Celts & Castles (and Elephants!)

Okay, so, full disclosure,  I stole at least half of this title from the tour Apt. 29 took of Boyne Valley today. No shame. (I mean come on, you’ve got the two “c’s” making that hard “k” sound right in a row; it’s like phonetic music to my ears.) But we’ll get to that.

We started our long weekend off right, with brunch at an elephant themed café a friend of ours told us about over in the Temple Bar area. We ordered French toast and Sarah sipped her bowl of steamed milk and we just generally had a nice Friday morning.

I dorkily snapped a photo of the menu doodle because elephants are just too cute.

For a place called Elephant and Castle, there probably could have been more elephants around, but their elephant frequency was still significantly higher than most  cafés, so I’ll take it.

Posing like a nerd.
Posing like a nerd.

We also got to see a live filming of a new Irish television series called Eureka: The Big Bang Query. It wasn’t quite what any of expected; we were shepherded into an old cigarette factory, damp and creaking, and thought for sure we weren’t coming back out alive. Definitely not the glamorous Hollywood set one might dream up in their imagination.

But the jokes were pretty funny (it was a comedy quiz show about science), even if some of the Irish history went a little over our heads, we laughed and applauded on cue because hey, you do what you gotta do.

The real treat this weekend came today, when we braved the early morning chill to meet our tour bus for a day in Boyne Valley exploring ancient Irish sites. We took the same tour company as last weekend, but didn’t end up back with the ramshackle Johnny the Tour Guide. Instead we got John. Far less eccentric than Johnny, but still a good time.

Lookin' good, Ireland.
Lookin’ good, Ireland.

Our tour was relatively  small this time around — only 9 of us plus John. And personally, I liked it that way. If it weren’t for the slightly crabby old woman with the raspy voice, I’d have said we were a good bunch. We were also joined by a couple from Spain with their cutie-patootie 2 and half year old daughter and a fellow American college student.

The first stop of the day was at Fourknocks, a neolithic burial site built into the hills of the Irish countryside. The tomb itself was one of many, and from afar they all look like regular old grassy hills. Instead, they’re actually built up mounds where remains were buried back in the day. Many of them were aligned with the sun at certain times of the year for religious reasons.

You'd never know what was underneath.
You’d never know what was underneath.

We were lucky enough to go inside of this tomb, which looked almost exactly as it had when the site was originally uncovered by archaeologists in the early 20th century. The only difference was a reconstructed roof that they put up to replace the original in the 1950s.

I think my favorite part of the whole thing is that the Fourknocks tomb is actually owned by a farmer just down the road a bit. We just pulled up to his house and he let us have the key to go check it out. It all seemed very quaint and laid back for what I imagine could easily be a major tourist site.

Hey, Sarah.
Hey, Sarah.

The tomb was fairly small on the inside, with three alcoves in the wall, which our tour guide explained to be representative of a cross figure. He went on to tell us about the different etchings and depictions on the rocks’ surfaces. It was all really interesting, and almost hard to imagine as being so old.

I spent a good few minutes fiddling with my camera in hopes of getting a cool shot in the dark tomb.
I spent a good few minutes fiddling with my camera in hopes of getting a cool shot in the dark tomb.

We resisted the urge to climb to the top of the burial tomb once back on the outside, despite the fact that there was a handy little old staircase we easily could have used. In the end it probably would have been either disrespectful, or damaging to the structure, so it’s a good thing we didn’t try to go up there.

We then made our way to the famous Hill of Tara, right at the center of Ireland’s middle kingdom. According to our guide, you can see all four major sections of Ireland from the top of the hill. I believe it.

I mean, check out that view.
I mean, check out that view.

Now, we were much luckier this week in the sense that it didn’t rain on us at all today. But we paid for it with frigid temperatures, especially by Irish standards. I mean seriously, I thought we left Burlington weather back in the states. You can imagine that atop this gorgeous but very high-up hill the wind would be quite strong, only adding to the chill.

So we quickly toured the area, running around the hilltop to take pictures before rushing back down the hill for hot drinks to warm our freezing fingers. I do wish it had been a little warmer, because the view from the hill was spectacular. The ancient dips and grooves in the earth were pretty enough on their own, but paired with the rolling farmland and mountains in the distance it truly was beautiful.

