In the words of that other famous Aussie traveller, “we came, we saw, we froze and we only half understood.” We only had two things planned today, to visit the ancient mounds at Newgrange and to drive to Galway. No problems, leisurely breakfast, small detour then down the M6 and we’ll be in Galway in time for smoko. As usual – ha!
We rise before many of the Dubliners have even gone to bed and get ready to hit the road. Nanette runs a tight minivan so we are all packed and ready to hit the road when the tantalising aroma of Irish breakfast curls past our collective nostrils. OK, maybe we can wait for just a few minutes more. Besides, the five thousand year old mounds at Newgrange will be even better if we let them age a bit longer.
The breakfast is gooood, and we pile into our Ford Galaxy luxury machine and ask our GPS where to go. I still find it a little odd to be getting accurate directions from a female voice, who I have personally renamed Colleen for the duration of the Irish adventure. We get to Newgrange and make some mocking comments to Nanette along the lines of “oh, we’re so glad we left early, look at all the cars in the car park” (two cars and a lost cat). As usual, we had to retract these later when most of the tourists currently in the country arrived with their tour buses about thirty minutes later.
We visit the largest of the circular mounds at the site, and enter through a very low and narrow passage into the central chamber. Our guide tells us that nobody really knows why the mounds were built, or what happened to the people who built them, but it’s widely believed that the alignment of the site demonstrates man’s perpetual search for continuation of the soul. Back at the ticket booth/tourist shop/coffee shop we regather and think about the next step. We look through some of the readily available information on local attractions and find that, almost by accident, we are right in the centre of the Boyne Valley, which just happens to contain some of the most significant heritage sites in Ireland.
We exit the now crowded car park, trying to ignore the “I told you so” looks beaming from one member’s face, and head to the first choice, which we named Monster Boys because we can’t pronounce the Irish name. The abbey at the site decayed into ruins long ago, but an impressive stone tower and still functioning graveyard mark the site. The interpretive sign says that the monks built the tower to stop marauding Vikings making off with the church treasures in the 10th century. Local legends claim that the Vikings were beaten by the fierce Irish and sailed off, never to return. I reckon they just didn’t like potatoes. All the records have been lost so you’re free to make up your own story.
We continue to explore the valley, stopping at the ruins of Slane Abbey, where we nearly froze to death, the Hill of Tara, too cold and wet for a couple of us to leave the gift shop, Trim Castle, and the Climough Stone, which we came across by accident. We only discovered after the event that Trim Castle was the setting for the Braveheart movie, and the unassuming stone Murray and I checked out in a cow paddock is covered with hardly discernible carvings – but we put our lack of insight down to the icy winds making our otherwise razor sharp brains a little lethargic.
Our day ends with a scenic drive via the heritage listed peat bogs (I kid you not) to Galway. Our B&B is near the seaside, so we brave the chill one last time to walk the esplanade to a spot recommended for dinner. “It ain’t far”, we’re told. Now where have we heard that before?