|VVXX Phase 3
After all of the planning and the months of texts, emails and phone calls our trip was almost cancelled by 24 alleged Al-Quaida suspects. We were both due to fly out to Dublin on Friday, the day after chaos consumed the UK's airports. All day Thursday, I sat at work, glued to the Guardian website and constantly checking Ryanair for updates and after the first waves of panic, we decided that we would go ahead and set off for our respective flights on Friday morning. As it worked out, we were both delayed but arrived in Dublin within 2 hours of each other and with plenty of time to pick up the hire car and head out to Trim, where we were to be based for 4 days.
Other than witnessing the most spectacularly bad Elvis impersonator I have seen for many a year and having a wander around Trim Castle (where Braveheart was filmed), there is little to say about Trim, so onto the first day of stone hunting in Co Meath. The lovely Ryaner (Andy) had already advised me that we really had to go to Loughcrew, so we set off bright and early on Saturday morning. The drive from Trim to Loughcrew was great but, my god, those potholes! I spotted the cairns sitting atop the hill as we approached by road and that first familiar tingle set in.
As we approached Loughcrew, we wondered about getting the key, as advised in the many books we had read. However, when we got to the car park there was a note saying that guides were up on the hill and to come up and join them. So we did!
There were a group of 5 people head of us so we spent the first 30 minutes looking around the satellite sites and stones & taking some photos. We then approached one of the guides, a really lovely man called George Knight, and spent a good 15 minutes with him, chatting about the sites and asking him about access to Patrickstown. He was so enthusiastic about Loughcrew and had many, many theories about the site that I could've talked with him all day. However, we still hadn't been inside the pasage tomb and he was due to take 4 other people in, so we joined them.
Bugger me, that is one impressive place! I thought Vicky was going to pass out with excitement at one point, the whole place is just so awe-inspiring. My head hurt when we tried to think of the science and maths which must've gone into working out all of the alignments. I get that tingly feeling all the time when visiting ancient sites but this was ridiculous! We were like love-struck teenagers!
George spent a good 20 minutes describing the alignments and the way that the sun floods the chamber on the winter solstice. He also talked about the theories he has about the alignment of other passage graves within the area. Other than the light from his torch, it was dark inside the tomb, so we were just pointing and clicking with our cameras, some of the pictures were incredible, others less so; though I really don't think photos can do this place justice.
If you only have time to visit one place in Ireland, I would suggest you go for this one. It is incredible.
Having chatted to the lovely George for some time, we abandoned our idea of setting out to Patrickstown and instead thought we would head over to Tara. I had been interested in George's thoughts about the alignment of burial chambers on the hills within the area and the idea of seeing Tara after Loughcrew seemed like a good one.....
After visiting Loughcrew, we headed for Tara. Unfortunately, before you hit the site of these 2 stones, you have to cross the path of St Patrick, which somewhat offended our lapsed-Catholic sensibilities!!
However, we struggled gamely by and entered the churchyard, the 2 stones immediately apparent on the right hand side. No-one else seemed remotely interested in them and we tried to photograph the larger stone with its carvings but the light just wasn't right (the pictures I did take are pretty much duplicates of what has already been posted here, so I won't bother you with them)
I like seeing stones standing in churchyards, there's something quite heroic about it! Many people we spoke to whilst in Ireland commented upon how superstition had actually saved many of the sites from being destroyed, which is the only good reason I can think of for holding such beliefs!
After watching the audio-visual presentation (accompanied by a group of very bored Greek teenagers, who seemed to spend the whole time texting each other) we headed out for the Hill itself. We walked anti-clockwise around the whole area before heading into the centre to look at each separate site.
We walked around the whole site, trying to get our bearings and were just amazed by the evidence of 5000 years of habitation, before heading towards the Mound of Hostages (another great name!)
Sadly, after having such excellent access at Loughcrew, the metal gate at the entrance of the tomb was a real downer. I managed to take some photos through the bars but the site felt unloved and neglected, which is strange as there were quite a few people around. Rubbish was strewn on the floor of the passage and it made me feel sad that such a site should be treated like this.
The carvings on the stone in the passage were clearly defined, even from the "outside" and I would've loved to have been able to see them closer.
What is really amazing about this site is the depth of the ditches and outer banks, especially the one which surrounds The King's Seat (Forradh). I tried to take a picture of it but I really couldn't get the perspective right, even when Vicky stood in the middle of it, it doesn't give any real indication to the depth
Tara was fascinating but after Loughcrew was also slightly disappointing. We headed back into the shop/tea room for the best cream scones this side of Cornwall and to browse the books. We then headed back to Trim for an earlyish night, knowing that the next day would bring more stones and sites and a possible meeting with Ryaner (Andy)....
