It has been several days since I had the opportunity to post. It’s time to catch up.
We left Donegal on Tuesday and traveled south through Northern Ireland to the Boyne Valley just north of Dublin. This area has the highest concentration of passage tombs in Europe, Tara Hill (seat of Irish kings for centuries), and the scene of the Battle of the Boyne where the British routed the Irish kings.
We checked into Newgrange Lodge, a B&B across the road from the Bru na Boinne visitor center on a lonely one-lane road out in the country. It is a beautiful landscape, but we didn’t have time to paint. On Wednesday we walked across to the visitor center and got our tickets for the shuttle buses to the passage tomb sites. The antiquities go back more than 6000 years, but include ruins up to the Normans. The oldest are 500 years older than the Great Pyramid in Egypt and predate Stonehenge by 1000 years.
Knowth and Newgrange were the two passage tombs we visited in addition to their numerous satellite tombs, smaller mounds arrayed around these large tombs. In Newgrange we were allowed into the passage deep within hundreds of tons of rock and earth. The inner chamber is a magnificent corbeled ceiling of self-supporting slabs of limestone. It is eerie to stand under so much rock and earth and recognize the architectural brilliance that created it. This tomb’s passage aligns with the sun on the winter solstice. While inside, the guide turned off all the lights so we could experience the darkness and silence of the tomb. Then he slowly illuminated the light passage to demonstrate what it looks like on the solstice. This further impressed us as to the astonomical, geographic, and mathematic knowledge of these ancient people.
These magical sites are preserving partially due to the superstitious nature of the Celtic peoples that persisted into the 20th century. For centuries they shunned these sites as haunted, sacred, or homes of the wee people. That allowed them to remain largely intact for us to experience.