Hiking, Oghams, and Ruins, oh my!
5/29/08 - 6/4/08 24 °F
May 27, 2008
We are returning to Ireland after 10 years. We knew we'd be back and that this isn't our last trip to this whimsical and wild place that we love so much. This time however, we're older, more seasoned travelers, so logistics are a bit easier and we know how to travel better (if that makes sense). We're pretty excited about our latest adventure to misty, mysterious Ireland. We will try to blog it all ASAP!
Stella wants to come with us, apparently!
MAY 29/30, 2008
We got to Dublin at around 9AM and needed to stay awake so we wouldn't waste the day. We got into the rental car and headed into County Meath to Knowth. The theory is that these were either sacred burial places or ritual sites of the Neolithic Irish people. The man at Knowth was clearly very passionate about the place and it was such a mysterious place.................
Next, we were on the bus to Newgrange, another burial mound/passage tomb. According to knowth.com, “Megalithic mounds such as Newgrange entered Irish mythology as sídhe or fairy mounds. Newgrange was said to be the home of Oenghus, the god of love…Images from inside the chamber at Newgrange including the tri-spiral design on orthostat C10 which is probably the most famous Irish Megalithic symbol. It is often referred to as a Celtic design, but it was carved at least 2500 years before the Celts reached Ireland.”
“Newgrange appears to have been used as a tomb. The recesses in the cruciform chamber hold large stone basins into which were placed cremated human remains. During excavation, the remains of five individuals were found. It is speculated that the sun formed an important part of the religious beliefs of the neolithic ("New" Stone Age) people who built it.” (From Wikipedia)
We were able to go in with a group of about 30 people. The guide showed us how the light of the sun shines on the floor, by simulating it with a flashlight. It was a very interesting and spiritual experience. I later found a tremendous, yet inviting tree across the way from the tomb and decided to rest under her shady branches as I waited for the bus.
I was so fatigued that I nodded off during the 10 minute bus ride back to the visitor’s center. We stumbled off the bus and we inquired at the front desk about “Fourknocks”, a place we read about on the internet. The 1st girl had no idea what we were talking about, but the second person did and he proceeded to dig around for a map (the site was about a 20 minute drive from there).
We made our way down a quiet narrow road lined with Queen Anne’s Lace, and over to what we thought was the walkway, were we were confronted by a sign that said the keys to the door of the portal tomb are at Mr Fintan White’s house down the road, so we knew we were in the right place.
We encountered some British ex-pats who lived in Australia (Perth) on their way out of there and we ended up chatting them up a bit and following them to Mr White’s house to transfer the key. So back we went and it was just the two of us on a mild and sunny day. We explored this passage tomb & its ornate stones with the respect a place like that deserved.
We were surprised that unsupervised visitors have free rein over the site, but no one seemed to have vandalized it in the past, so I guess all was well. We were looking for a stone, that the placard outside said looked like a face. Steve saw the face looking back at us, and I did as well (after being coaxed by my own imagination). We climbed on top of the tomb and took in Irish the vista around us.
When we were talking with the clerk at the Newgrange visitor center, he asked us where we were headed next and was delighted that we were going to Lough Gur on this trip, his favorite part of the whole country! He suggested we take back roads down to Wicklow, as it was a Bank Holiday (like our Memorial Day weekend, minus the veterans) and the traffic would be nightmarish around Dublin. So off we went, on country roads to Glendalough in County Wicklow. We finally rolled into Co. Wicklow and admired all the yellow and white flowering bushes as the clouds passed over the sun, graying the sky for a moment.
From wicklow.com, “Glendalough gets its name from the Irish language. Gleann dá locha literally means the ‘Glen of the two lakes’.” "The valley of the two lake is famous for its wild beauty, its rich spiritual history, and its many archaeological sites." It is a peaceful and magical place for many people. So we checked into the hostel we were staying at and fought the urge to drop into bed and instead stumbled over to what appeared to be the only place open, a hotel/tavern about 1/8 mile from the hostel. We’d have a lot of sticker shock over the cost of food there. We had a quiet dinner of sandwiches (which were cheaper then entrees!) and crawled back to the hostel where we fell quickly asleep. Check out the bunk beds - hey we're always looking for a bargain!
MAY 31, 2008
This morning, we woke up early and stopped at a very cool restaurant that I had noticed coming into “town” the night before. They use all organic and local ingredients. We filled up on breakfasts waking up starving (darn time difference - I'm not usually a breakfast person). We returned to the hostel and packed our backpacks with raincoats, snacks and water for a hike. We get to the visitor’s center to get a trail map and were quickly on our way to the Spinc Trail, one of the hardest in the park I would later find out as I am huffing it!
