Catch-up posts from our trip to Ireland. Most of these posts are quite lengthy, with a lot of detail that is important only to us, or close friends and family. Feel free to cruise through at whatever speed suits your fancy. All the additional photos of the trip will be located on my SmugMug site eventually, but not just yet.
Day 3 The Hill of Tara and Newgrange
Green. It really is THAT green. We spent most of this day immersed in green. The legendary green of Ireland that is especially strong in the rich agricultural land of the Boyne Valley. We took a private tour from Dublin that traveled to County Meath, probably some of the richest agricultural land in the world, and a place of human habitation for at least 8,000 years.
Our breakfast, included with the hotel, starts at 7am, so after finally falling asleep at 5:30, I woke up at 6:30, in time to shower and wake Mo. We wanted to get to breakfast early to try to beat all the tour folks. Sometimes these buffet breakfasts can get really crowded.
What was promised was a “full Irish breakfast”. I had a few reservations about this, remembering what a full English breakfast was like when we were in Malta. Funny how different tastes are in different places. The sausages “puddings” seem to be the big thing in Ireland. Something which I have yet to explore. There is Black Pudding and White Pudding, and Irish bacon.
Black pudding (a sausage made from blood, meat, fat, oatmeal, and bread or potato fillers), white pudding (the same as black pudding minus the blood), and Irish bacon (taken from the back of the pig instead of the belly) are supposedly a must at any Irish breakfast. I promised myself I would try local stuff, but so far have avoided the puddings. Can’t quite wrap my head around blood sausage.
Today I tried brown Irish bread with Irish butter. Yeah, you knew I would love that! The scrambled eggs were so soft I almost gagged, possible from some kind of powdered mix, but the croissants with more Irish butter of course, were incredibly light and good. Hmmm…lots of carbs around here it seems, and I have heard that the hearty breads are a big thing. Yumm. But I couldn’t eat a lot, and managed to have my regular morning yogurt, although the lo fat low sugar yogurts just seem really dull to me after eating good rich Greek yogurt.
Coffee comes from a machine, including espresso and cappuccino, not too bad, but trying to get a regular cup of coffee was less successful. I heard other folks around us grumbling as well. We did have a chance to visit with a few of our fellow travelers, Kathy and Mary Beth, lifetime friends who leave their husbands behind now and then for girl travel, seemed like they would be fun. Especially since Kathy is from Vancouver Washington, so close to Portland, and actually knew where Klamath Falls was.
We left them to their day, off for just a few morning hours scheduled with the group, leaving on the bus at 8 and exploring all the stuff we decided to see on our own on the next day. We instead, went back to our room, dressed in layers for the cloudy skies, and decided to take the extra time we had before our own tour to explore a bit of the city on foot.
The hotel is fairly well located, just a five minute walk from O’Connell Street, a major thoroughfare that goes straight through the heart of urban Dublin. At 9am, the streets were incredibly busy with buses and walkers, with so many people walking on the sidewalks reminding me of traffic jams. They were all in a rush and not inclined to make room for slow amblers. We tried to stay out of the way and yet still have a chance to actually see something without tripping over curbs and sidewalks.
Once actually on O’Connell, I had a great feeling of being NOT in a familiar city in the US, but yes, in Ireland. We found our meeting place at the bank, then wandered south toward the River Liffey, stopping in at the main city Post Office so Mo could pick up some stamps. The Post Office is more than 200 years old, a gorgeous piece of architecture, both inside and out. We also ambled into the Carrolls Irish Gift store, a tourist trap full of trinkets, and not so trinkety stuff, including the Aran woolens so famous in Ireland, Irish linen, and of course, refrigerator magnets. Wandering around the store was fun, both for the Irish music that was a great morning pick me up, and the fact that it got of out of the busy foot traffic on the sidewalks.
We emerged and walked as far as the river, and decided that the Bachelor’s Way that ran parallel to the river toward the people’s bridge was big on our list of todo’s. Not this morning, however, as we had a tour to meet. The Mary Gibbons tour bus showed up at the exact minute and we were on our way north and east through Dublin to the County Meath and Newgrange.
The tour is written up in the Lonely Planet as one of the best things to do in Dublin, and we weren’t at all disappointed. They were right. Mary has the perfect accent, strong but at least Irish and understandable, and is a huge wealth of knowledge about the history and archaeology of Ireland. We were treated to all sorts of tidbits along with some very complex history, including where the phrase “beyond the pale” came from.
The phrase dates back to the 14th century, when the part of Ireland that was under English rule was delineated by a boundary made of such stakes or fences, and known as the English Pale. To travel outside of that boundary, beyond the pale, was to leave behind all the rules and institutions of English society, which the English modestly considered synonymous with civilization itself.
As we traveled more deeply into County Meath, the famous green dominated the landscape more and more. We were going first to the Hill of Tara, a place sacred to the Irish, and home of the High Kings of Ireland, the Celts who dominated the culture before Christianity took over with the coming of St Patrick.
Standing on the Hill of Tara was something I hadn’t expected to move me so. Learning about the Bards, the Celts migrating into Ireland from various parts of Europe before C.E., the Druids, and the High Kings of Ireland was surprisingly familiar and yet completely unknown. I can’t write about all of this in the kind of detail I would like to, so instead here’s the link to read about it.
