Ireland '99: Day Nine

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Newgrange and Nowth
Ross Castle

Day Nine -- September 4th, 1999

I write today’s summary from a most fantastic place, but you will have to wait until the end of the day to find out! (No cheating by scrolling down allowed.)

Carol Miles, Max and Ben: our gracious hosts!

We awoke to take care of our mid-vacation and post-wedding chores. Jenn and Susan took care of laundry while I begged Mark’s dad to take our suit back (Thanks Patrick!). We said goodbye to our several day Howth hosts, Carol and Miles (and their canine companions, Max and Ben). We then drove Bryn and Susan to the Sixt car rental place – fitting everyone one plus their luggage into the mini euro car was quite an exercise in packing!


We all four then headed north in our two cars and had lunch in the town of Drogheda (cottage pie for myself – when I ordered it, I could not tell if it had apple or potato slices on top). We also did some shopping, including a can of Heinz Barbie Spaghetti Noodles – a gift for the toy lab people back home. We also walked by, by unfortunately did not enter, the church that housed Oliver Plunkett’s head from the 1600’s, preserved in liquid for public display. The head, by the way, has a long and sordid history, having been moved from one spot to the next. The rest of the fellow’s body was burned, but the head was snatched from the pyre just in time (despite some scorch marks on the nose and neck). Morbid, eh?

Three Americans dumbfounded by a High Cross

The four of us decided on a quick excursion up to Monasterboice, making a reckless turn off from the highway. There, we saw two very large High Crosses and a large round tower. There was also a 13th century church ruins that were describe as being “recent and of little interest” – it’s all relative, eh? Also of interest was another reverberation spot similar to what Bryn and I saw the day before last on top of Dalkey Island’s Martello Tower. At the entrance to Monasterboice, the stone wall was built in just the right arc such that when two people stood in a line, far enough apart, the other person would have a reverberating voice. Curious thing was that one could not hear it on their own voice, you needed two people to experience the phenomenon.

We then headed to the ancient, ancient ruins of Newgrange, visiting both the Newgrange mound and the Nowth mounds. Both were built around 3000 BC (far before the pyramids and even Stonehenge). The place spoke of great ancientness; it was quite eerie to walk down the main burial passageway that were five thousand years old. 

Pilgrimage to Newgrange

Newgrange's carvings consisted primarily of spirals, and even these were very beautiful, especially given their age. Also, Newgrange’s passageway is solarly aligned so that on the winter solstice (?) a shaft of light travels down the passageway to the very end of the tomb. (To be there to witness it in person, you have to be on a waiting list that is already filled for ten years).

While visiting there, I was able to talk with Susan at length about the manner in which the Newgrange archaeologists preserve the site. In the case of Nowth, they have completely excavated the entire site and are rebuilding it back the way it appeared 3000 BC. The whole process seemed rather damaging and artificial to me, given that they loose any information we could otherwise obtain with unknown future technologies by reconstructing. It was also artificial in that the reconstruction undoubtedly made guesses that were likely incorrect (and lose much of the potential to prove the correctness due to the evasiveness of the reconstruction). She pointed out that the reconstruction practice was quite common for European archaeology.

Geoff coming out of a secret escape passage 
Susan, though, got stuck! :-) 
(She is going to kill me now)

The Archaeologist in her element

We then moved on to Slane where we tried (unsuccessfully) to eat dinner in a rush (deep fried mushrooms and carbonarra pasta) At meal’s conclusion, Jenn and I sadly had to say goodbye to our faithful traveling companions of the last four days. Jenn and I both enjoyed the time with Bryn and Susan greatly.

As we drove out of Slane, there is one image that has curiously stayed with me ever since: the overcast, dusk sky was filled with black birds flying over a church steeple, with trees filled with more birds surrounding the church. It was vaguely reminiscent of the Hitchcock film.

We then made our way to the incredible spot I alluded to at the beginning of the day’s description. We arrived their quite late with darkness fully enshrouding the sky. Down narrow, pot holed filled country roads, we eventually found ourselves at the doorstep of Ross Castle, which promised to be our abode for the night. We got the suggestion for staying here from Bryn and Susan, who would soon be making their own bed in the castle a week later, at the end of their Ireland tour.

The castle was everything we could dream it to be: black cats that made curious scratchy barking noises, a super long bath tub, a venerable border collie at the door to greet us (even with a distinctive blue left eye and brown right eye), and a winding wooden spiral staircase ascending into the dark heights of the tower followed by another two flights of narrow zig zag stairs to the very top of the tower where our room waited for us. Depending on the source, there were either 62, 63, or 65 steps to the room; regardless, my calves were feeling it the whole way (must be from all that dancing last night). Our room has the true arrow slit windows on the top of the tower. The castle (dating back to 1524) came with a broad collection of strange noises, from outside bushes rustling to dripping faucets to the curious rumbling noise inside the two foot thick stone wall behind me that is making itself evident to me right now as I type.

A spiral ascent into hauntedness

With such richness, I took Jenn out and had to take some snapshots of the castle underneath the suddenly clear night sky. The stars presented the castle to us; the heavens were complete with both the Milky Way and Delphinious shining brightly above us. I snapped a few guess-work night shots of the castle being lit by a floodlamp and the night sky. Wondrously, while taking one of the pictures, a slow soft shooting star streaked across the field of view quite brightly and hopefully was captured on film (later: nope -- I was quite disappointed!). I then played around with Mark and Tanya’s wedding gift to the attendees (a candle) – Jenn and I held still for thirty seconds while we watched bugs fly into the candle’s flame (Jenn desperately trying not to flinch).

The castle even has its own ghost, Sabrina, who died forlornly of a broken heart. A few days before she was to elope with a dashing young Irishman, he drowned in the nearby lake. Three days later, she followed him out of heartbreak, but not entirely, for her ghost is said to haunt the rooms of the tower. I am seriously hoping she will come to me in a vision tonight, especially after thinking about vision quests several times today.

I head to sleep now, with hopes of ghosts held high.



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