Day 2 of our Irish Odyssey dawned bright and clear. We had spent the previous evening looking at the maps and drawing up a rough itinerary using the Megalithic European. We had already been disappointed when Andy had replied to my excited text about visiting Aghnacliffe Dolmen; Mr Cope had done it again and the site was actually about 100 miles in the opposite direction – agh!!! This was the one site that we had absolutely wanted to see. We still had a good few sites that we hoped to get around to though, so we decided to start our journey by heading out to se the huge and impressive looking stones at Punchestown Racecourse.
We were about to be disappointed, yet again. We reached the racecourse and spotted the Craddockstown stone in the field opposite. We parked in the entrance to the racecourse and headed across the road, only to find the field in full crop. Bollox! We both tried to get pictures, using our swanky zoom lenses but it really isn't the same, is it? So, we then set off for the Punchestown stone. Neither of us had seen it on the drive in, despite the fact that it appeared to be right by the roadside, so we went and asked "the security man", who actually turned out to be a very friendly member of the Garda! He directed us over to where he thought the stone was and we set off walking towards it. What we hadn't realised was that there was race on that day; not horses though but very, very fast rally-type cars, so we nearly came a cropper when we realised we were crossing the practice circuit! Yet more disappointment followed when we saw the stone but couldn't find a way into the field. 2 fences, one ringed with a double row of barbed wire and then an electric fence by a gateway kind of ruined the mood. We decide that this really wasn't the place for us and set off, instead to Athgreany (Pipers) Stone Circle.
After the disappointment of not being able to get close to either the Punchestown Stone nor the Craddockstown Stone, we arrived here fairly down-hearted. We pulled onto the side of the road by the sign for the circle and headed up the hill.
When we reached the top of the incline, our mood immediately lifted when we saw the most beautiful circle in front of us. This is a very round circle and reminded me of Glenquickan in Scotland, both in size (although the stones here are much bigger) and the location.
There was a family already there, father and 3 kids and I noiticed that he had Burl's guide with him. We started chatting and he explained that he had been helping a friend excavate the site on the day the picture for Burl's book was taken. This was the first time he had been back to the site and he was trying to work out the postion of the photo. After 30 minutes of chatting, he recommended other sites for us to visit in the area and the combination of the stones and the kindness of strangers made our disappointing morning a distant memory.
From here we set off for yet another circle, Castleruddery. The lovely friendly man who had been at Athgreany had left about 10 minutes before us with his equally charming children and as we were driving along, we noticed that he had stopped his car on the road and was waving at us! We pulled over and he told us he was worried that we would miss the sign for Castleruddery so had stopped to give us directions - just how lovely can one person be???? It brought a tear to my eye.
This was our next stop after Athgreany circle and was just as spectacular. Again, it is signed from the main road and there is a wee parking space by the gateway.
I loved the 2 great hulking quartz stones, surrounded by smaller granite ones (my knowledge of geology isn't great, so feel free to correct me at any time) but had to wonder at the discarded stones behind a tree; one had been drilled so accurately across that it had broken in two.
Again, this is quite a small and very round circle, set amidst the most stunning of locations. Some of the stones were incredibley weathered, where others have survived the last 4 milleniums quite well.
We both really loved this circle and I shot a 360 degree video of the site. When it was time to leave, I felt yet another tingle of excitement - we were going Dolmen hunting! I have been lucky enough to have seem some mighty quiots in Cornwall but Vicky was a dolmen-virgin and we had planned to have our butties at either Haroldstown or Browne's Hill (whichever we came across first!)
We drove past Haroldstown on our way to Browne's Hill but there was no obvious parking space at all, so we headed onto Browne's Hill, promising ourselves a return visit on the way back. It looked like such a perfect "mushroom" dolmen, like a slightly bigger Chun Quiot; very cute!
We were so hungry and tired by the time we got here that we just sat and ate our butties, whilst lots of Italian tourists came by, stood by the dolmen, took a picture and then left. Why is it that men always have to pose for photos like they are trying to pull? One arm, ever so casually raised, resting on the stone and a look of disinterest on their face? Maybe I've just met some strange men over the years.
Anyway, when we eventually felt revived by our tuna butties and apple juice, we explored. This is a huge bugger! The capstone is so enormous you just cannot imagine how it ended up on top of the portal stones. It must have been in-situ and the rest built up under it, surely?
