Thursday, May 05, 2011

Travel Log: Newgrange and Monasterboice

Before I went to Dublin I actually did a little research (shocking, I know) about potential day-trips from the city. I was going to be there for 5 days, and I wanted to make sure I saw a least a little bit of the beautiful Irish countryside. I came across this day trip to Newgrange and Monasterboice, and I thought that would hit the spot. I had actually been told that Newgrange was incredible, so this seemed like a good plan. I booked myself a spot on a tour, and showed up at the Dublin Visitor Center at 10am as required. We had 7 people in our group, plus the tour guide, a jolly older Irishman named Colin. Other than myself, there were 4 older people, and a Canadian couple about my age, whom I befriended and we chatted throughout the day. 

Newgrange is a Neolithic (New Stone Age) tomb that dates from 3000 B.C. Yes, you read that correctly. To put it in perspective, that's 500 years before the Pyramids in Egypt were built. It is a "passage burial tomb," with only one small entry and passage that is just wide enough for a person to pass through (at its narrowest point I had to turn sideways), even though the tomb covers nearly an acre of  land. The entire story and history is really fascinating, and you can read it here if you're interested. But in short, it's incredibly well preserved because after its initial use it was sealed, was grown over and simply looked like part of the landscape, and remained closed until the early 1700s (AD). At that point a local farmer was looking to find stone to build something, and happened upon the entrance while digging for stone. So, obviously it's remarkably well preserved, despite its age. It was pretty fascinating to see in the distance as we approached:

Once up closer the full size was even more stunning:

For a little perspective on the height, here is a picture of me next to it. This wall was rebuilt in (I think) 1975 using only stones found on the site. The massive rocks that are at the base have an interesting story. Apparently the nearest place this type of rock is found is something like 60 kilometers away from the site. And they believe it would have taken 80 men 4 days to get ONE of them to the tomb site. Pretty intense.

This is the entrance. You can see some megalithic art on the side of the large rock- fascinating! Above the entrance is a window box, through which, on the Winter Solstice (December 21) the sun shines at sunrise up the passageway. Farming was life to the people who built this, and so they needed a way to measure time. What better way than to know the exact day of the Winter Solstice?? Can you even imagine the process they would have used to measure and figure out how to do that?! Wow.  

It was really incredible to see this ancient site!

Then we were off to Monasterboice, the ruins of a monastery/cemetery. This isn't a site that is monitored or under any specific care, so we just showed up and walked around. We were the only people there. At this site are two incredible Celtic crosses that are 1100 years old and stand at 18 and 22 feet tall! Our awesome tour guide Colin taught us so much about these crosses and all the Biblical stories depicted on them; it was wonderful. 
Here I am next to the smaller of the two. It is made of 3 pieces of stone- the base that I am sitting on is one piece of stone, the cross is one piece of stone, and the little piece on top (that is designed like an old church) is the final piece. 

Each panel depicts a scene from the Bible, and they were used to teach people. On this one below is Adam and Even on the with the fruit tree between them and the serpent wrapped around it. On the right is Cain killing Abel. One fascinating aspect of these scenes is how the Celts wove their traditions and customs into them. For instance, the sword Cain is using is a traditional Celtic design, as are their clothes.  

Here is a close up of one side of one of the crosses, which depicts the crucifixion of Christ:

And here is the larger of the two crosses, standing at 22 feet:

The cemetery was also fascinating, with gravestones dating as far back as 1746 and as recent as 2010! This struck me as an interesting juxtaposition of old and new:

It was SUCH a great tour and well worth it. I learned a ton, and it was unlike anything I've ever seen. What a great combination, too! I highly recommend visiting these places if you get the chance!

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