Saturday, 6 May 2017
Today’s tale begins with giant Neolithic passage tombs, that is soil and stone burial mounds. First, we went to Knowth, then Newgrange. Both are part of the ritual landscape we call Brú na Bóinne, as it’s along the Boyne River. The landscape as currently mapped is 2000 acres and some 40 passage tombs. We visited the two largest only, and nobody really addressed the rest (some discussion in the visitor centre displays). We went by bus on timed, guided tours (hustle, hustle), first to one, then the other. We got to stand in a modern room inside the periphery of Knowth, and to go through the passage into the central room in Newgrange (wow!). No photos in the latter.
Here’s Knowth being excavated. The central tumulus is huge, and it has many satellite mounds. Two of the small ones were constructed before the big one. The first part of the big one was built was the middle of the interior, and the passage.
Here’s our tour group strolling among the little satellite mounds; you get an idea of the scale. The upright stones (and many other building materials) came from some distance away; this civic-ceremonial architecture was wanted.
We had an opportunity to scramble down into a souterrain, so of course I did. It’s an underground passage that was used to store food and to hide from invaders. They are much later than the Neolithic. And dusty. That’s because the weather is sunny (and breezy), and coming from Europe. When the wind comes from the west: blustery and rainy. We have fingers crossed that the sun continues. We are so lucky.
We had an opportunity to see in the passage at Knowth. It’s a very long ways to the center of the mound!
Around the outside of the mounds are stones with a face outward that was carved/pecked, I think every one, although not all are in good enough shape to see the designs. Here’s a sinuous line, with other figures. The “roof” above the stone is modern protection. When the mound was in use, it was in the weather.
This is Newgrange. If Knowth was huge, this mound is gigantic. It had architecture around it, but not the cluster of smaller mounds Knowth had. The pecked designs in the rocks are similar to those at Knowth but the proportions of types are different.
This is the entry to the Newgrange passage. It looks like there’s a bar across it horizontally. There are actually two passages. The lower one is the one people used; the upper one is for the sunlight at dawn for about six days at the winter solstice in December. They faked it for us—very impressive.
The white stone with cobble facade is for real. It is old and the quartz stones came from the Wicklow Mountains some distance away. The black stones are part of a modern remodel they did to permit visitors to enter the passage. The black stones are machine-cut so no one will make any mistakes about their antiquity. The giant stone that is sideways across the entrance was found there; it was put in place before the mound was constructed, as were the stones lining the passage, roofing the passage and interior spaces, etc. This building took generations to finish?
There’s a model of the interior of Newgrange in the visitor center, where you are allowed to take photos. This is the ceiling. It’s a high space, much less confining than you’d expect. The passage, however, is narrow, and the floor slopes up as you walk, waddle, or crawl in.
Okay, enough with the ancient ancient. This is the cemetery at Monasterboice, originally a monastery founded in the early 6th C. I’m not sure of the date of the round tower, but the two churches that are here (small) date to the 14th C. Monastery operations moved to nearby Mellifont in the mid-1100s.
The grounds of Monasterboice are known for the three high crosses here. High crosses are huge, very outsized, which makes for a large canvas for bible stories. The tops tend to look like a little building, or a reliquary.
And here’re the remaining walls of the magnificent octagonal lavabo at the Mellifont abbey complex. The building was for the monks to ritually wash their hands. We are told.
On to another abbey ruin. This is Slane, on the Hill of Slane. And whatta hill! We saw this sign at Monasterboice and Mellifont, too. And this one and Mellfont had a nice pile of freshly broken auto glass. We are nervous. And nothing is visible when we leave the car. Except, I noticed, a banana.
Here is a corner of the main building. Such views the occupants had! Same as the Neolithic people at Knowth and Newgrange.
And now we and our little red VW (takes unleaded not diesel) are ensconced in B&B number one, just outside Kells. The Kells with the name attached to the illuminated manuscript we debated visiting, but didn’t. Probably it was not made by monks from Kells, however.