Day 7: The Oldest Tomb in Europe

Trip Start Apr 25, 2012
Trip End May 28, 2012

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Flag of Ireland  , County Meath,
Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Today was still gray and chilly, but the rain finally stopped.  This meant that the weather was good enough for planting, so after feeding the animals, Cailin and I headed over to the farm and started planting.  We were given trays of beet sprouts, a plot in which to put them, and a couple of trowels.  The work was repetitive, but fun, and we enjoyed the satisfying feeling of popping a plant out of its pot and setting it in the ground. 

The work went quickly, and before too much longer, we found ourselves heading back to the house for lunch.  Lunch was excellent, as usual, and consisted of a hearty bacon, beef, and vegetable stew with mashed potatoes and fresh bread.  We enjoyed hot coffee and fruit again afterward, and headed back out for more work.  The rest of the day went quickly as well.  We sifted compost to put on the potatoes, and then went back to the old castle outbuildings to remove more ivy from the walls.

We've been working a bit late each day thus far, so Carina let us off at 3:30 today.  We decided to go to Newgrange, an ancient megalithic site, and Lucho offered to drive us.  Newgrange is about 5000 years old, making it the oldest underground burial chamber in Europe.  The tomb was left undisturbed for about 4000 years before someone discovered it, and over time the stone structure was gradually buried. When it was finally discovered, archaeologists carefully cleared the trees off of it and placed the fallen stones back in their original places, and it now facilitates guided tours for the public. 

The site itself is still buried inside of a hill, and may always have been.  But the most fascinating thing about Newgrange is that here is a small opening just above its doorway.  The entrance to the tomb faces directly east, and passage into the center of the tomb twists and turns enough that only a small amount of sunlight can penetrate the very center of the burial chamber.  Furthermore, the sunlight's opening, or roof box, faces a part of the sky through which the sun only travels during the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.  The entire structure weighs several hundred thousand tons, and the rocks that were used to create it came from at least 20 kilometers away.  At that time, Ireland would have been heavily forested, so it would have been impossible for the early Irish to drag these stones through the trees; instead, they must have transported them by water along the river nearby.  It's amazing to realize that humankind had the capacity to create a structure like this so incredibly long ago.

After seeing Newgrange, the information center's tour transport driver offered to call a friend of his who owned a taxi in the area.  We were a bit hesitant about having someone else call a cab driver that he knew, as there are tourists in other parts of Europe that have been robbed in similar situations, but it ended up being okay.  The cab driver knew the bus driver because the two of them had worked together as tour guides many years ago.  The cab driver drove us to two other similar ancient megalithic tombs, one called Knowth and one called Douth.  He gave us a short tour of the outsides of each one (you can't enter them generally), and also told us a little about Slane Castle.  When he dropped us off at the castle, our fare was only 15 euros, or about $19, which meant only about $4.50 per person.

When we arrived back at the house, Matt, Lucho, and Laura were all there.  We made a quick dinner of pasta and green beans, and headed into town.  Boyle's pub, which is the main pub in Slane, hosts an open jam every Wednesday.  This would have been enough to draw us in, but we also learned that anyone who played in the jam got free drinks.  Casey, never one to miss an opportunity to play music (or free beer), immediately went up to the group of musicians there and found someone with a spare instrument that he could play.

Amusingly enough, the only instrument available was a bouzouki.  The bouzouki is basically a guitar-sized mandolin, with the same tunings in a lower range.  Casey had never played the bouzouki before; in fact, the first time he'd ever seen one had been in a pub in Dublin a few days prior.  He sat down, fiddled around with it for a bit, and promptly jumped into the jam session as though he'd been playing for years.  The group must have been impressed, because they asked him how long he'd been playing.  When they found out it was his first time, the message was passed around the entire group.

We enjoyed ourselves at the pub, but once the music was finished, we all agreed it was time for bed.  We declined the offer of a ride home from the barista, as we didn't want to make her work shift any longer, but as we were walking back, one of the men who had been in the bar that night slowed his car down and offered us a ride home anyway.

Tomorrow, we will work some more, and then we will head up to the historic Hill of Slane to see the ruined castle and the place where St. Patrick lit a fire on Beltane many years ago.
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Kash on

Man, I'm so jealous. Been dying to see Newgrange for YEARS.

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