Sunday, June 01, 2008

Day Three- Navan, Newgrange, Tara

Turns out that at out big-ass Irish breakfast, when I revealed my relationship to Navan, the landlady knew my cousin. She gave us directions to the little shop out on the country road I had visited in 1974. We drove out and I re-introduced myself to Oliver and his wife Joan, who graciously spent a little time with us despite running a busy shop (he also has a gas station, auto repair and funeral business). Bren had wanted to mingle with some locals- what better than cousins? It was funny catching up after 34 years with a cousin I had met for all of 5 minutes, but look at those big Irish round faces and you know exactly where we both came from.
We headed to Newgrange after, and didn't get to spend a lot of time at the visitor center before we took our bus out to Knowth. We had an excellent docent- American of all things, but we have such a limited time there. We had exactly 10 minutes to explore after the tour, which includes a trip into one of the mounds. Knowth was a settlement of farming and fishing folk who lived next to the river Boyne in the neolithic era, and the area was populated well through the Middle Ages. The carvings on the mounds are beautiful and unique. The boys climbed to the top for photos while I concentrated on the carvings; none of us made it down the souterrain (I was down in the souterrain communing with my ancestors on 9-11 when the towers were falling.) We headed out to Newgrange on the bus and saw it high upon the hill before us. It is always a huge thrill for me to think that this ancient site built before the pyramids was built by my ancient ancestors. It calls to me whenever I am in Ireland and is always a new experience each time I go. We spent the first part of the visit taking photos then took the docent tour inside, where they showed us how the light shaft illuminates the chamber on the December solstice. The carvings inside are spectacular but no photos are permitted. The chamber was on private property and was visited by a succession of thrill-seekers over the course of 200 years who felt obligated to carve their names, initials and dates over the ancient carvings in the stone. Some people may get a kick out of graffiti from the late 1700s but frankly, it still makes me want to slap the idiot upside the head for desecrating a sacred place.
Bren had a snack and I had tea; Dan preferred to wait and snack at Tara (great little cafe bakery). Of course, on leaving, Bren directed me and we got horrifically lost in the country, but we came out rather near to where we wanted to be. The cafe closed just before we got there, but we did make the gift shop. Dan ate some snacks in the car (fortunately, they had started stashing munchies, because I DO not stop for lunch). Tara is such a letdown after the gorgeous visitor's center at Newgrange; just a few small signs up on the mounds. There is an exhibit in St Patrick's church, but it was closed. The Lia Fail, the Mound of the Hostages and the mound of the High King are all marked, but it's pretty much just left to the imagination what the beauty and splendour of Emain Macha, the seat of the High King, must have looked like when Patrick showed up. I entertained the boys with stories from my Nana about Patrick lighting the Paschal Fire on the Hill of Slane and how it could be seen from Tara, how he baptized the King, and the structure of the ruling class. I guess I was the Tara docent, for good or worse.
After Tara, we headed up to Slane to stay the night, having decided to head north to the Giant's Causeway. I had wanted to stay at the inn the Conyngham Arms, but they had a wedding and were totally booked up. We ended up across the street in the old Post Office, which was converted to a B&B and restaurant. The room was rather cute- very modern furniture. The restaurant was very good, but we just about killed ourselves in the shower which was either freezing or scalding, no in-between. Still and all, it was a nice day.

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