We left the bordello and headed east for the neolithic mounds, Newgrange and Knowth. We finally got on a motorway where we could go 120 kmh (that’s between 70-75 mph). It was refreshing not scraping against a rock wall on a narrow Irish lane. It still felt strange to me being on the left side of the road but Gordon had adapted; it was almost second nature to him. It was a lovely sunny day and we passed lots of fields of cattle and sheep but no crops. We couldn’t figure out where they grew the crops to feed the critters. But it was also interesting to see that all the fields had rock walls. I would have thought that the cows would have just pushed them over but maybe that’s why they had the foliage–to tie everything together. We took the Newgrange exit and were back on narrow roads. Gladys pointed us down a silent tree-lined road. The ambient light was so ethereal I understood why the druids used it as a holy place. The drive to the visitor center was otherworldly. The plan was to just tour Newgrange but the next tour was two hours away. The Knowth tour was almost ready to go so we signed up for that. I’m glad we did. Knowth was more interesting to me than Newgrange. More of it was exposed. They think these were burial mounds because they found remains of at least 400 people in Knowth. But it’s all speculation. The mounds date back to 3200 BC–they predate Stonehenge by a thousand years and the Egyptian pyramids by 500 years. And the artwork on the granite matches artwork on Mayan and other ruins around the world. They have no explanation for that. The granite surrounding the enormous mound was hauled from the Wicklow Mountains about 70 miles away–and they weigh tons. The guide told us that the wheel as we know it hadn’t been discovered so they think all that granite was rolled on felled trees. After the neolithic period the mounds were used as high points for defense. Rulers built keeps to survey the countryside. When you get to the medieval period the site was used as a fortress against the Vikings. The Vikings rowed their shallow-draft boats 13 miles up the Boyne to pillage. And, of course, the Battle of the Boyne where Catholic King James II lost to Protestant William to determine who got the English throne was fought in the area. So much history. We had to take the bus back to the Visitor Center and change buses for the tour at Newgrange, about a mile from Knowth. Newgrange isn’t as explored and exposed as Knowth but we were allowed to enter the cruciform area inside the mound. The neolithic architects piled massive rocks in a cone shape, one on top of another without mortar, and finished with a huge capstone. There were large basins in each arm of the cruciform that held the cremated remains of people. They know the bodies weren’t burned inside the mound because there were no smoke smudges anywhere. The guide squeezed us all inside and turned the lights off. I hadn’t known I was claustrophobic before but all I could think of as I stood in the dark tomb was all that rock overhead without anything to hold it together except it’s own weight. I was starting to get seriously creeped out when the guide outside simulated the sun rising in the east on winter soltice. On that one day of the year the light shines perfectly into the cruciform and shines all the way to the back, illuminating the entire space. It was breath-taking. Every year there’s a lottery and the winners get to wait in the dark on winter solstice morning for that perfect ray of light. How the architects figured out how to do that over 5000 years ago is amazing to me. I guess I’m not the only one.
We got half an hour to investigate the area on our own–and take pictures–before the bus took us back to the visitor center. I had to buy a bracelet with celtic knots that I call my Wonder Woman bracelet. I wish I’d gotten two: I’d go as Wonder Woman for Halloween if I could hold that bodice up–which I can’t. Oh well. We crossed the bridge over the Boyne to the car and I thought about all the history of the area and how it affected the British monarchy and the world. Then we headed our little Ford Focus for Dublin with a short detour to Drogheda. I explained to Gordon that the Catholics had massacred the Protestants and the Protestants massacred them right back at Drogheda and the population was dealing with those consequences over 300 years later. There were some wonderful buildings but we didn’t stop. It was rush hour, traffic was difficult, and we were both tired from being buried for hours. Gordon managed to get us to Dublin without incident but we had a terrible time finding the Westin Dublin. We couldn’t find any street signs anywhere and Gladys was starting to get testy. We missed a left turn and went around the block to try again. As we approached the turn Gladys started shouting, “Turn here, turn here, TURN HERE.” “Yeah, yeah, we heard you,” I muttered back. We finally pulled into the front the Westin although we had to park around some construction equipment; the city was replacing trolley tracks in front of the hotel. The bellman cheerfully asked if we had any trouble and I replied, “We’re a bit more generous with street signs in the states.” I was proud that I was developing the Irish gift of understatement. The bellman laughed and agreed that signs were hard to find. He showed me where they were on the buildings and I wasn’t surprised we couldn’t find them. They were tucked back on the side of a building and most of them were covered with foliage–or balloons in the case of the Westin. Thank God we had Gladys even if she did get testy. We’d never have gotten anywhere without her.
We checked into the hotel and were told that our rooms wouldn’t have any windows. I raised an eyebrow and the desk clerk explained that our room had skylights instead. I still looked at her doubtfully so she assured me if we didn’t like the room we could change it. So we moved in. It was great! The room was on the fourth floor and we had two tiny keyhole windows on the main floor that had the desk and a big chair. You went up four steps to the bed area; the bed had a skylight over it. It looked like a writer’s garret; I felt like Oscar Wilde. And it was quiet. The small windows kept out the sound of construction outside. I had no desire to change.
We went to the Mint Bar in the hotel for dinner. We’d had a long day and didn’t feel like looking for a restaurant. But it was a lovely place to eat. I had some sort of lamb sandwich and Gordon and lamb ragout with risotto. Both were very good. I wanted a glass of red wine and the bartender proudly pulled out a bottle of Rutherford for only $12.50/glass. I just smiled and said, “Kid, I’m from California. I could buy the whole damn bottle for $8.” So I had an over-priced glass of Spanish Shiraz. It was just fine. The bartender gave us tour suggestions while we ate. He was excited when I told him I wanted to go to the Abbey Theater. I think he may have been a struggling actor or writer. He said he had a friend in the hotel that worked part-time for the theater and would be able to tell me what was playing. I told him I didn’t really care; I just wanted to sit in the theater that WB Yeats built. He told us we could find pharmacies down by The Spire (I was out of NyQuil and needed some drugs). Then he covered politics–carefully. He said, “You know, the stories about the evil deeds of both Protestants and Catholics were overblown.” He said not to believe everything we read in the papers. I told him we had the same problem in the states and I didn’t believe much of what I read anymore. He was so pleasant I think Gordon left him a tip. Then we went to bed. The cold/flu/plague I’d caught on the plane was starting to drag me down and Gordon had spent hours driving. We don’t have the strength we used to have. Gittin’ old. And sick.