“Inspircation” Day 13: Exploring Ancient Ireland

hilloftara_marcie

Wow.

Today was simply incredible. We headed out of Dublin on tour to visit Newgrange tomb and the Hill of Tara. Marcie had booked this tour months ago, after much research, and she sure hit the jackpot with Mary Gibbons. She was an excellent guide, giving us so much history in such a short time, but by putting everything into the context of world history, it wasn’t remotely overwhelming or confusing. Nor was it simplified and patronizing. I highly recommend her tours (you can check out her website here.)

The neolithic Newgrange site limits the amount of visitors it accepts, so that was one advantage to us having a pre-booked tour. (Even during our time there, we saw people get turned away; you can’t simply drive up and expect to get in.) The other good thing about this policy is it just means there are less people on the site. It’s a spiritual place, and that wouldn’t quite be the same if you had to wind your way through a crowd. In fact, they wouldn’t even let our whole tour group go to the site at the same time. Instead, they divided us and sent us on a smaller bus for separate sessions. When it wasn’t our turn to go, we explored the interpretation centre (and the gift shop, where we bought a beautiful print).

The Newgrange passage tomb is 5,200 years old and is easily the oldest tomb I’ve ever visited, older than those I’ve seen in China, Korea, Central America, and even Egypt. One of the things that make the Newgrange site so special (in my opinion) is the artwork engraved onto the stones. If you have any familiarity with Celtic art, then you will recognize the triple spire and other organic patterns. (Though the Celts didn’t build Newgrange—it far outdates their arrival in Ireland. I guess we just now associate these motifs with the Celts.)

newgrange_lef

You can walk around the entire mound and see the structure.

newgrange_backsidepano  newgrange_marcie&mom newgrange_marciewalking newgrange_marciewall newgrange_pano  Newgrange-l&m

This is the entrance to the tomb:

newgrange_entrance

We were allowed to go in, escorted by the on-site guide. We ducked and squeezed our way through the passageway until we reached the chamber where there were once cremated remains stored. The mound is a monument to the sun; at dawn on the winter solstice, a shaft of sunlight beams all the way into this chamber through the “window” that is situated above the doorway. Of course, we weren’t there on the winter solstice, but they recreated the effect with artificial lighting. I can only imagine how amazing the real event would be.

You cannot take photos inside of the tomb. I was quite okay with that, since it is such a spiritual place. But I did want to record something inside of there, and so I made some sketches in my notebook. You will see on the page below my simple doodle of one of the basins that was used to hold the urns of cremated remains. (The other sketches were ones I did outside.)
newgrange-sketchbook

After our visit to Newgrange, we took the bus back to the drop-off point, and walked across the River Boyne, which is the spiritual centre of this area. This place is so steeped in history! Once we were back on the bus, Mary Gibbons told us all about the famous people who have come from this region, and about the famous Battle of the Boyne. I won’t go into that here—mostly because I can’t tell it the way Ms. Gibbons did and I won’t pretend at being an expert in Irish history. But what I can do is show you the photos Marcie took of the river:

riverboyne01 riverboyne02

The next stop on our tour was the Hill of Tara, which, according to tradition, was the most important place for the High King of Ireland.

Our time here started with a visit to The Old Bookshop, which is located in a stone cottage. The owner, Michael Slavin, delivered a short slideshow to describe the site to us. Oh. And when I say slide show, I mean in the traditional sense, including the old fashioned clicking carousel and dust-covered transparencies.

I adored this bookshop. It had a wood fire going that you could smell from outside and the books are mostly used, so as Ms. Gibbons described (aptly), “It’s like heaven in there.”

Marcie and I each ended up buying books from that shop (both on Irish fairytales and folklore).

hilloftara_bookshop

After the bookshop, we headed out to the actual site. The first thing we came upon of interest were these two stones:

hilloftara_twostones

According to legend, one would attempt to drive a chariot through these two sacred stones. If the person in question was a worthy candidate for a king, the stone would part, giving him a path through. If not—well, I guess it was time to get a new chariot.

Next on our walk came the Mound of Hostages, which is another passage tomb, like Newgrange, but much smaller, and not as old. You can see inside it through the barred doorway:

hilloftara_gateway

After this, we explored the surrounding landscape and eventually made our way to the Lia Fáil, or the stone of destiny. This was another challenge that a prospective king would face; if the stone roared upon touching it, then it meant you were worthy.

Marcie and I faced off to see who was the most worthy, and I eventually gave it a try.

hilloftara_l&m

hilloftara_lee_stoneofdestiny

In all likelihood, it won’t surprise you to learn that the stone did NOT roar for me. I guess the wee bit of Irish I have in me didn’t help my worth in this instance.

Below, are a few more photos of the surrounding landscape. The vistas are beautiful and, apparently, on a clear day, you can see “three-quarters of Ireland.” I don’t know about that . . . but I do know that we lost my mom while visiting Tara. She wandered off on our own accord, which shocked us, because so far on this trip she’s never let us out of her site. So we assumed she was looking for us, and we went looking for her, only to eventually find her in the gift shop. Oh well. She’s far more comfortable with the country settings than the city ones!

hilloftara_landscape

hilloftara_thistles  hilloftara_verticalvista

Well, that was our day! It was pretty spectacular, and I even managed to get some writing done on the ride back into the city—I simply can’t help being inspired by all of the lore and legends here.

I’ve been collecting so many doors and door ornamentations on this trip, but today I didn’t photograph any. Though, I suppose you can count the entrance to the Newgrange tomb as a doorway.

Tomorrow is our last day in Dublin, and we are going to explore the rich literary history of the city.

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