Staying just down the road from the Brú na Bóinne Visitors Center, I hung out there a lot. On Monday, 21 December, the center celebrated the December solstice, never mind that the actual solstice was on the 22nd, putting tablecloths on the tables in the dining area. It rained that morning, but by noon the rain stopped and the sun came out. I decided to take one more tour of the tumulus. I guess I had been hanging around for a while, because one of the guides recognized me from my previous day, and even knew my name.
She took me to where I was able to get a good look at Knowth, the third tumulus in the world heritage site. Knowth is open to tours only between April and the end of October. This is what it looks like from Newgrange:
This is from a photograph at the visitors center:
I came back to the center around 2:30, and ran into Mary Gibbons and Pat, who were there with one of Mary’s tours. Michael had mentioned that the center was going to open the tumulus at Dowth that afternoon, when there is an alignment with the setting sun in one of the chambers. While talking with Mary and Pat, we were approached one of the drivers of the buses from the visitors center up the hill to Newgrange. She asked me if I wanted a ride to Dowth. And back, since it would be dark by then. Mary and Pat encouraged me to go with her.
I was nonplussed, but the bus driver explained that “we’re all a kind of family here,” and that Mary was especially valued for offering her Dublin-based tours throughout the winter. I, in turn, had earned peoples’ gratitude for having Mary as my solstice guest. “You’re a good gent,” the driver said as we walked up the path to the bus terminal. Probably the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me. She turned me over to Frank, another driver, who said I’d been noticed by some of the drivers when I walked up the hill two days before on the way to Dowth. One of the drivers had radioed the others: “I think I just saw Brush Shiels walking up the hill toward Newgrange.”
Explanations ensued. Brendan (“Brush”) Shiels, according to Wikipedia, is “is an Irish musician from County Dublin (born 1945) best known for being the frontman of Gary Moore’s first band, Skid Row….He now appears regularly providing musical accompaniment on the Joe Duffy Liveline radio programme on RTÉ and still performs live around venues in the UK and Ireland. Brush also enjoyed a brief spell as a footballer representing Bohemian F.C. in the 1960s. Shiels has helped Bohemians recent times by making appearances at fundraising events to try and ensure the survival of his former club.
“In 1971 Billboard praised Shiels, Bridgeman and Moore for their album 34 Hours suggesting the “lads will travel far.” Shiels played at such internationally known music venues such as Fillmore West and Whisky a Go Go.” I’ve been to both clubs and heard Ireland’s Van Morrison at the Fillmore East.
Brush wore a variety of hats over the years. One of them was this:
See the resemblance?
This is Brush’s greatest hit (it was covered by Bruce Springsteen), a fucking great song, “The Fields of Athenry,” about a man exiled to prison in Australia for stealing food for his family in the Irish famine of the 1850s.) (Ctl+click to open in a new window.)
Frank, the bus driver, is just to the right of the woman in the red parka among the people waiting to see the sunset at Dowth. He grew up just over the hill, and played in these tombs as a kid. I asked if he and his friends
had found that scary. He said, “We never thought about it.”
I couldn’t squirm into the chamber at Dowth. Michael Fox did, and took this photograph.
Frank drove me back to Newgrange. On the way, he pointed out his mother’s house on this hillside. It was a fitting end to things that he told me one of the hills in the distance is the Hill of Slane. Everywhere I went in Ireland, I could see where I’d been.