Friday, August 5, 2022
We were up early to take a day trip to Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. The tour was through Newgrange Tours by Mary Gibbons, very well done. Gibbons is very knowledgeable about history and archaeology, her explanations were thorough, yet easy for the layperson to understand. We had a very nice visit during our lunch break. Like most of the Irish whom we met, she was very happy to talk about and every subject, and freely express her opinions. Hers were mostly well-informed opinions.
The morning turned drizzly, as we approached the Hill of Tara, which was once the ancient seat of power in this country, considered to be the dwelling place of the gods. St. Patrick reigns here now, watching over us as we walked past a church and cemetery, to clamber up the hill.
The Mound of Hostages, built around 2500 BCE, is one of the oldest structures that were built here. This is a passage tomb, and, like other passage tombs, it is aligned to the sun on the Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolc. We could not enter the passageway at the Mound of the Hostages, but we could, and did peek through the grate that protects the entrance. The decorated stone on the left of the entrance is called an orthstat (an upright stone or slab set in the ground or as part of a structure.)
Nearby is the King’s Seat, on which stands the Stone of Destiny, the ancient coronation stone. According to myth, it was brought here by an ancient godlike people, the Tuatha Dé Danann, and is said to roar when touched by the rightful king of Tara. A huge temple was discovered directly under the Hill of Tara, by Conor Newman, an archaeology lecturer, who worked on a survey of the find in the early 1990’s. At least 100 new monuments have been discovered, the oldest of which date as far back as 4000 BCE.
In spite of the drizzling rain, the views were great. It is said that you can see most of Ireland from the top of the hill. Maybe on a clear day?
Fortunately, the weather cleared up quickly, and we headed next to Knowth, site of the Great Mound, another passage grave, built over 5,000 years ago. It is similar in size to Newgrange, and is surrounded by several smaller mounds. Knowth was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. The mound is surrounded by 124 kerbstones, most of which have engravings. The site is known for having the largest collection of megalithic art in Europe.
There are several mounds at this site, some that are open at the top. The west entrance is marked by two standing stones, a pillar and a shorter, round stone. It is not known what these stones signify.
The Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, a short walk from Newgrange, holds a great deal of information about the heritage sites in the Boyne Valley. Newgrange is about 5,200 years old, older than Stonehenge or the Great Pyramids. This passage tomb/ancient temple measures 279 feet in diameter and 43 fee in height. Like the Mound of Hostages, Newgrange is surrounded by kerbstones, but only a few contain any artwork. At the winter solstice, the sun shines, at dawn, through a roof-box above the entrance, illuminating the entire chamber. A guide took us into the passageway, and, using artificial light, demonstrated the winter solstice illumination.
Brú na Bóinne, or “Bend of the Boyne,” is the site of a 1690 battle between the supporters of the deposed Catholic King James II of England and Ireland, and those of Protestant King William III, who succeeded James. This battle was the turning point in the war, which allowed for the ascendancy of protestantism in Ireland.
After returning to Dublin, we had dinner at The Brazen Head, which bills itself as Dublin’s Oldest Pub, dating back to 1198 AD. While there was a pub or inn at this location since then, the name of The Brazen Head doesn’t appear in documents until 1653. The current structure was built in 1754. The place was very busy, we had to be quick to spy an open table before someone else grabbed it. This is not the traditional Irish pub, rather one that caters to the tourist trade. Still, we were hungry and the food was fine.