Friday, January 29, 2010

Langeville to Dublin

It all seems so long ago...well I guess that's because it's been well over six months now since I met up with my guy at Dublin Airport. There he was in the arrivals area, having made his way from home to Heathrow then to Dublin to our B & B in Dun Laoghaire and back to the airport on the shuttle to be waiting the moment I stepped into the terminal. What a guy! In the interests of catching up to present day, the rest of the travelogue won't be a timeline so much as an expanded highlights spread over several posts with a section on up-to-the-moment stuff. It has been pretty daunting to think about having to write my way from last June to now, to the point I avoided writing at all. Ahh, the excuses we make to procrastinate...

My first impression of Dublin was how modern it felt for such an old city. The curvy futuristic looking airport terminal was still under construction, many old buildings have been repurposed for flats and concert halls and public spaces and there are plenty of brand new glass and steel office buildings. We were to learn from the locals that many of the new places were standing empty as a result of the downturn in the economy and the banking crisis. There was even talk of pulling down the miles of new or stalled-out construction around the airport as it didn't look as though it would ever be occupied or even finished.

River Liffey in downtown Dublin

One of our favourite activities during our stay in Dublin was a bus tour out to Newgrange, part of the complex of Neolithic passage tombs or celestial clocks or ceremonial mounds in the Boyne Valley...opinions are mixed as to their purpose. That they remain somewhat of an enigma is not surprising considering they were built over 5,000 years ago (predating the Pyramids by 2,000 years!) and extensive exploration and protection only started in the 1960's. It is a very impressive place when one catches sight of it from the road leading in, very large and gleaming white on its emerald green hilltop. If its creators meant it to impress, they are still pulling it off.

Ian, our wonderful tour guide who regaled us with history, sang to us and told us storyteller style of Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) and the Magic Salmon


All visitors must pass through the Brú na Bóine visitor's centre and in groups limited to 50, take a shuttle bus up to the site for a one hour visit, one group leaving as another arrives. The passage and chamber can only be accessed in groups of 25 at a time, accompanied by a guide. Inside, the passage runs uphill and is so low and narrow that I was obliged to duck beneath the roof stones and turn sideways at one point to allow my shoulders to pass through. Those with claustrophobia issues are well advised to skip this part. The centre chamber, domed with concentric circles of rock, held all 25 of us, but very cosily. There is artificial lighting but at one point it was extinguished leaving us in velvet blackness with not a glimmer from outside, invited by the guide to imagine ourselves notables of an ancient cult, awaiting the arrival of the light on winter solstice. On that day, provided the sun is shining, a rectangular opening over the exterior door lines up perfectly with the sun's position, the passage and the central chamber, allowing light to run up the path and, for a few minutes, illuminate a polished stone bowl which stood at the centre of the chamber.

Curving entry area with roof box over exterior door to let in the solstice sun

It is thought that these moments were used for some special yearly ceremony but it's anybody's guess. One theory involves the bowl holding the ashes of the deceased so that the touch of the sun's rays at the moment when the days begin to get longer sends their spirits to join the ancestors. Another holds that fertility rites were enacted for the coming year's harvest. Should you wish to experience this moment for yourself, you must enter a lottery and if you are chosen, pray that the Winter Solstice isn't clouded over....bit of a long shot given Ireland's reputation for rainy weather.

Standing stone overlooking the Boyne River Valley

The outside of the mound is decorated with white stone and the base is lined with huge stones laid on their sides and decorated with triskells (three joined spirals) and other runic symbols. The slope down from the mound had several standing stones and a sort of chapel built entirely of stone. As you can see in the photos, the countryside is lushly green and dotted everywhere with sheep. County Meath is an exceptionally productive agricultural area and we were surprised to learn that dairy and other farm products are one of their biggest exports. I had the best butter I've ever eaten while we were there and I should probably devote an entire post to the phenomenon that is the full Irish breakfast.

Stone chapel at Newgrange

Newgrange detail: white facing stone and monolithic lintel slabs

I was surprised to learn how new archeological inquiry is in Ireland, especially given the rich historical and mythic tradition that continues to this day. It was not unusual to hear ordinary people talk about fairies and ghosts, and about bad luck coming from disturbing the "faerie forts". Perhaps it's due to centuries of domination and persecution or perhaps with such a profusion, ruins are taken more for granted than they would be in North America where similar sites would be roped off. There are ruins everywhere, tumbledown castles, famine houses, ring forts and tombs and very few have been documented or excavated to any extent. It was wonderful having such open access to these ancient sites, able to scramble over the same stones where 5,000 years ago, people took shelter, to look out at the same view from the vantage of a fort wall.

Lintel Stone with triskell and other designs

1 comment:

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