Monday, October 31, 2011

My Big Fat Irish Vacation: Day 3: Newgrange

Dublin was calling, but so was the rest of the country - and this was, after all, as much a reconnoiter as a vacation. So we got up the nerve to go back to the airport and pick up another rental car – this time following the nice clerk's advice to get onto the major roads first. We headed up to Bru Na Boinne where the ancient tombs are. Once we got to the excellent visitor's center, we found out we had 2 options – 3 ½ hours with “more history and art” at Knowth (rhymes with “south”) or 1 ½ hours, “less art but you can go into the tomb” at Newgrange. We opted for Newgrange – cheaper and getting to “go into the tomb” appealed to us.

We had a bit of a hike to get to the buses – down to the ground floor, across the Boyne River (the Battle of the Boyne Historical Site is nearby) then up again to where the buses took you up to the tombs. 

Sheep safely grazing by the Boyne River
Using the buses not only made it easier for we visitors to find these tombs, which are up on very narrow country lanes, but I'm sure make life easier for the locals who only have to watch out for buses and not hundreds of cars every day!

My camera's batteries chose our arrival at the Newgrange Tomb to run out, so the shots that follow are off the web. It also meant that I couldn't get pictures of “Clarence,” the very nice orange tom cat that visits with groups waiting to go up to the tomb. For the following shots, thank the web sites for Irish education and/or tourism.

For starters, when we got to the tomb, I was stunned at the size of the thing. I'd always imaged these things about the size of a large house. This was more the size of a small subdivision! Predates the pyramids in Egypt a good 500 years.
The Tomb at Newgrange, County Meath
Carved stone and entryway into Newgrange Tomb

Newgrange is the only tomb of this sort that has a “fan light” over the door. The exterior is actually a restoration that was done in the 1920's. The archeologist in charge of the site figured that judging from the way the stones had fallen down, the walls were made of quartz studded with the darker stone. We've no idea if these were done in any kind of pattern. The carvings are everywhere, even on the undersides of the stones. The thinking now is that they may have been expressions of visions the people had.
Tomb Passage  
I like this image because it shows the passageway and some of the carvings. The carvings at Newgrange are very evocative. As you stand in the chamber, you start to notice one here, then another – it is as if they begin to emerge from the stone. There are three small chambers in the main one, with elaborate carvings. This tomb was first discovered in the late 1600's, so no real archeologist got to see it in its original state, but judging from other similar tombs, the dead were cremated and their bones were placed in these side chambers. 

At the Winter's Solstice, the light from the rising sun comes through the “fanlight” and the door and illuminates the chamber. The current thinking is that these people believed that the spirits of their dead would follow the light out and into the next world.
 If you want to see the sunlight penetrate the tomb, you can put your name in for a lottery drawing. The deadline for 2011 was the day we were there. Winning a space in the lottery is no guarantee that you will see this happen, though. Ireland is notoriously cloudy in the winter; the guide told us that in 2010, of the six days they took groups into the tomb, only one got to see the sun! Yes, the climate was different in Ireland 5500 years ago, and the odds of a sunny winter day were much better. For visitors during the rest of the year, the sunbeam is played by a small spot light.

Back at the Visitor's Center, we asked Marie, the clerk at the gift shop about finding lodging. We'd been thinking Trim or Navan. She made some calls, but there seemed to be no room in the inns. But when she said that tonight was “Live Music Night” at Daly's in nearby Denore, we knew we'd found our spot! She made the call and we had a place to stay.

Denore is like a lot of Irish towns we saw- a road with a few businesses on either side. Daly's is a pub with a small lodge on the other side of the parking lot. The room was very basic, a clean well-lighted place, but the bathroom was more modern than the Dublin Inn, for which Tom and I were both grateful. Hot showers for everyone!

Daly's Pub and Restaurant
We had dinner at Daly's Restaurant, when went over to the pub at 9:30 to hear the band. “The Full Shilling” were fantastic! They played some “trad,” some more modern stuff - including a Johnny Cash medley with a very Celtic slant that was a panic. In Ireland, where we would say somebody's “elevator doesn't go to the top,” they say “it's not the full shilling.” Hence the name of the band.

While there were a few visitors there, the locals were out in force - very very friendly, very happy locals. As the night wore on and the Guiness grabbed hold, we had some dancing, but only one guy was really out of it. I have particularly fond memories on this older lady,just a little bird of a gal, first nursing her drink, then getting up to dancea bit with the younger women. Bet in her day she was the life of the party!

Before supper, we took a walk along a nearby canal - a very pleasant interlude, got to hear my first European blackbird. What a song. but I did get a chuckle out of this sign - though looking at the black waters of the canal, I think they mean it!