The complexity of Irish history is incredible, and what I came away with most after Mary’s instruction was the importance of Ireland all over Western Europe throughout the first few hundred years AD. When Europe was descending into the Dark Ages, Ireland was experiencing what she called the Golden Age of Art and Knowledge, furthered by the many Irish monasteries that proliferated throughout Ireland. Traveling through the countryside, we saw ruins of many monasteries on the hills, but more important were the listing of famous Irish monasteries that were established in many parts of Europe and that still exist.
Because our tour of Newgrange was set for a specific time, with a very limited number of people allowed in the tomb each day, there wasn’t nearly enough time to amble around the Hill of Tara and really drink it all in.
Back on the bus at noon exactly, we had a 1:45 entry time for the great tomb. Newgrange is part of the Bru na Boinne complex of tombs and neolithic sites, operated from the main visitor center and only accessible via their guides and the shuttle busses. With our reservation with Mary Gibbons Tours, we passed up the long lines of people waiting, hoping for an entrance, which because of the limited number of people allowed inside at any one time isn’t guaranteed at all. So glad that I booked this one a couple of months ago.
Newgrange was fascinating. Mary isn’t allowed in the complex, and pointed us to the doors where we needed to walk to the shuttle busses. We decided to have a light lunch at the cafeteria, where the food was quite good, with a shared quiche quite strong with goat cheese and vegetables. Wish I liked goat cheese better. My distaste for it makes no sense with my love of good food. Sorry Jeanne.
The rain clouds came and went, flying across the sky threatening us, but holding off until just before we entered the tomb, and by the time we were back outside, most of the storm had passed. Reminded me a lot of the rains in Hawaii that come and go so quickly.
The entrance stone to the tomb is beautiful, with complex spirals that are repeated throughout the tomb. Once we walked through the low, narrow passage, we stood in the chamber that had existed exactly that way for more than 5,000 years. The tomb at Newgrange was built millennia before the pyramids, and the complex artistry and feat of engineering of the interior dome is a marvel. I have no photos from the interior of the tomb, so internet images will have to suffice. Photography is not allowed.
The sun only enters the tomb, illuminating the passageway at the winter solstice, with a beam of light that extends to the base stone at the farthest reaches of the tomb. They turned out the lights and gave us a demonstration of what that looks like with a beam of artificial light. Reading about this on Trip Advisor, there were folks who called it hokey, but I didn’t feel that way at all. It was great to get a feeling of what it would be like to stand here during the solstice.
There is a lottery drawn for that opportunity, with more than 30,000 people applying for the 60 tickets that win the privilege. Our guide said that of course, there is no idea in this part of Ireland that the sun will actually shine, and she always feels badly for the people that have traveled from as far away as China and Australia to see the phenomenon. I was perfectly happy to view the fake light.
The tombs, Newgrange, and the other two large tombs nearly, Dowth and Knowth, are located along the beautiful Boyne River, full of salmon and trout. I still have to look up the kind of salmon that swim up the Boyne, being completely unaware that there were salmon elsewhere in the world. The soils were so deep and black and incredibly rich, and the gardens were filled with the kind of plants that thrive in a moist, temperate environment, much like parts of Oregon. Many people mentioned how much the landscape reminded them of Oregon, but here the summer rains never stop and the green never goes away.
Unlike Newgrange, which was built to capture the Solstice sun, Dowth and Knowth were built for the spring and fall Equinox. It was a perfect day to celebrate the Equinox in this land that has been held sacred for thousands of years.
When visiting places like this on a tour, it is a challenge to stop mentally and really think about where I am, what I am seeing. I like to find moments of quiet in the midst of it all, but sometimes that is difficult to accomplish. I managed a few moments like this today, but I can see how visiting Ireland with time to fully immerse would be incredible. Jeanne told me that Alan and his friend Russell rented a car and drove all over Ireland visiting the standing stones. What a luxury.
The original plan, when we started this day, was to return from the tour, rest a bit, and then go walking on O’Connell Street to find a good eatery. As the day progressed, I found myself thinking that maybe we could just find some fish and chips a bit closer, and then as we got off the bus and walked back to the hotel, we decided that maybe some Thai shrimp downstairs in the hotel restaurant would be good enough.
We were exhausted! Both of us fell asleep on the bus to the lilting tone of Mary’s voice so I have no idea what kinds of amazing history we missed. The walk back to the hotel once again entailed fighting the hordes of evening walking commuters, and we were quite happy to get back to our quiet room.
The restaurant idea even faded, and we napped a bit before deciding to pull out the nuts I brought from home and the banana I confiscated from breakfast to suffice for supper. We managed considerably more than our 10,000 steps today according to the trusty fitbit even with spending much of the day on a bus. I think the bus thing made us a lot more tired than walking, and maybe lack of sleep from the previous night may have had something to do with it as well.
It is now quarter to 4, and maybe I can go back to sleep again. At least we can take our time today with plans for breakfast in the hotel before we wander again down O’Connell Street toward the older part of Dublin, crossing the river Liffey into the Temple Bar area and Trinity College. Who knows what the day will bring, but I do hope it includes dinner this time!
Up Next: A day in Dublin, Trinity College and the Book of Kells, and Temple Bar.