The rather industrial backdrop of garages and workshops doesn't exactly lend itself to an atmospheric location and the chikcen wire fence is less than lovely but this really is a site/sight to behold
Whislt we were at Browne's Hill, I got a call from Ryaner (Andy). He had just finished work and was now free to take us exploring. We arranged to meet up in Baltinglass and to work out some good sites to visit. Having spectacularly failed to meet even one solitary TMAer whilst at Callanish in June, I was quite looking forward to meeting Andy, although also a bit nervous. It's a strange thing to meet someone who you've maybe emailed twice and argued with on a forum, for the first time! We had already ascertained that he wasn't a mad axe murderer (I asked him and he said "no"; good enough for me) but there was still the worry that, well, we just may not get on. As it turned out, we all got on famously!
The first site Andy took us to was Boleycarigeen. I was initially a bit worried as I have dodgy, "clicky" knee and he said it was a bit of a scramble up the hill but he sold it to me by describing it as a "magical place", so off we set.
I think that this was my favourite of the sites we visited on Sunday with Ryaner. Maybe it was the rather hilarious walk, with all 3 of us stumbling and getting caught on bits of dead tree at some point (and me almost falling into the smallest ditch imaginable) but it is more likely the absolutely magical setting of the stones.
Andy's previous visit was still in evidence and the bracken was quite low, revealing the most beautiful stones. Some of them were almost completely covered in moss and lichen but they still looked amazing. Vicky and I had a good wander around the outside to see if there was an outlier but there doesn't seem to be anything else in the woods linked to this site.
Andy pointed out and named the hills surrounding the site (which I have now forgotten!) and you can imagine the views from here before the forest was planted up. Fantastic! On the way back down, he noticed a stone amongst a pile of broken wood which could very easily be one of the missing stones; same size and weathering.
Oddly, there were 3 cider drinking Scandinavians sat in the centre of the circle which was pretty unusual because it isn't the kind of place a causal observer would stumble on and they didn't actually seem that interested in the circle itself, just their Bulmers! Made photographing the circle a bit hard but nothing could ruin the absolute magic of this place.
After such an amazing site, disaster struck! My camera died and we still had another 3 sites to visit. Gah!!! Fortunately, Vicky had her new, spanky camera with her, so all was not lost. Andy took us on a tour of sites around his native Dublin. First up was Kilmashogue Wedge Tomb, which was hidden away in a small forest, with views across Dublin and the bay.
A word of warning. The approach to this beautiful wedge tomb is short but very, very steep! My knee almost gave out but I perservered and I am glad I did because it is well worth it. Although in a ruinous state, it is set amongst some lovely woodland and there is still plenty to see. Andy explained that local youths tend to use this area for partying and car burning but it seems to have survived this latest onslaught.
Again, the views must have been spectacular when it was first built; if you remove the planted forest, you would look straight over what is now Dublin and across to the sea.
From here, we headed out to Kiltiernan, with Andy promising Vicky a dolmen to get really excited about and boy, was he right!
This was Vicky's favourite site of the day. I must admit, the journey up there did help; having to risk the electric fence (switched off!) and the hounds howling in the distance made for an exhilirating few minutes..... and then, when we saw the huge capstone before us, in amongst the gorse, it was incredible. Vicky spotted a fox, running into the gorse which made things even more fantastic!
Having been at Browne's Hill a couple of hours earlier and being slightly disappointed by the atmosphere of the place, this was just perfect. I like having to make an effort to see a site and the fact that this beautiful portal tomb is siutated in what feels like a wilder, unvisited landscape made the whole thing seem that much more impressive. The capstone is massive and has a "head", almost serpent-like. Andy said that it has been described as sphynx-like and I really could see the connection.
We explored for a good while and then Andy took us over to some stones which he believed had some markings on them. It was bit of a hairy climb up, trying to get all three of us balanced on the stones below but when Andy pointed out the stone in question, it was worth it. A definite pattern of chevrons was carved into the rock edge and continued on the other side. It was pertty hard to see because of the way the rocks have been dumped by land clearance but it was definitely there.
This is an awe-inspiring place; once again I had to wonder at the ingenuity (or madness) of the people who engineered the massive capstone into place on the dolmen and the fact that it is still intact.
One last site of the evening, which Andy wanted to show us before we headed back to Trim. We had been to Hully Hill near Edinburgh a few weeks ago and both liked the idea of seeing this suburban site.
Ballybrack is siutated on the beautifully named Cromlech Fields. Someone obviously thought long and hard about that one! It isn't fields at all, but a council estate just outside Dublin, but never mind.
