County Meath, Ireland

Monday, May 14, 2012: County Meath

On Monday morning, we had an elegant full Irish breakfast, then caught a taxi to the airport. We meant to take a bus, but a taxi zoomed up to us at the bus stop and offered to take us to the airport for the same fare. The taxi driver talked about the referendum that the “Yes” and “No” signs everywhere referred to, and said that he was not going to vote. “We’ve voted ‘no’ on this twice before. They’re going to keep bringing it back for a vote until we vote the way they want us to, so why bother.”

We picked up the rental car at the airport, where I was told that my credit card did not cover the car insurance even though I checked with Visa beforehand. I still don’t know if I was misinformed by the person on the phone or ripped off when we got there, but I was not inclined to argue about it all morning, so we bought comprehensive insurance and rented a GPS. The rental itself was cheap – $89 for 8 days. Later when we got on the roundabouts and the narrow roads, I was grateful for both of these things.

The motorways, like our interstate highways, were fast and easy. We got off the motorway, and in a few minutes the GPS stopped updating when I didn’t realize it wasn’t plugged in. We turned down a lovely back road and ended up in Duleek, where we decided to stop and recalibrate the GPS. As luck would have it, we pulled up to a restaurant/bar named O’Neill’s. According to the book McCarthy’s Bar, one of the first rules of travel is that you never pass a bar with your name on it. It was lunchtime and so we would just get a soft drink and consult our map.

The guys who lined the bar at O’Neill’s had either gotten off their shift a few hours before or had just gotten back from a football game they attended in Scotland the night before, and they were in fine moods. When we decided to order a Smithwick’s and a Bulmer’s cider, our drinks were bought for us. When they discovered that we were O’Neills, nothing would do but that they get the owner, Seamus O’Neill, down there from his office to pose with us for photos. When we told them where we were headed that afternoon – the oldest passage tombs in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site just down the road – no one had been there. “Any monkey can build a cave,” one said.

The most gregarious of the gang, Hilly, did his impressions of Robert DeNiro, Marlon Brando, and Sylvester Stallone for us. Many photos were taken. Another round appeared before us. We insisted that even though we were having a wonderful time, we could not drink any more alcohol and we had to get on the road. Hilly took Sandy across the road to his apartment and had us take a photo of him and the football club sign on his gate, then pointed us in the right direction.

This time we found Newgrange Lodge, an inexpensive but cozy place just five minutes walk from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. There was still time to tour Newgrange and Knowth, so we stowed our stuff in our room and headed down the road.

I could not possibly do justice to describing these megalithic era monuments and tombs and art. I’ve provided some links if you’re interested. I’ll summarize to say that these are older than the pyramids and Stonehenge, and are still being excavated and studied. Knowth in particular is fascinating because so many structures over the centuries have been built on the site. Newgrange is amazing because you can go into the passage, stand at the center, and watch a demonstration of how the sunlight comes in and illuminates the center chamber at the same time each morning. There is a very competitive lottery to get into this chamber during the Winter Solstice, when the passage is aligned with the sun’s rays to fill the chamber with bright light as the sun rises. These sites here in the Bend of the River Boyne contain one quarter of all the megalithic era art found in Europe.

We headed to the nearest pub for fish and chips and beef and Guinness pie, where we discussed our afternoon with another couple who had been there too. We were the only people on the restaurant side of the building except for one older man at the bar. Suddenly he turned to us and said, “Can I ask you – why are you here?”

I explained that we were here to see Newgrange. That didn’t satisfy him. I explained that we were in Ireland to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. That didn’t satisfy him. I asked him to clarify his question. He wouldn’t. He asked again, “Why are you here?” A woman with a twinkle in her eye walked through the room, rolled her eyes and waved her hand dismissively at him as she passed our table.

Frustrated and tired, I told him that he was just messing with my head and I was too tired to deal with it. Then he talked about the High Kings of Ireland. He told us about playing in the tomb on the hill when it was a fallen-in pile of rocks when he was a little boy. “Nothin’. It’s nothin’.” He shook his head and walked outside.

As we left, we passed him smoking a cigarette outside. He wished us a good holiday, and we drove on the “wrong” side of the empty road back to our lodge, puzzled at the lack of regard or interest the locals had for these colossal archaeological sites, studied and maintained with beauty and care, drawing people from all over the world, in their own back yards.

The next post will be dedicated to just photos from our visit.

Next post: Photos from Newgrange and Knowth

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