14. The Ancient East

Published on 8 May 2023 at 09:06


We spent day 14 of our road trip - our last before returning our rental car - exploring Bru Na Boinne from our home base in Trim. Bru na Boinne, the Valley of the Boyne, is considered the cradle of Irish civilization. It is home to Tara, the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland and Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth - three massive 5,000-year-old passage graves that are older than the pyramids.

The origins of these tombs are steeped in mystery, but they seemed to have served as burial chambers for rulers and their families and places of worship. We started our tour at Knowth, the largest of the three. You can't enter this tomb, however you can climb to the top, and it is surrounded by amazing carved stones. From Knowth we were transported to Newgrange, where a guide took us inside the tomb which is over 250 ft across and 40ft high. Entering the tomb you walk down a passage that opens up into a central cross shaped room. It is perfectly aligned east-west, so that on a single day each year, the winter solstice, as the sun rises a ray of light enters through the roofbox and lights the center chamber. At one point our guide turned off the lights and replicated this event with a single beam of light. To be inside the tomb and witness the beauty and ingenuity of its design was mind-blowing.

Our next stop, Monasterboice, was founded in the 5th century by a disciple of St.Patrick and is famous for its high crosses. These distinctive ringed crosses have become a symbol of Celtic Christianity.  The early crosses only have geometric designs on them, but later styles like those at Monasterboice were literally designed to be “sermons in stone” and were intricately sculpted with scenes from the Bible. For example, on Muiredach’s Cross, you can see a depiction of the fall of man on the base, Moses and the Israelites on the stem, and the last judgement carved into its centerpiece.

From Monasterboice we headed back towards Trim with a quick stop at the Hill of Tara.  There is not much left to see of the glory of Tara. It was a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon and the park was full of families picnicking, walking, and playing on the grass, but you can still make out the Royal Enclosure, an oval fort in the center of which is Cormac’s house containing Liah Fail, the legendry Stone of Destiny.

Liah Fail was one of four great treasures brought to Ireland by the Tuath Da Danann, the others being Gae’ Assail, a spear that never missed its mark, Freagarthach, a magic sword of light, and Undry, the Cauldron of Plenty. After defeating the Fir Bolg, Nuada the king of the Tuath Da Danann took up residence at Tara, planting Lia Fail in the king’s enclosure. When he placed his hand upon it, it cried out, proclaiming him the rightful king of Ireland.

After the coming of the Milesians and the defeat of the Tuath Da Danann, the princes Eremon and Eber divided the lordship of Ireland between themselves. The splendor of the King’s high seat at Tara was plundered, its spoils divided, and its great halls falling into decay. Lia Fail alone remained (and still remains), a sentinel to the high kings of old.

Our final stop for the day was Trim Castle. The castle was built in 1173 and is the largest Norman castle in Ireland. What was once meant to serve as a powerful Norman statement of England’s dominance and the futility of further revolt, is now merely a beautiful ruin that towers above the surrounding village.

Both Rach and I felt such a sense of peace and having come full circle as we completed the final day of our road trip around Ireland. It was an incredible privilege to visit sites that are historically the equivalent of visiting the pyramids in Egypt and served as a fitting end to an amazing two week adventure.

For a relatively small country Ireland is so rich in historic sites and scenic wonders that it really does make for the perfect road trip destination!

Knowth, Newgrange, Visitor's Center Café - Beef and Guiness Pie (Yum!), Monasterboice, Tara, Trim Castle

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