At the beginning of the trail, it starts in the woods and there is a pretty waterfall cascading and then disappearing in the foliage.
We encounter a warning sign about this trail: “dangerous cliffs, have navigational skills, dangerous….etc” I am a bit apprehensive at this point and it’s here when I look at Steve askance and he sheepishly tells me of the difficulty of the trail. I am not much of a quitter, so off we went, and I didn’t think it was as bad as the sign said, but it wasn’t easy for me.
We make our way ascent up about 1,000 feet straight up in the woods on stairs. The trail was actually really nice. They were trying to dissuade erosion, so they encourage people to stick to the trail. Out of respect for the ecology, we did that. It was interesting to be in a postindustrial country like this, that has the infrastructure and resources to maintain these places. Some of the places we’ve been to are run down or poorly maintained in comparison. When we climbed out of the break in the trees toward our reward (a beautiful lookout of the two lakes), we rested and took it in, with a few gulps of water.
We encountered an Irish couple on this trail who were very cool and insisted on “posing” us this way for this photo.
Well we weren’t at the top yet, and we’d continue on a nice trail around the edge of the small mountain.
I kept interrupting the hike, by turning back to see the view that was slowly getting smaller. I had my mini tripod and set up a few pictures on the camera’s timer when we stopped to have a piece of fruit and some water. Steve was completely in his element out there on that mountain. I am grateful I can enjoy these things with him.
The hike started in the woods, and although the view was amazing, I do prefer woods over mountains. I think it is the dark, and the sounds and the sweet smells of the woods that I prefer. Anyway, we saw some goats and some deer running around as we made our way back down the mountain. Ireland gets rain, so there were mountain streams slinking down and at one point, there was a lone tree out there in the midst of the landscape. I hopped a few rocks and stood in the stream, listening to it amble over the stones and roll down the hill. Steve was further down the stream enjoying himself as well. The quiet break from the hike was nice for awhile and I took some photos.
Next, we walked past an old mining operation and the lakes and ultimately made our way back into the woods on the other side of the valley. Once we got off the trail and into the main park area, there were tons of people enjoying the beautiful weather. We wondered where all these people came from?? There weren’t many on the trail. We found a shady tree and crashed for a few. We snuck in a few candy bars in our bags and enjoyed them in the shade. I especially like the “Picnic” – I remembered these from previous trips and they are like a Baby Ruth here.
Back in “town” (it’s not really a town, more like a couple of places to stay and a convenience store and some tourist stands in the middle of nowhere), we went to Kevin’s Monastery. It’s a place people flock all over the place to see there in Glendalough. Apparently, “He lived in solitude at Disert-Coemgen for seven years, sleeping on a dolmen (now known as "Saint Kevin's Bed") perched on a perilous precipice, that an angel had led him to, and later established a church for his own community at Glendalough. This monastery was to become the parent of several others. Eventually, Glendalough, with its seven churches, became one of the chief pilgrimage destinations in Ireland.” (Wikipedia)
So we’re outside a souvenir shop and there’s this lazy black cat sunning herself right there and so I ask the clerk who is on her cigarette break) about the cat. She calls her “Baby” and says that the hotel/tavern across the street feeds her as does someone else. I asked how long she’s been hanging around and it’s been 10 years!! The cat can’t be bothered to lift her lazy head as I am petting her in the sun.
We read about this lookout in our Lonely Planet guide, so we decided to go check it out.
We didn't particulary like the looks of Wicklow town as we rolled into it, so we decided to drive through it and see what was beyond as we looked for a place to settle in and eat. On the way, we stopped at this little beach.
We found like the only restaurant around and decided since we were hungry that it was go. Everyone was sitting outside drinking Bulmer's (like and Irish Cider Jack) with their families and their dogs lolling around in the early evening sun. I asked some people if we could sit at their table. It was like a picnic table and in Europe it's customary for people to share tables at restaurants unlike here in the States. So we settled in and ordered food. They ended up leaving and another couple sat down later on. I was sitting with them while Steve paid for the bill, so I started conversation. Incidentally, this is an area for Irish tourists. Many of them have a summer home or trailer here. I noticed that we were the ONLY people around without Irish accents, so that made sense. They said this restaurant was the only game in town, which explains why it was so crowded.
We drove the 30-40 minutes back to Glendalough and hit the convenience store to get HB (their version of Good Humor bars). I got a mint Feast and Steve got a chocolate Magnum…..yum! We returned to the hostel to do laundry and plan the next day out. The weather has been stupendous! High 70s and sunny. And it doesn't get dark until well after 10PM!
