Monthly Archives: August 2015

Prehistoric Ireland: The Hill of Tara and Brú na Bóinne

Several significant prehistoric sites are close enough to Dublin to definitely warrant a visit. Even if you’re not particularly interested in history, the trip is still worthwhile for the scenery alone.

The Hill of Tara in County Meath, just 50 km northwest of Dublin, is a peaceful verdant landscape with some of the best views in Ireland from atop the hill.

Hill of Tara, County Meath, Ireland

Hill of Tara, County Meath, Ireland

View from the Hill of Tara

View from atop the Hill of Tara

I was so impressed that I took a 360 degree video which you can see here.

The many and seemingly disparate monuments found at the Hill of Tara made it somewhat difficult for me to understand, much less explain their meaning succinctly. The oldest archeological evidence at Tara is a passage tomb that dates as far back as 3350 BC. It’s called the Mound of Hostages, but the name itself has nothing whatsoever to do with the passage tomb which was a communal burial site. When excavated in the 1950’s, it yielded the remains of over 300 men, women, and children along with many artifacts that are now housed by the National Museum of Ireland. The name, however, instead refers to the custom of taking and exchanging hostages between clans which apparently took place later.

Mound of Hostages

Mound of Hostages

Probably the best known purpose of the Hill of Tara was its use as the sacred site where 452 of the high kings of Ireland were inaugurated until around 600 AD. The date this tradition began is unknown, however.  The coronations took place at the Stone of Destiny, which incidentally, was moved from its original location nearby.  This monument definitely looked phallic to me and I was relieved to read the sign that confirmed my suspicions. Apparently, it was a symbol of fertility. (No kidding.)

The Stone of Destiny at the Hill of Tara

The Stone of Destiny at the Hill of Tara

Then there is the statue of St Patrick who reportedly used this site in 433 AD to confront the high king in an effort to convert him to Christianity. St Patrick’s Church is also here which houses the visitor center but it was closed for renovations the day we were there.

St. Patrick at Hill of Tara

St. Patrick at Hill of Tara

We visited the Hill of Tara later in the day and there were very few other visitors. The next morning, however, we were at Brú na Bóinne when it opened because it’s a very busy place with limited numbers allowed on tour at a time.

Brú na Bóinne, which means palace or mansion of the Boyne, is a World Heritage Site composed of three passage tombs, Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth that are around 5000 years old.  We saw signs all over Ireland that announced these tombs are older than the pyramids.

The guided tour begins at the visitor center. Tickets are €6 for Newgrange and €5 for Knowth.  We elected to visit Newgrange only as we had toured Knowth on our last visit.

Bru na Boinne Visitor Center

Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center

Visitor Center at Bru na Boinne

Visitor Center at Brú na Bóinne

After a short walk across a pedestrian bridge over the River Boyne, we boarded a bus to transport us to the tomb at Newgrange. Each group is limited to 14 persons and your tour time is set when you purchase your ticket on a first come first served basis.

Bridge over the River Boyne

Bridge over the River Boyne

Newgrange

Newgrange

Newgrange

Newgrange

Passage Tomb at Newgrange

Passage Tomb at Newgrange–Note the roof box above the entrance and the scroll artwork

Photography isn’t allowed inside the tomb but is allowed in the visitor center where there was a picture of the inside of Newgrange. I took a photo of the picture to give an idea of what it’s like inside.

Picture inside Newgrange

Picture of the inside of Newgrange

The chamber is quite large with three recesses and a corbelled roof of overlapping layers of rock with a capstone, then covered with tons of soil and grass. The roof is still waterproof after 5000 years. There are many theories regarding the artwork both inside and outside the tomb but we can’t know with any certainty what it means. Many clues might also have been removed because, unfortunately, the tombs were pillaged for years before official excavation began.

The most remarkable and famous feature of Newgrange is the roof box through which the sun enters at dawn for several days surrounding the winter solstice on December 21. As the sun rises, the passage and chamber are gradually illuminated. At the end of September each year local school children draw the names of 50 persons who receive 2 tickets each for entrance to the chamber for one of the 5 days of illumination. In 2014, over 30,000 entries were submitted for the lottery.  The drawing this year is on September 25. Wouldn’t it be grand to have your name drawn and be there on a sunny day, too?

