Thursday, June 05, 2008

Day Four- Slane, Co Meath to Northern Ireland

We started the day in Slane where we had spent the night. We visited Slane Hill, where Kate and I had been in 2001 but the boys had never seen. On this hill, St Patrick lit a paschal fire that caught the attention of the current High King at Emain Macha, Tara; the paschal eve coincided with Beltane, a druid holy day. On Beltane, all fires in hearth and home were extinguished, and the High King himself lit the new fire of spring and regeneration. The people danced about the fire, jumped through it and carried out ancient rituals of fertility to honor the return of the sun and bless the new crops. The Slane fire heralded the fall of the old religion and the entry of the Christian faith into Ireland.
On Slane Hill is the ruin of an ancient monastery, school and church; it was funded by the Conynghams, a Norman family who held the area. I met a couple in their sixties as we entered; they passed some time with me. They were on their way to spruce up the graves of their loved ones since a memorial service was to take place on the weekend following. Other family members were doing the same. (The boys were fascinated that in these ancient cemetaries are new graves; they are still using the grounds today. I explained the concept of consecrated ground and its importance in our religion. I grew up tending our family graves on Sundays, but have not carried this tradition on. Our cemetary is situated in a ghetto and it's just not safe to go there anymore.) The couple told me about the towers in the monastary being closed off because a gang from Dublin (just 45 minutes away) was stashing cocaine and heroine in the ruins and dealing drugs there until the local Gardai closed down the operation. The boys enjoyed that story; it reminded Dan of "the General" Martin Cahill, a favourite tale. We got some incredible pictures at Slane; the architectural details fascinated us all. Dan found a dead rabbit that made him think of sacrifices- yes, we have pictures, but they aren't going on my blog.
Thus sated photographically, we hopped in the car, gassed up and got snacks, and headed north. We decided to head for Antrim to see the Giant's Causeway and then head west to the Aran Islands. We drove all afternoon and finally reached the causeway in the late afternoon. We had thought to stay in or around Bushmills, but it turned out there was a huge motorcycle race going on. There were hundreds of motorcycles on the road, and it was obvious that we'd never find a place to stay. We decided we'd just do the scenery and move on. The traffic was so bad, we had time for one sight, so we ruled out Carrick-a-Rede in favour of the Causeway. The boys loved the coastal road. We drove by a really neat castle, but it was already after 4 pm, so we didn't stop until we got to the Causeway.
The visitor center had maps, and we grabbed some waters in a shop. Then off we hiked. The Causeway is named for the legendary Finn MacCuhaill (Mack-kool'), a man of large proportions who supposedly built a road to Scotland to fight another giant. The coastal cliffs head down into the sea with these incredible columnar stone formations that are hexagonal to octagonal in shape. Many columns support the cliffs, but the eroded ones undulate like cobbles forming an uneven road, or causeway. These basalt formations are apparently the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, but the ONLY place on earth this wonder exists is there in Antrtim and on the other side of the sea in Scotland (hence the legend). The area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One can take a bus down to the end of the paved road in the park, but of course my boys would have none of that. We hiked the entire way. There is quite a bit of trail after the paving ends, and not only can you hike but you can climb the rocks that jetty far out into the sea. And of course the boys did...
We spent several hours happily hiking about and observing. Dan had his binoculars, so we were able to check out formations in the distance and watch the seabirds. It was a very happy afternoon and evening.
When we were done, we drove toward Derry, figuring we'd have enough time to get at least that far away from the motocross-engorged towns. We passed through Derry and crossed Loch Foyle over the marvelous bridge. Heading on a little way longer, I was tiring from all the driving and hiking. Since I have no night vision, I stop before twilight (which fortunately isn't until nine-ish, since Ireland is nearer the north that Boston is). I saw a small hotel on the main road that had a restaurant and was situated near another restaurant; they had a B&B rate that was acceptable, so we checked in. I got my own room; the boys had their own, for a change. As we were bringing in the luggage, I realized that the restaurant next door was Harry's- Kate and I had eaten a marvelous meal there at a recommendation from our B&B landlady in 2001. I took the boys over for a gastronomical treat. Dan got venison, Bren got duck, I had a melt-in-your mouth steak. The food was fabulous; I highly recommend it (it's in Bridgend on the main road and has won several food awards). Bren tried an after-dinner digestive of Glenfiddich and was enjoyed it immensely.
We covered quite a few miles and sights that day. It was so worth the effort, every bit.
Quite a kick in the pants...

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