Sunday, 13 June 2010

An Irish Week

Right, so I'm finally getting around to posting some photos of my recent Irish foray.

One of my lovely fellow Scrapbookers is Irish. Jessie and I have been emailing back and forth for the past 4 or 5 years. For some reason, it never occurred to us for me to go there, though we had occasionally talked about her coming here, for a visit. Anyway, a couple weeks ago I just thought, what if I go there?!? I haven't been to Ireland in 4 years, so it was really rather due. I emailed her about a visit, and she said, "Could you come next weekend? It's a bank holiday, so I have an extra day off." So I jumped on the internet and found a flight.

Took off for Ireland on Thursday, early morning. I landed in Dublin, and collected my hire car. I drove North-ish with the vague goal of reaching Cavan, where Jessie lives, by the late afternoon the following day. This vague roaming is a tradition for me. I love driving along the beautiful country side and randomly stopping off at things which sound interesting. I never have a hotel reservation, either. And only once in more than 10 years of travels has that ever been a problem! I just turn up to a town and either stop off at a B&B that catches my eye on the road, or I stop off at the Tourist Office and have a look at their book of local places. On my drive out of Dublin, I saw a brown tourist sign, and, as it was nearing lunch time, I decided to stop off. Turns out, the place I stopped at, the Hill of Tara, was where the Irish High Kings were crowned. Now, the thing was, this title was NOT hereditary. You had to be chosen for it based on your merit. Nowadays it's just a lovely open field and hills, with big mounds and trenches at intervals.

 The hill structures were used for cremation burials.  The whole vista was gorgeous, and it was fun to get to wander around with little restriction from the powers that be.  No one telling you were you can't go.  No one telling you that you can't touch.  It was just nice.

Once I drove away from the Hill, I entered a town called Navan, where I found a lovely B&B.  The owner, a man named Patrick, who goes by Pat, (Yes!  And there are MORE Patricks in this story!) set me up in the lovely sitting room of the B&B with a pot of tea and biscuits while I pursued the Lonely Planet Ireland Guide.

The next morning I went out to Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre to see the Newgrange and Knowth Burial Mounds.  They're megalithic (mega = large, lithic = stone) burials from the neolithic (neo = new, lithic = stone) period, approximately 65000 BC - that's older than the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt! Anyway, these particular structures are impressively  preserved.  Knowth has been fully excavated, then reassembled.  Newgrange has not been excavated.  The facade has been restored, but the internal structure has not been touched, with the exception of a couple of braces because a few of the stone slabs have cracked.  Sadly, they don't allow photos inside the Newgrange site, and the Knowth site is blocked by some tunnels built in medieval times (around 900 AD).  The mounds were very interesting, though.  And, if you get a chance, I'd completely advise a visit!  The site at Knowth was aligned for spring/fall equinox.  Newgrange for Winter Solstice.  All visitors to Newgrange can put a request in to be a guest for the Winter Solstice.  They randomly pull names for the event.  But... just because your name gets pulled, doesn't mean you get to see it!  The day has to be bright, as well!



However.  I'll let you in on a little secret.  There's a 3rd fabulous set of burial mounds.  And, they're free to enter.  During the summer months, there is a guide up there, but they don't do anything except tell you the history of the place, and point out cool carvings.  Oh... and hand you a flashlight.  They're actually brilliant.  They're very helpful, and even take photos for you!  It's such a beautiful location - the highest point in County Meade.  And, the sun illuminates on Spring/Autumn Equinox.  Now, at Newgrange, the sun illuminates for 17 minutes.  At Loughcrew (that 'gh' is like the Scottish 'ch' - it's a hard 'k' sound.  "Loch" in Scots Gaelic.  Means the same thing.  "Lake") the sun illuminates for an entire hour!  And, there are 4 carvings of suns which the beam picks out on its path.  It's truly a spectacular site, and virtually unknown. 

Loghcrew (The drive up.  It's a fun tiny road!)

The inside of Loghcrew

The view back out (L) and the tiny entrance (R)

The "Witches Thrown."  (L) It's actually one of the border stones that's fallen down.  But, there are a lot of local legends about witches in the area, and this stone was thought to be her seat of power.  One of the other mounds (R), seen from the top of the complete one.  The complete one has had it's roof put back on, but that's the only reconstruction it's had.

I actually ended up spending so much time at the site that I was nearly 2 hours late getting to Jessie's house!  I rang her, when I realised what time it was, and apologised, but she was totally sweet about it, and told me to take my time.  I finally arrived and met her and her DH and two sons.  They're absolutely brilliant!  Jessie's a total doll (which I already knew) and her husband (The other Patrick.  Goes by Paddy!  Yes, really!) just kept me laughing the whole evening.  The boys are also wonderful.  Really enjoyed meeting them.

Saturday, Paddy and the boys went down to his mother's for her birthday party weekend.  So, Jessie and I were on our own for Saturday/Sunday.  We didn't kill our selves getting up early and out the door, just took things easy, checked our emails, had a good breakfast . . . and eventually made out way out the door.  We drove up to Northern Ireland (still part of the UK), which is pretty close to where Jessie lives.  We went to a lovely National Trust site to walk through their gardens.

After our stroll through the gardens, we drove up the road a couple of minutes (honestly, only a couple of miles) to the Marble Arch Caves.  That was pretty spectacular!  I was so impressed.  It's a limestone cave with a river running through it.  They take you down, and you go on a flat bottomed boat for a few minutes.  Pretty awesome.  We really enjoyed the boat ride.  Then, you walk through the cave system looking at curtain stalactites, rim flows, stalactites, stalagmites, columns..... pretty awesome.


After our hour and a quarter cave tour, we did a couple of walks.  One was a ring walk, circling through some very empty (of humans) landscape.  You literally could not hear anything man made.  That was pretty amazing.  We particularly liked the bluebells and hawthorn flowers, and the hazel trees they're trying to reestablish.  Ireland has had hazel trees since the ice age, but they've been cut down for farm land, or grazed on by cows/sheep.  So they're trying to reestablish them in some groves.  My sister's no longer speaking to me, because of all the blue bells.  That's one of the things she has wanted to see for ages! 

After our delightful ring walk, we stopped off at another walking area.  Really lovely!  We totally loved the whole walk, but the best bit was this most amazing waterfall!  At the end of the walk we stumbled across the "Marble Arch" for which the caves were named.  That was a pleasant surprise!  And even better that we hadn't walked down all the stairs from the cave, then hiked back up them, only to discover the arch later, along the flat!


Ok.  It's late.  You'll have to wait til tomorrow (at the earliest!) to get the rest of the adventure.


Jessie said...

What a fun and interesting post Adele! I really enjoyed reading it :) I loved having you over too. We had soooo much fun! I can't wait to read the next installement!

P.S ever thought of writing your own adventure series? :)

Adele said...

Ha ha... thanks, Jessie! I've had several suggestions over the past couple of months that I should write a book. Lois suggested calling it "The Misadventures of an Occasional Student". :-D

Lanie Ree said...

Hey Adele, I love the way you travel! Someday, I want to wander around a foreign country with you. That is definitely going on my bucket list.

Adele said...

Ree, that'd be awesome!