Saturday 19 December. After a so-called continental breakfast, Lucia, a Dutch woman who works at the Newgrange Lodge, gave me a map of walks in the area, and I started out on one that would have taken me east along the Boyne. I don’t know exactly why, but I turned back after just a few feet and headed for the Brú na Bóinne Visitors Center. (This is the sign that confronts drivers, from left-hand drive countries and right-, leaving the center.)
And this is the first view of Newgrange, from an overlook on the way from the parking lot that I doubt many visitors experience:
I had a real breakfast, “a full Irish,” at the visitors center, window-shopped for quite a while at the gift shop, getting Christmas presents (Irish wool socks for Trisha, a Newgrange t-shirt with a triskele for Lily, two books for me—First Light: The Origins of Newgrange, by Robert Hensey, and A Pocket History of Ireland, by Joseph McCullough—then set out to walk a mile up the hill to the L1607, the road to Drogheda, then half a mile east to Glebehouse, a wedding/event location where cars were pulling in and parking and where there was this sign:
And this van, with a Dublin license plate. (Baile Átha Cliath means Town of the Hurdle Ford.)
The web site consciousconcert.ie is dedicated to “Awakening Consciousness Through Sacred Entertainment.” The people parking were there to celebrate the solstice the next morning. They were going to stay up all night at Glebehouse, have a sweat lodge, and walk to Newgrange in time for sunrise. A very serious young man with a very Irish name—not Aidan, but I’ll call him Aidan because it was like Aidan—asked if I wanted to join them. I think he said it would cost 95€. I said no thanks, and added that I was a solstice sunrise lottery winner. Aidan said, “Well done,” but he obviously didn’t think I’d done well, because he added: “When you’re in the chamber, there’s all there is. The sun comes in and then you leave.” Some of the people coming in to Glebehouse—they looked like hipsters of all ages, the sort you’d see at Burning Man or Coachella—said they’d signed up for chanting or drumming. All the newcomers got big hugs. Many of them carried sleeping bags and pillows, which I couldn’t reconcile with staying up all night. Nobody used the word, but I think at least some of them were Druids.
Later, on my way back down to the intersection, a young woman in a tiny car full of camping gear pulled over and rolled down the window. When I leaned down, she asked if I knew the way to Glebehouse. She said Glebehouse, whereas I think Americans would say Glebehouse. I said, “Top of the hill, on your right.” She said, “Fantastic” and drove on. I felt like a native.
Just next to Glebehouse is Dowth, a passage tomb that is part of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site. It’s the same diameter (280 meters) as Newgrange, but nowhere near as impressive. Most remarkable to me, though, is that you can walk right up to it, climb on it, peek inside it. There’s no one around. There’s a sort of stile gate, but it’s unlocked. As with so many places in Ireland, there’s no merch, nothing for sale. I had to explain merch to some Irish friends I made, and had to explain how stunning was its absence. When you compare the Hill of Tara, the holiest place in Ireland, with nothing but a tasteful gift shop/cafe, to Sedona, AZ, a supposedly sacred place that is nothing but merch, well, there’s no comparison.
In his book about the Boyne Valley, Sir William Wilde, Oscar’s father, notes that the landowner of the property where Dowth stood built a teahouse on top, the better to enjoy the prospect. I guess you’d call that merch.
Walking back down the hall to Newgrange, I passed these locals: