An adventurous girl cooks, eats and explores in Europe.
After looking into a couple nearby activities, Marcus suggested we go on Mary Gibbons’ tour of Newgrange. Newgrange is an old passage tomb in the Boyne Valley, County Meath. It is around 5000 years old and elaborately built. The tour picks you up in city center and includes the bus ride to Newgrange and admission to the exhibit and the tomb, which only allows a limited number of visitors per day. The tour also goes to the Hill of Tara, a sacred spot in Ireland’s history. In order to guarantee admission to the tomb and to avoid renting a car, we decided to go on the tour. I am so glad we went with the tour. We got a good amount of history and context, as well as a special presentation on Tara from the author of a book on the topic.
The drive out to Newgrange took about an hour. It was a beautiful area. The River Boyne ran very close to the hill that Newgrange sits on. Also nearby are two other similar tombs- Knowth and Dowth. Knowth is only open for touring during summer months though, and Dowth is currently being excavated. Seeing one was good enough for us though. After walking through an informational exhibit, we took a shuttle ride up the hill to the tomb. We ran into a small film crew, which entertained us until our tour guide met us. We found out they were filming for a history channel special, and this somehow ties in to discovering America.
It was a beautiful view from the hill, and the tomb itself was very pretty. Though the building inside is shaped like a cross, the outside was built into a mound with stones along the bottom creating the structure, and grass all along the top. The stones are all decorated with different patterns and art styles, though some were harder to see given their age. One stone in front of the entrance held up particularly well – covered with spirals. The narrow doorway in led to one very tight path and the guide had multiple warnings for those who are claustrophobic. It was very narrow and short- it made me feel pretty tall since I even had to bend once or twice. It went all the way through to a slightly larger open area, with small chambers on the left and right, and to the front. The walls were covered in a mix of original art and engravings from before it was protected. It was rediscovered in the early 1700s when builders in nearby towns were looking for stone in the hill, but it wasn’t until much later that a visitor center was established. Entrance is now strictly regulated, to prevent further damage. It was probably the only time I’ve seen tags of names with years like 1867. Looking farther up, you could see a very well built dome, with layers of stone each getting closer and closer until one stone finally closed off the ceiling. It was at this point that the tour guide mentioned that it had yet to fall in on a tour group, but we would of course be refunded for our admission price if it did… I decided if a building has stood for 5000 years and decided to fall in on the one day I was visiting, I really couldn’t be that upset over it.
While snuggled in to the small room, they demonstrated one of the most amazing things about this place. There is a window above the doorway lined up so that on the solstice, sunlight makes its way through the window and the narrow pathway in and lights up the area we stood in, ending in a perfect point before the front most chamber. The Knowth tomb was built similarly, to align with the sun on the equinox.
No one really knows what exactly went on in these buildings. It is believed that some ritual was performed and that any worship inside was directed at the sun, but there is little concrete evidence. They know it was used for burials, as cremated bodies were found inside. There is no information on the circumstances of these deaths, though. Even the meaning of the art is interpreted in many ways. There are zig zags, spirals, diamonds, and lines. Some believe they are symbols of the earth and the elements. Others believe that it is just what came to the mind of these people while in altered states of consciousness, as there is evidence for use of hallucinogens. There are many questions about what went on, but there is a clear connection to the sun.
After the tour here, we continued on through Slane. We passed the site of the Battle of Boyne. We saw the Slane Castle, which is family owned and used largely as a concert venue. We drove past probably 15 herds of sheep. Then, we made it to the Hill of Tara. Our tour group started with a presentation in an old book shop. We viewed pictures of the hill, the views, the jewelry and other items discovered there, and the stories of its history. Michael Slavin, the owner of the bookshop and writer of a book on Tara’s history, gave us a glimpse into the history of the place and why it was so sacred to so many.
The hill itself was beautiful with 360 views of gorgeous countryside all around. It also comes with rich history, as it was the center of rule for many kings who had taken over in the past. It is where Halloween began, as October 31st was the year end and believed to be the night where our world and the spirit world came closest together. A ritual began of painting skeletons on their bodies and wearing masks, and heading up to the hill of Tara to communicate with the spirit world. We walked up to the hill, passing a statue of Saint Patrick, a small church and a graveyard. Walking around, we took in the views and tried to get used to the many mounds and dips all over the hill. The ground is not flat at all and given the recent rain, was also quite muddy. We were able to touch one of the few remaining monuments- a pillar believed to roar when the next rightful king touched it. (Sadly, it did not roar for either of us). We headed down to check out the bookshop before getting back on the bus.
Our tour headed home and we watched a video on the two locations on the ride back. We were back home around 3, a little tired out from the day, and ready to eat and relax.