

Food was generally of high quality and in large quantities. I had a traditional cod (I think) and cabbage dish in a creamy sauce. The cabbage is more the savoy cabbage and it wasn’t bad. In the pubs the drinks all have their name brand glasses so you’ll get Bulmer’s cider in a Bulmer glass, Carlsberg, or Guinness in their glasses with the name on them. Some of the pubs in the west and the south still have the small coal fireplaces, and they are indeed stoked with coal. Oh and at least in Donegal, pub night is a Monday, perhaps to celebrate getting through the first day of work.

Every town or village goes back centuries so the streets are narrow and winding, the buildings tall and joined together as row houses. As you get farther out from the town center you encounter newer row houses, or individual dwellings. These seem to be quite large and have at least four bedrooms. That’s why there are so many B&B’s in Ireland.

Traffic circles and few lights. They’re insane and you’ll get honked at for doing it wrong but then find in the next town that it’s different. Speed limits are for decoration. If you see a sign for 60 km, people will easily be going 120. The small roads are usually 60-80 km and the highways 100-120 km. Often you’re getting up to 80 then having to drop down to 30 two blocks later for a traffic circle (roundabout) and this goes on.

We only saw one farmer with a horse and buggy but saw some country fellows in the typical cap, jacket, baggy pants with shiny bottom, and wellies.

Ireland is green and after a few millennia of deforestation, there are border trees and groves, a few protected forests. It was a stunning thing to see flying over the country. However, we did see areas of reforestation. When flying I couldn’t figure out why the trees looked as if they were combed. It was because they had been planted at some point.

Irish roads are almost all bordered by hedgerows or stone fences. There may also be trees that have been growing there for a long while that form tunnels as the branches reach above and leave space enough for car and lorries to go through. It definitely gave a different feel to the countryside. The hedgerows and stone walls are everywhere. We were told by one B&B owner that they recycle everything, so if an old wall is pulled down, those stones are used again to build something new. Makes sense when you consider that a country with 5,000 years of habitation needs to re-use what is there.

It was also interesting seeing the Irish looking face. I never realized how Irish my friend Sam looked. His dad was Irish, and Sam would blend right in in Ireland. Many men have triangular faces with wide brows that may be lined or more wizened then their years. There is the white skin and rosy cheeks of an Irish complexion too. It made me realize where some of my friends’ ancestry began.

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Filed under Culture, history, Ireland, life, memories, travel