Having recently visited Hully Hill near Edinburgh, when Andy suggested we visit this site, we both jumped at the chance. It is so unusual to see prehistoric monuments surviving the onslaught of the 20th/21st centrury, that I am always somehow lifted by these sites. Yes, they are shown little respect and are often mis-treated, but they do still exist.
There was broken glass and crisp packets strewn all over but the stones retained some beautiful markings and at least they hadn't been too badly damaged over the years.
This was our final site on a very short but packed evening in the lovely Ryaner's company and it seemed fitting to leave him at this site and head back onto the motorway and back into Co. Meath.
We left Andy at this point and headed back to Trim. We had been out for 12 hours and were absolutley exhausted but deliriously happy! If you go to S.E. Ireland make sure you get Ryaner to be your tour guide!
Our final full day in Ireland and we had saved what we thought could be the biggest disappointment until last. We were going to visit the Boyne sites and heeding the advice of all, we set off fairly early to get to the Visitor Centre. The first view you get of Newgrange is quite a shock, it suddenly seems to appear on the left hand side of the road. We tried to take pictures from the road but were thwarted by big trees! A combined sense of anticipation, excitement and dread seemed to fill the car as we approached the visitor centre....
We were taken to Knowth first as part of our "Newgrange Experience" and although the site was amazing, the whole tour side of it was slightly disappointing. Our guide just seemed really, really bored, which I can appreciate when you have to give the same talk 6 times a day to groups of barely interested tourists.... Our group consisted of a large number of people who didn't really speak English, so the whole thing was just odd. However, I would've thought that having 2 excited, squealing women, who were obviously REALLY INTERESTED may have offered a bit of a challenge to him, but it wasn't to be.
I loved the whole layout of Knowth with the excavated satellite tombs exposed so we could have a good old nosey at them. I also liked the fact that they had made an effort with re-erecting the timber circle but I was more than a little hacked off at the extent of what we got to see inside the tomb.
I did like the exposed wall, showing the depth of the tomb and the layers of construction (I think I am turning into a bloke, I am becoming more fascinated by engineering and construction!!)
I tried to engage the guide in some conversation, hoping he would suddenly become animated and tell us lots of amazing things, but he didn't. Oh well, you can but try.
The carved kerb stones really were amazing to behold though.
And so, onto Newgrange itself.....
We were luckier at Newgrange with our guide than we had been at Knowth. He was far more interested and interesting, even though he had such a short amount of time to "talk the talk".
I had been so thoroughly warned about the commercialism of this site that I turned up expecting to be disappointed; a great idea, as it turns out, because it was actually less Disneyfied than I had imagined and I had a great time!
We really didn't have enough time to walk around the outside of the site though and our photos felt rushed rather than thought out - I think we just pointed and clicked, hoping we could get it all in! That evening, when I read about the site I realised that we had missed loads of interesting stuff. Ah well, good excuse for a return visit.
At Loughcrew I felt quite emotional, seeing inside the passage and into the chamber. A similar thing happened here but it was the roof which took my breath away. I just kept staring up at it, unable to comprehend the incredible feat of engineering I was witnessing. I'm not sure about the facade of the tomb, whether the quartz was indeed used as a covering, although it seems as plausible as using gypsum to cover sites. I liked the idea of it being used as a ceremonial walkway though.
All in all, I was mightily impressed with Newgrange and I have to say that, if you have to have a visitor centre, then have one like this! It was very sympathetically designed and the interpretative centre was pretty good.
Just to echo others here; as we were leaving around 2pm, they were turning people away as all of the tours were fully booked. I would recommend you get there by lunchtime at the latest (oh and the food was great too....I now have a bottle of Bru Na Boinne springwater on my shelf with Newgrange on the label; great souvenir!!)
We left the Boyne sites and headed to Drogheda for a night of 4* luxury and Bloody Mary's which cost 10 euros each!!!
Our final day and we headed into Dublin, to the National Museum of Ireland to see the Kingship and Sacrifice exhibition
Maybe it was all of that vodka and tomato juice, sloshing around inside me but I have never felt quite so uncomfortable as I did standing in front of a case with the remains of an Iron Age sacrificial victim. It was interesting but just that little bit horrific; afterall, I was looking at the remains of someone who suffered a violent, brutal death and it felt....erm...wrong, I think.
So, the end of our Irish road trip and we ened it like every good tourist should; with a Guinness in The Temple Bar!
Posted by Vicster
16th August 2006ce
Edited 27th October 2009ce