Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tara versus Old-Newgrange

I am ensconced in my regular chair with my Eddie-provided coffee by my side contemplating what we have learned since we arrived on this island. Our crash course in Irish history has been fascinating. The English colonization of Ireland contrasts sharply with the English colonization of North America. I find myself sympathizing with the colonized in one case and the colonists in the other. This is going to take some contemplation. Oh, and the Irish accent is wonderful. Geraldine calls Kathy, Kat-ee, as "th" has a hard "t" sound. Sounds so nice - Katleen.

Saturday - September 26, 2009 - Trim, County Meath, Ireland

Highfield House is charming. We stayed in the beautifully decorated "blue room", and really didn't want to leave. The bed was comfy, the house quiet, and the setting idyllic. We might have been the last ones up that morning, as the dining room was empty and ours was the last car in the park. We sat down to a lovely made to order breakfast, and chatted with Geraldine about how we should spend our day. Our thoughts were to head south to Lough Tay and Slane, then drive to Brú na Bóinne - Newgrange and finally head up to Belfast where we were to spend the night. Eddie suggested that might be a bit ambitious given the late start, and it might be less stressful if we stayed north of Dublin. Perhaps a nice walk around Trim Castle would help us decide?

We did walk around the castle and it did help us decide. There is something wonderful about walking through the Irish countryside. At Geraldine's suggestion we traded off the lake for a walk around the hills of Tara, followed by a visit to the mounds of Newgrange. We bade our hosts goodbye, and back-roaded our way to the Hill of Tara. Kat (who knows a lot more about a lot of things than I do) knew about the kings being crowned there, while I thought it was where Rhett didn't give a damn.

We almost drove right past the little parking lot that looks more like a roadside pullover than the entrance to a major tourist site. We met and chatted with a gentleman who asked us to sign a petition requesting the government abandon it's plan to run a new motorway through the valley. We gladly signed, as the valley is perfect just as it is, and we were perfectly content with the roads just as they were.

Unlike Mitchell's Tara this one is an archeological complex with some mounds, an interesting church, a statue of St. Pat, and a phallic stone called the Lia Fáil (Lee-a Fall) where legend says all of the kings of Ireland were crowned. We walked through the cemetery and church courtyard and were disappointed the church was not open. During the high season there is an audio visual presentation that describes what we were about to see. What we saw were paths leading to mounds (one of which was posted as the "Mound of the Hostages" - there has to be a story there), and several ring depressions. We really wished we had done some homework before coming here. (We did upon our return and it is really interesting - to read about it click here.)

It was so peaceful, and there was something mystical about the location and the setting. Oh, did I mention that where we were walking was also a pasture and no matter how hard we tried we could not avoid the previous meal of the many sheep that graze amongst the stones. That was not so mystical.

A wee bit down the road and our next stop was a complex called Newgrange. We had read about this site in the Brú na Bóinne (the river Boyne valley and we loved saying that out loud, rolling the R) where stone mounds were built way back in
3200 BC - before the pyramids in Egypt.

Where Tara was simple, unadorned, and not commercialized in any way, Newgrange was the antithesis. We found the entire visit uncomfortably choreographed. There is a large parking lot, with well marked paths that lead to an elaborate visitor's center. Upon entering you queue up to buy a ticket and are awarded a stick on label that announces what time your bus to the stone pile will leave. Until then you may relax in the overpriced cafe and browse the overpriced gift shop.

At the appointed hour we herded ourselves onto a bus for the 15 minute ride to the site. Everyone staying together, we waited in our pen until the previous group of 46 people had departed the site. We were then allowed to proceed to the front of the stone faced mound for a short talk on what we were seeing. Half the group (those with red sticky labels) could go in while the rest of us (green stickies) waited. We had plenty of time to take pictures of the big carved rock at the base of the door, so I did.

When it was our turn we ducked (watch your head) into a narrow stone passageway and walked about 20 feet where there was a small rock domed room. After another short talk, our guide shut off the lights plunging us into darkness, and described what it must have been like thousands of years ago when the winter solstice sun rose and shone it's first beam down the narrow passageway. She shone her maglite beam along the floor (mind your big feet please - directed at me) and with a whispery voice took us back to that magic moment so long ago (NOT). It was hokey and we couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Unless you are really into this sort of thing, and amazed that people who had nothing else to do for so many centuries figured that you could predict when the sun would rise on the shortest day of the year, I'd skip this one. The highlight for us was the bus ride back when we met a nice Irish family who was lucky enough to have for a child the carbon copy of our granddaughter Jami. Her name was Maggie-Jane and this little pixie kept us entertained all the way back.

After a pleasant ride north to Belfast airport, we returned the car and settled into the Airport Park Plaza hotel which is about 100 yards from the car return. We had an early (7:20 am) Easyjet flight to Nice, France the next day and wanted to take no chances. The airport was eerily deserted, apparently with no incoming or outgoing night flights. Over dinner (using our last Northern Ireland pounds) we chatted about how thankful we were to Rich and Lu for suggesting Ireland, and how interesting a place it is. We were left with great memories and a real desire to return.

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