|This weblog covers my visit in August 2003 to the Boyne Valley in Meath, the Knocknarea peninsula in Sligo and the Hill of Tara back in Meath.
I've never really "connected" with an area in Ireland before, having no ancestors at all that I am aware of from the place.
But this area of Sligo, with Knocknarea and Carrowmore megalithic cemetary, really got a hold of me, along with all the local Yeats history (Not relevant here).
Knocknarea dominates the landscape of its peninsula gloriously. We were camping at Strandhill and by the time we had been there for 3 days I was itching to climb it.
I had read about the old tradition of taking stones from Maeve's Tomb at the top, and how the local council were trying to encourage a new tradition of ADDING stones to the tomb instead, and I was mightily tempted to carry a large stone all the way up the hill form the beach at Strandhill.
In the event my father joined me in the climb and time constraints led to our driving half the distance and then walking from the car park at the base of the steep climb up its south east side.
The path is treacherously rough, a REAL path I prefer to call it, and you really felt you had earned reaching the top. From there it is a short easy walk to Maeve's Tomb, which looks close up distressingly like…well a pile of stones. But then again I'm from a neck of the woods where we don't have that much stone to pile up, so that was probably just me.
The real interest is on top of Maeve's Tomb, where there is another small cairn. In my photo of this all the ground around it is the top of the Tomb, which is a lot grassier than one expects. From the top you can also see words spelt out in the heathland all around the Tomb with rocks from it, presumably for good luck or in remembrance of those passed. Okay, so this does involve taking stones from the Tomb, but it was very touching to see nevertheless.
We added our stones from Strandhill beach to the cairn and it felt a great honour to add to the building of an ancient site. I did my druid thing and honoured the site with a libation of water, then we enjoyed the view, which is incredible.
From Maeve's Tomb we walked northwest to the edge of Knocknarea, to look down on Strandhill where we were staying. Wonderful views.
Returning to the Tomb I went to sit on the cairn at the top again. This time I was attacked by wasps, which I took to be a message to leave!
This page from a travel site is of interest because it shows a picture of the cairn on top of Maeve's Tomb in 1999 (About 2/3 of the way down the page) as well as an account of a visit to Carrowmore Cemetary.
Compare the cairn in 1999 with the 2003 picture:
CARROWMORE COMPLEX, SLIGO:
Walking away south from the Visitor's Centre we first encountered Tombs 53,55 and 52:
Turning east we came to the more recent Bronze-Age Tomb 51, Listoghil, which was undergoing restoration.
North of Listoghil is Tomb 56, then the impressive circle of Tomb 57. It would be more impressive if a fence didn't pass right through the eastern section of the circle, but this obviously followed the line of a far older stone wall.
I just can't help wondering what possesses anyone to put a wall in such a place, when a yard or two further east would have avoided the circle.
Maybe I'm just being a typical tourist by saying that...
A little further north are the remains of Tombs 58 and 59. Over the road, to the north east, lie Tombs 1-5 and 7 (See fieldnotes):
We began and ended our holiday staying with the outlaws in Meath, from where we visited the Boyne valley at the first visit:
THE HILL OF TARA:
On the return leg of our holiday we visited the Hill of Tara, which is incredible. A complete jumble of sites, reflecting a rich history and prehistory. I cannot thank our guide enough, as he went out of his way to give us the "extra" tour after the quick version he had to give a coach party. He was clearly in love with the place.
This is a rich and extensive site that surpassed my expectations completely.
It is almost as if someone decided to move a whole jumble of ancient sites to the top of a hill that is invisible from the countryside around it.
I'll be back...
The figure at the base of the larger stone was described to me as being of Cernunnos or a Sheila-na-gig.
The second one seems more likely, given its setting.
However you decide:
What a confusion of ditches and banks! Not really helped by the fact that the British Israelites dug it up in the early 20th century looking for the Ark of the Covenant!
This should tell you all you need to know about that particular crowd: http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/3418
According to a guide at Tara, one of them still turns up yearly with a shovel and a map and asks to dig a test pit. Let's hope this happens while a crowd of Modern Antiquarians are there, so we can help him to occupy it...
In my considered opinion this strikes me as being a cursus. But then again, perhaps I'm biased.
I walked its entire length in both directions anyway, just in case...
There is nothing to see inside the King's Seat, apart from a good view of Cormac's House.
It is not contemporary with Cormac's House and was built, I understand, in Christian times.
The weird figure eight formed by the proximity of the King's Seat and Cormac's House is fascinating. Within the pre-Christian Cormac's House stands the Lia Fail and a memorial gravestone to the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
Formerly a statue of St. Patrick stood here, in triumphant celebration of the defeat of the Heathens. When an attempt was made to take it away for renovation it fell apart, so a competition was held for local children to design another statue to stand by the path leading to the Hill of Tara.
Some locals disapproved of the resulting statue, due to his skirt not being long enough, so they pulled it down. A bog-standard St. Patrick now stands by the path instead, "biding his time" as a non-catholic local said to me on the Hill.
Meanwhile, Cormac's House remains Patrick free…
A wonderfully simple stone, with the modern base seeming not to detract from its power.
From here it is easy to believe that, on a clear day, 20% of the land mass of Ireland can be seen from Tara.
I have no Irish ancestry that I know of, but as my partner is half Irish I chose this place, as a Druid, to quietly say hello to the land and formally introduce myself.
What a fantastic spot...