…on Friday 18 December on a flight from RDU via Philadelphia. I wouldn’t do that again. Even though I’d deliberately booked an earlier flight than the one American Airlines wanted to put me on, there were delays in the US that I have a feeling are everyday, nerve-wracking occurrences. They were certainly repeated on the way home. Next time, I’d do what we did on our first trip to Ireland, i.e., fly nonstop to Heathrow from RDU and then take a short flight to Dublin in the morning. That way, if there are delays, at least I’m not still in North America.
I’d arranged for a cab to pick me up at Dublin airport, and was met by a congenial driver named Patty. He asked if I minded sharing the cab with a regular customer of his who’d been stood up by his driver. The customer’s name was also Patty, although he pronounced it Pah-dee, so it may be spelled differently.
At Newgrange Lodge, just a hundred yards from the Brú na Bóinne Visitors Center, I took a shower and changed clothes and went downstairs to meet Michael Fox of Boyne Valley Tours, whom I’d hired to drive me around for two afternoons. Michael is a County Meath native who’d worked as a technology consultant for 30 years (for Data General, the company at the center of Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine) before being bought out in the 2008 downturn and starting a tour service.
I’d read a lot over the last year so I had a list of places I wanted to see. We started at Kells, an important place in the story of Colm Cille, also known as Columba, the Irish saint who founded the religious community on the Scottish island of Iona, a place that had a huge impact on me on our visit in the spring of 2015. (This churchyard is one of several places we visited that are behind locked gates, but all one has to do is go to a caretaker’s house and get the key.)
Kells is famous for the Book of Kells, the illuminated manuscript that is actually in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. Again, we saw it last spring. The Book of Kells should be called the Book of Iona, because the manuscript was produced on Iona and only taken to Kells to safeguard it from marauding Vikings.
Our next stop was Loughcrew, a complex of 25 passage tombs arrayed over three hilltops. Cairn T, the most important, is at the top of this hill, known as Carbane East. This view is from halfway up.
From there, the tomb, Cairn T, looks like this.
The entrance, around the other side.
Inside Cairn T, which is older than Newgrange:
Looking out. Martin Brennan, an American of Irish parents, discovered in 1980 that Cairn T is aligned with the sunrise on the spring and fall equinoxes.
Looking back down the hill
I look as though I’m about to fall over, because I was. The wind was fierce. Listen to Michael Fox, or try to:
Loughcrew, in Irish, is Sliabh na Caillí, the Hill of the Witch or Hag. Legend has it that a witch named An Cailleach Bhéara attempted to gain dominion over all of Ireland by jumping across the country from hill to hill, dropping stones from her apron, forming cairns like this tomb. She tripped and broke her neck on Patrickstown Hill, which is in the direction (east) that I’m facing. There’s a slab at Cairn T called the the Hag`s Chair. If you make a wish while sitting on the chair, the hag will grant it. Our problem was that some kids were hogging the chair while we went by.
We were running out of light (it gets dark in this part of Ireland, which is 54º north latitude, about 4:15 pm), so we hotfooted it to the Hill of Tara, Michael proudly demonstrating the acceleration of his Audi Quattro’s diesel engine. Trisha and I had spent a wonderful hour at Tara in the spring, listening to a charming talk by Michael Slavin, an author and proprietor of a used bookshop on the hill, and walking around the hilltop, which looks out over 23 of Ireland’s 32 counties.
Atop the hill is the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, which is said to roar when it is touched by the rightful king of Ireland. (Trisha gave the phallus a huge hug in the spring, and it didn’t say a peep, so there’s that.) I hadn’t slept since I don’t know when and it was cold as well as dark, so I didn’t do the place justice, photographically. In the car on the way back to Newgrange Lodge, I nodded off several times.
That didn’t mean I spent, though. I fell asleep right away, at around 9:30, but woke before midnight, unable to go back to sleep. Michael had loaned me a number of archeology books, and I read them for a couple of hours. Even archeology didn’t work for a while, and then it did.