Lots of stuff today, first up is the Brú na Bóinne
site, mostly known for Newgrange - we aim to get there when it opens to minimize crowds, which is partially successful. The site is home to 3 huge neolithic tombs, two of which can be visited, and those via tour only. They date from 3200 BCE, making them one of the oldest monuments known, predating Stonehenge or the Pyramids. For most of that history these tombs were buried and just looked like hills and their status as "fairy mounds" prevented them from being disturbed. We visit the tomb of Knowth first, and our tour group has just a couple other people, so we get to see it without a crowd. This tomb was excavated relatively recently, beginning in the sixties, and care has been taken to preserve what they've uncovered. The primary mound is ringed with large stones, each with unique artwork carved on to it and they are beautiful - seeing 5,000+ year old artwork is just mind boggling. We can't go in the tomb itself, but we do get a peek along the chambers, Knowth has two - aligned with the equinoxes, and they are lined with more carved stones. Newgrange presents a bit of a contrast, it was uncovered in 1699 and so has suffered a couple hundred years of weathering and vandalism - also all the rest of the tourists have caught up to us so we see it with a huge crowd. It has the same ring of stones, but most of the artwork has weathered away - the striking white retaining wall is a modern reconstruction, the white stone was found on site, but probably wasn't in a giant wall (the same stone was found at Knowth, but there they've just left it on the ground where they found it). Newgrange does have the advantage though that we can actually go inside the tomb which is very cool, and they also do a little light demonstration of the effect of the alignment with the winter solstice when the sun would naturally illuminate the inner chambers. Seeing Knowth first definitely helped in imagining what Newgrange would've looked like with all its artwork intact. The third tomb is Dowth and visitors aren't allowed, but we can see it in the distance, its alignment is to the summer solstice. We do lunch in the visitor center.
From there it is on the Hill of Tara
, the traditional seat of the High King of Ireland. The site today is a couple of hills surrounded by the grass covered remains of various earthworks. The little visitor center in a former church is closed but the site is open and crowded, mostly with students, while a bit chilly the place has a summer park feel with lots of folks just hanging out. Also check out a pair of entwined trees that are covered with offerings, not sure what the story there is, but was not to see, the whole site does have a very nice feel to it.
We leave here and have a little more time left than we were expecting, we head towards Kells
. On the way we stop briefly to wander the Bective abbey
ruins, heading out when a wedding party arrives in their classic cars. Another stop at the Hill of Ward
, a lesser known site associated with Samhain, now in a farm field and not marked other than a tiny plaque saying its a protected site (not even saying what it is). On into the town of Kells and take a look at the abbey grounds there which has a couple of high crosses and then just wander the town. A very tasty dinner at the pub
of a MasterChef
contestant, but otherwise a quiet night as we pack up getting ready to make our departure.