Day two, May 3rd, we awoke in the AM without too much difficulty. I believe Lisa woke super-early, but was able to doze until a respectable hour. Breakfast was our first crack at “Full Irish Breakfast”* and it was quite good. Then it was on to the tour. Excuse me, the Mary Gibbons Tour. You might think that a tour bus is a tour bus, but trust me, this lady was a character in the best sense of the word. Very proud of her expertise, but not jerkishly so. Informative, quirky… great lady. In other words, Irish. :p
As Mary is quick to point out, she has made special arrangements so that her tour has a pre-allotted time slot to view Newgrange and can pull right up to the gate. That may not sound like much, but the other tours have to park farther off site and have to shuttle their tour members in jeepneys. Not too shabby. How does she arrange this goodness? Hold on, dear readers.
So what is the Newgrange experience? It’s pretty amazing. While the edifice of Newgrange has been reconstructed, it was done using the original stone that was found at the site, using the methods that could be derived from the portions of the walls that remained. So, that photo above can reasonably be assumed to be what the original builders saw. Note that “original builders” is kind of an awesome idea all by itself. The thing took several lifetimes to construct, which means the people who decided to build it never saw it. EVEN WORSE, in my opinion, is the situation of the people in the middle, who neither had the inspiration of creation nor the satisfaction of seeing it completed. Me, I’d have seriously questioned hauling hundred pound stones a mile up-hill, over and over again, in those circumstances. (The question of building materials is actually kind of complicated, but this isn’t an archaeology blog.) Then you go in, down a narrow (ahem) passage that leads to a cross-shaped room with little alcoves and carvings and… oh, it’s pretty special. They did this great demonstration of what the light would be like on winter solstice, which the whole facility is aligned with, and it was fascinating. Yeah… the surrounding remnants of structures were also pretty neat. And to top it off, they know of other facilities like it nearby that they’ve purposefully not excavated yet; they hope to do a better job than the fairly ramshackle affair that was Newgrange in the early 1900s. Keep your eyes peeled for that 2050 trip to Ireland!
How does Mary Gibbons get such preferential treatment? Why, by bringing her bus by the gift shop and sandwich counter, of course! See, Newgrange is on some guy’s property. It’s a working farm, in fact. In a complicated bit of public/private partnership, it’s pretty clear that while the old guy isn’t really allowed to say “no” to the archaeology research, he’s allowed to dictate terms to some extent. In any case, we went to the old guy’s sandwich counter (seriously, there’s like 5 menu items, including pie with fresh creme; immune from accusations of selling out!) and have access to the purchase of a few postcards, and while we were there we saw Mary shmoozing the guy to within an inch of his life. She’s a crafty one. Still, it was a nice break.
After Newgrange the bus toddled on to the Hill of Tara. There’s myth upon myth upon story upon tale about just what went down there, but clearly it held political significance to the early Irish, but what we know for sure is that it’s the highest point for miles around, clearly chosen on purpose for that. There are iron age remains up there, including the Mound of the Hostages and remnants of a fortified village. There’s also a very quaint little Christian church built smack dab on it, because Christians just can’t help themselves when it comes to pagan landmarks, gods bless ’em. It’s less a place to see things and more a place to experience. The 360-degree view of, basically, all Ireland is the exact same view that was chosen thousands of years prior.
By then, much like you, Dear Reader, we were pretty tired of the experience, amazing or not. Fortunately it was a jaunt back to Dublin and we were done. Dinner that night was at the Clarence Hotel, which came highly recommended on a foodie website but which felt for all the world like the generic restaurant in a Hilton. So, not awful, but of all the great food in Dublin we cannot fathom why people would point to this. Music trivia: U2 owns the place. The story goes that years again, when they were still U1 or something, they were kicked out of the bar. “We’ll own this place some day,” swore Bono, and by God if he didn’t claim the whole place in the name of social justice and debt reduction or something. In any case they own it.
Tomorrow: Trinity College and my tour guide crush. Ah if only I was 20, Irish, never met Lisa, and probably a whole host of other things that would have to be different, plus she probably punches kittens. Alas…
* Lisa and I were highly amused that people would be pointing off to the left at little baby sheepsies, while over on the right was the oldest thing standing built by humans, EVAR. But but but, sheep!
* This was our first foray out of Dublin, which gave us our first glimpse at the fact that Ireland is largely devoid of people. For a variety of reasons it’s a pretty under-populated country given how live-able the land is. Well, parts of it. More than is used, at least.
* There was a young Irish family on Tara, picnicking. Mom, Dad, couple of very young, impossibly beautiful children, and I think even a dog. I remember Lisa and I saying to each other “ancient Irish kings are looking down at this and smiling – Ireland unconquered, indeed.”
* You might think that in Ireland they might just call “Irish Breakfast,” well, “Breakfast.” You would be wrong. I’m no expert, but I suspect that if Country A spends 800 years trying to tell Country B that A does not, in fact, belong to B, A would get awfully tetchy about things that are distinctly A. B is famous for shit food? A shall smother you in deliciousness!!! All hypothetical of course.