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The Irish landscape strikes me in a way no other has before. In many ways, it’s comparable to farmlands of the northeastern United States. I could probably snap a photo of a field back home in Upstate New York and one here, and if you were to compare them side by side I doubt you’d be able to pick which is which.

But there’s more to it in Ireland. Maybe it’s just because I grew up in the Northeast and therefore the area’s lost its sense of wonder for me, but I don’t think that’s it. I know how beautiful New England farmlands are. I can still appreciate their beauty, even if I don’t take the time to do so as often as I should.

But in Ireland, this overwhelming sense of time washes over me. It’s just so old. Far older than anything in the United States. As I look over the Irish landscape, I can see farms and sheep and little wooded patches, but I can also spot the occasional stone castle far off in the distance. We drive by preserved farmhouses with thatched roofs and stop at ancient burial sites and old stone churches. It’s just incredible.

I'm still not exactly sure what this statue is, but we saw it outside the Trim Castle.
I’m still not exactly sure what this statue is, but we saw it outside the Trim Castle.

I wish we had been able to tour more of the castles; I saw plenty of them dotting the landscape as we drove by. But despite the tour’s name, we really only got to stop at one castle, built in 1174. Trim Castle is now mostly in ruins, and you can walk around the grounds for only €1 a person if you come in a group.

The ruins were quiet, and though I walked around with friends, we didn’t talk much. We didn’t need to, and instead just gazed around and snapped pictures with our cameras. I kept trying to imagine what the castle would have looked like in its prime, with people living and working there. It’s harder than it seems.

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Trim was also where we encountered the trackies. Again. In case you need a recap, trackies are these 12-13 year old Irish boys that run around Dublin wearing tracksuits and wreaking havoc wherever they go. And you don’t want to mess with them. Hospitalization has been necessary in the past.

Being that we were far from the city centre, we thought we were safe. We were wrong. As soon as we got out of our van in Trim, we were swarmed by a mass of baby trackies. These kids seemed younger than what we’ve encountered before, and weren’t quite all clad in their typical track suit uniforms, but they were just as rambunctious. Our poor tour guide. They kept running around the van and pulling doors open as he was trying to lock it up. One of them actually grabbed Sarah’s backpack to pull her out of his way. I’m surprised she didn’t deck him.

Despite poor John’s desperate attempts to shoo the annoying miscreants away, they persisted, holding us up for awhile before finally running off. Only to come back ten minutes later and continue their harassment. Gosh darn, trackies.

Baby trackie photo bomb.
Baby trackie photo bomb.

After Trim, we stopped for lunch in a nearby village where I ate a €10 sandwich that was good, but definitely not good enough to be worth €10. Oh well. Sarah and Courtney orchestrated The Great French Fry Heist of 2016, so that made up for it. And by this I mean they stole someone else’s leftover french fries to take home with us because we’re heathens and we like food. Also my lame sandwich didn’t come with fries — whoops, I mean chips — and girls gotta look out for one another.

The last two stops for the day were Newgrange and Monasterboice. (I just love the old names.) Newgrange is essentially another burial tomb just like Fourknocks, only much bigger. We didn’t have the time to go inside it (silly logistics), but were told it was set up the same way Fourknocks was on the interior.

Actually though. It was huge.
Actually though. It was huge.

What I found most interesting was that archaeologists only found the remains of five people at Newgrange, whereas smaller sites like Fourknocks usually held between 30 and 40 individuals. Experts speculate this was because Newgrange, as the largest tomb, was primarily symbolic.

Monasterboice was a nice little surprise. I honestly had no idea what it was before we got there, so I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out it was actually a cemetery (no wonder I liked it so much), and the home of three ancient Celtic crosses and another round tower, much like the one at Glendalough.

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I captured a few nice photos and we piled back into the van for the journey back to Dublin. We even talked our tour guide into driving us closer to our apartments instead of letting us out on O’Connoll St.

Now I’m sleepy and tired and terrified of forgetting all the beautiful things I saw and learned today. So I think I’ll just go make a snack and watch Pride and Prejudice with the roomies instead.


2 thoughts on “Celts & Castles (and Elephants!)

  1. It is amazing how you capture everything so well and your words make me feel like I am there thank you so much for sharing with me. I look forward to our next adventure
    Love Lynn Houghton

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