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Newgrange and the Hill of Tara

At the beginning of September MJ and I spent some time in Ireland. With MJ wrapping up his work week in the Dublin office, I spent the Friday on a tour bus visiting some sights. He had already been to the Neolithic passage tomb at Newgrange, so that was number one on my list. The day long tour I booked also included a stop at the Hill of Tara (Cnoc na Teamhrach).

The weather was beautiful. The tour began with a quick drive through the south of Howth, just outside of Dublin, where we saw some beautiful views across Dublin harbor. There was then a half hour stop in the main harbor area for some fresh air.

From there we were off to Newgrange. The tour bus got us there just before noon and we all went to the visitor center. At the visitor center we browsed for a few minutes as we all waited for the tram which would take us up to the site itself.

Archaeologists estimate is that it was built around 3200 BC, predating both Stonehenge and the great pyramids in Egypt.

When it was rediscovered by archaeologists in modern times, it was overgrown and a lot of the stones had been taken away from the site to build nearby structures. Several excavations happened throughout the 20th century, and the controversial reconstruction we see today, which includes the retaining wall, was worked on from the 1960s through the 1970s by Professor Michael J. O’Kelly. It is a little sad to know that the exterior is a restoration, however researched and informed, but it was still an impressive place to visit.

The tour took us past the “most photographed stone in Ireland” – the entrance stone which is carved with swirls of meaning that has been lost to time. I took a picture of it too. As advertised, past the stone is the entrance to the mound, where we were lead down a low and narrow passageway which reaches about one third of the way into of the mound. At the end of the passage there’s a trio of alter-like spaces which are believed to be ceremonial, as well as being where period human remains were found. Lending further credence to the ceremonial speculations, on the winter solstice the entrance is aligned with the rising sun, an experience that people enter a lottery annually to get a chance at participating in it. They do a mock sunrise with artificial lights during the tour, to give visitors a hint of what the experience is like.

After visiting the interior, we had another half hour or so before the tour bus returned to pick us up. I took the time to walk around the mound to take more photos, and sprain my ankle. Only one of these things was intentional, but they were related, fiddling with my camera while walking on uneven paths is clearly too dangerous for me. A sprain is not the souvenir I planned on returning home with! Unfortunately I then continued to walk on it, not just that day, but over the whole weekend, at a conference two weeks later, and I’m just now trying to properly attend to letting it heal.

Once back to the visitor center we had time to get lunch in the cafe, stop in the shop and take a quick browse around the on site museum. The pace of guided tours is often unfortunate for me, I could have spent more time there, but we had another stop on our itinerary, the Hill of Tara!

I’ll be honest, in spite of the historical significance of the Hill of Tara, there’s not much to see there. The story goes that it was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland for centuries. As the tour guide brought us through the complex he explained some of the known roads and buildings that evidence was found for. Another passage tomb is also located there, known as the Mound of the Hostages. But the site is mostly a series of rolling hills, not optimal on my ankle, but I was still confident in my ability to walk it off.

Mound of the Hostages

The most impressive spot is the the Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil), said to be where the High Kings were crowned. The guide explained the legend of the stone, sharing that the true king, having met a series of challenges, would touch the stone during the ceremony and the stone would scream, being heard throughout Ireland. I touched the stone, it didn’t scream.

Touching The Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil) atop the Hill of Tara

At the conclusion of the tour the guide was kind enough to drop me off at MJ’s office, as he was heading in that direction to drop off a couple anyway. I was able to get a quick tour before we headed back downtown and had a wonderful dinner at The Bank Bar and Restaurant right near our hotel. There we had some drinks and dined with the bust of James Connolly.

With Friday winding down, the weekend awaited us!

More photos from my day here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157688735097416