References: Informational materials at the Hill of Tara and Visitor Center at Brú na Bóinne.

Based on events in April 2015.

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Warning: Castle Ahead

Castles stimulate my imagination with visions of knights in armor and dreams of medieval pageantry. Ireland is full of castles in various states of ruin and restoration which is one reason I adore this country. The Irish also allow tourists to clamber over their ruins although it seemed to me more restrictions were in place this time than 10 years ago.

Trim Castle, on the River Boyne in County Meath, is the largest Norman castle in Ireland. For those of you thinking, “What’s a Norman?” here’s a little historical context in a simplified version: The Normans were originally Vikings that invaded and settled in Normandy, France around 900 AD. They invaded England in 1066 and the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, ascended to the throne of England.  The Normans soon assimilated into England and participated in English colonization efforts in other countries including Ireland. So in 1171, when King Henry II of England invaded Ireland with the aid of an Anglo-Norman noble, Hugh de Lacy, the king rewarded him for his service with the lordship of Meath. De Lacy built a castle there in 1173, but the wooden structure was destroyed by fire, then subsequently rebuilt in stone and added to several times resulting in the castle that remains today. The poster below for sale on site shows an artist’s rendering of how the castle and grounds would have looked after various additions and renovations.

Artist rendering of Trim Castle

Artist rendering poster of Trim Castle

You may or may not know Trim Castle was one of the film locations for the 1995 movie, Braveheart, the story of William Wallace and the epic Scottish struggle against English domination. Ironically, Trim Castle “played” the  English town of York where the Scots took the fight to England.  According to Wikipedia, the last castle owners, the Dunsanys, sold the castle to the state in 1993 (Wikipedia).  Filming of Braveheart took place in 1994 so I assume it was an opportune time to make use of the castle ruins prior to excavation and restoration work that occurred before the castle opened to the public in 2000.  When we visited in 2005 I didn’t realize it had only been open to the public for 5 years.

The entrance fee for adults is only €4 which included a guided tour of the keep. While we waited for our tour, we wandered around the grounds reading all the signs and taking photos. The setting is idyllic with walking trails along the river and a bridge across the Boyne where the trail continues up the hill to the site where St Mary’s Abbey once stood.

Trim Castle from outside the gate

Trim Castle from outside the gate

The Trim Gate

The Trim Gate

The Keep

The Keep

The Keep

The Keep

The River Boyne at Trim Castle

The River Boyne at Trim Castle

Today all that remains of St Mary’s Abbey from the 14th century is the ruin of the bell tower called the Yellow Steeple.

Yellow Tower at St Mary's Abbey

Yellow Steeple at St Mary’s Abbey

View of Trim Castle from across the River Boyne near St Mary's Abbey

View of Trim Castle from across the River Boyne near St Mary’s Abbey

The tour of the keep was worth the time and money so pay the extra €2 and take it. That said, while our tour guide was engaging and interesting, he seemed to still hold a grudge against the English for their colonization of Ireland. When he told my husband his family, the Lalors, were of French (Norman) descent, Jim had to bite his tongue because the O’Lalor clan was one of the seven septs (clans) of Laois and is strictly 100% Irish. We did, nevertheless, learn interesting details about the history of the castle and, as I’ve said before, we are, after all, history nerds.

inside the keep at Trim Castle

Inside the keep at Trim Castle

View from the top of the keep at Trim Castle

View of the River Boyne and the Yellow Steeple from the top of the keep at Trim Castle

View of Barbican Gate at Trim Castle

View of Barbican Gate at Trim Castle

Incidentally, if you read my earlier post, Ireland Beyond the Pale, you may be interested to know that Trim Castle was at the boundary of the Pale.  Any areas north or west of Trim were considered beyond the Pale, that is, outside of English control.  We were headed back to the Pale, aka Dublin, just 30 miles away (48 km) with our final stops in Ireland at the Hill of Tara and Newgrange.

Based on events of April 2015.

References:

Trim Castle. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 10, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trim_Castle

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Galway Next Time

The next time I visit Galway, I’ll fly into Shannon Airport. The next time I visit, I’ll also take a ferry to the Aran Islands. And next time I’ll tour Connemara. As you can tell, I’m already planning my next trip to Ireland and next time I’ll begin in Galway to do all the things we missed this time. We spent only one day and one night in Galway toward the end of our trip and it definitely wasn’t enough.

Since we didn’t have enough time for the Aran Islands or Connemara, we wandered around the Latin Quarter, the old town of Galway, at a leisurely pace taking in the vibe and the culture. Starting at Eyre Square where we stayed at the Meyrick Hotel, our first stop was to view the banners of the 14 tribes. Galway is called the City of Tribes after the 14 merchant families that controlled commerce and ruled Galway during the Middle Ages and beyond.

Banners of the 14 Tribes

Banners of the 14 Tribes

The most influential of the 14 was the Lynch family and their mansion, Lynch’s Castle, is the only townhouse that remains today. It was pretty much gutted and now houses AIB Bank, however.

Lynch's Castle

Lynch’s Castle

Very few buildings of historical significance remain today, but the Spanish Arch and the Blind Arch next to it, constructed in 1584 as part of the city walls, are still standing. The Blind Arch is so-called because it’s actually an archway to a storage room rather than a passage.

Spanish Arch and Blind Arch

Spanish Arch and Blind Arch

Galway

Beyond the Arch, along the River Corrib, Galway

Despite a dearth of historic buildings and monuments, several interesting current day cultural issues attracted my attention. Galway, is after all, a university town so current events demand student attention.

Political sign in Galway

Political sign in Galway

Atheist Ireland

Atheist Ireland Information Table

The narrow winding streets were clogged with tourists like us exploring the city. But the shops were colorful and welcoming and we did manage to shop a little for souvenirs.

Galway

Galway Latin Quarter

Galway

Galway Latin Quarter

One of the most interesting shops in Galway was Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold, home of the original Claddagh ring and the oldest jewelers in Ireland, established in 1750.  There are several versions of the story of the Claddagh symbol, but it is said to have originated in a nearby fishing village named Claddagh on the River Corrib. If you’re not familiar with the Claddagh, it’s two hands (representing friendship) clasping a heart (representing love) with a crown (representing loyalty) above the heart.  You can see it on the photo below. The ring is worn with the point of the heart facing outward if the wearer is available and inward if in a relationship. We ventured inside the shop and had a delightful experience witnessing an older couple buy an engagement ring to fulfill a long-held dream. Outside in front of the shop, I took several photos of them with their camera to help them commemorate the occasion.

Claddaugh

Thomas Dillon Claddagh Gold

Then it was time for a break at Sonny’s for an Irish coffee while we watched other shoppers pass by on High Street.

People watching at a local pub

Jim, Abi, and Brian: People watching at a local pub

Dinner that night was at Brasserie on the Corner to take advantage of our last chance to enjoy fresh locally-sourced seafood  on the Wild Atlantic Way. Or at least some of us did. Jim is usually lured more by beef and the beef was locally-sourced, too.  The meal was outstanding as you can see.

Brasserie

Brasserie on the Corner

Although the nightlife in Galway is highly touted, following dinner it was back to the historic Meyrick Hotel on Eyre Square for us. The oldest hotel in Galway, the Meyrick opened its doors in 1852 as the Railway Hotel. I found a super bed and breakfast rate of €115 on Sundays only which happened to be the day of our arrival. The hotel has an old world charm and elegance that I found particularly pleasing.

The sunset view from our room that evening was extra-special.

Sunset View from Meyrick Hotel April 19, 2015

Sunset View from Meyrick Hotel April 19, 2015

And the next time I visit Galway, all these experiences are definitely worth repeating.

Based on events from April 2015.

Categories: Food, History, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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