June 1, 2008
The next day we got up and headed out to look for some Ogham stones in counties Wicklow, Waterford and Tipperary as we headed south.
The first one was in the middle of a quiet little town. We had written directions and photographs with us of each site, so we were looking for the buildings in the photo and easily found it in the middle of town.
From megalithicireland.com "Situated in the centre of Donard.... is this rectangular block of stone bearing an ogham inscription. The stone is about 1.5 metres high and the inscription reads, " IAQINI KOI MAQI MUC.." The megalith originally stood on a farm close to the village and was later moved to the garden of the civic guards barracks, which is now a private house."
The next one took some doing to find. We were in the countryside and were pretty turned around as the directions didn't indicate names of anything.....just like "a left at the intersection". The stone is in the woods and is not signposted. So we asked some old men for directions. To our surprise was asked the father of a local archaeologist! He pointed us in the right direction. There it was.......we walked in the tall wet grass to the stone and the sun was shining on it.
From megalithicireland.com - where we found all these stones online. "Knickeen Long Stone, is classified as a standing stone with ogham writing. This megalith stands approximately 8 feet high, with an ogham inscription reading "Maqi Nili". Ogham is the earliest form of writing in Ireland dating back to the early Christian era. This megalith was really hard to find as it was hidden in a forestry plantation, I would not have found it without a map."
I noticed this little snail on the stone, so I took a photo.
On our way out of the area, we saw a sign on the road pointing to the Castleruddery stone circle. Most of these ancient sites are actually on private property - usually owned by farmers. We saw the farmer in his tractor rolling around the field, so we waved and he smiled and sort of acknowledged it was OK to check the stone circle on his property.
From megalithicireland.com "This rather untidy circle which was once known as the Druidical Circle is about 100 metres in diameter, consisting of around forty stones, the circle has two enormous white quartz portal stones at the entrance.... The image bottom left shows one of the quartz entrance stones in the foreground."
This is one of a series of stones at the ST. DECLAN church ruins in the seaside town of Ardmore which is on the southern coast of Ireland in County Waterford. These were really easy to find.
From megalithicireland.com "Located in the chancel of the cathedral are two of the three ogham stones that were originally found at this site. The ogham stone standing in a small niche of the chancel shown left, was found built into the east wall of the oratory, and has two inscriptions that read: LUGUDECCAS MAQI (...MU)COI NETA SEGAMONAS and DOLATI BIGA ISGOB. Pictured below is an ogham stone found lying beside a grave, the inscription reads: AMADU. A third ogham stone which was found built into a wall of the cathedral has been removed to the National Museum Ireland. The inscription read ...NACI MAQI... "
We next went to find this other stone. As you can see it is on farm property and the stone is old and the inscription is not very good. This one was very hard to find, because every road and gate looks just like this in rural farm country. From megalithicireland.com "The inscription reads ' CATABAR MOCO VIRICORB'."
We began to look for the last stone on the list and just could not find it. We drove around in circles and decided that since it was getting dark and we were in the middle of nowhere, we'd try again in the morning on our way to Lough Gur, which is about 1 hour south of Limerick. So we checked into a B and B called Fatima House in Carrick-on-Suir run by a nice gentleman named Raymond. Carrick-on-Suir didn't appeal to us. It seemed kind of run down. Anyway, it was a fine place to rest our heads.
June 2, 2008
In the morning, we got up on a mission to find that last stone site. Back and forth we went down this country road trying to find the final site. We encountered an old farmer in a tractor. When Steve opened the tractor door to ask the old man, the darn thing came right off! He awkwardly tried to place it back on the frame, but the farmer seemed unmoved by the whole thing. He happily tried to explain which house it was where the farmer lived who owned the property. So off we were, a bit confused by the farmer's unclear and heavily accented (though well-intentioned) directions and we come upon a man and his son, so we ask. It's their property! Hooray! We finally found the place. We respectfully ask permission and the 12 year old boy walks us out to the site (not viewable from the road). It is magnificent! Almost every stone is inscribed!
He said his family has owned this property for 5 generations! As we dodged cowpatties on the way back, I asked him if he liked it on the farm and he said that he did. Incidentally, his older sister is in California working at the beach, like so many European young people do. If she's never left the farm, this must be quite an experience!
From megalithicireland.com "In 1867 a farmer discovered a souterrain, an artificial cave, in one of his fields, he discovered that ogham stones were built into the walls and roof of the souterrain and in 1936 part of the cave was dismantled and some of the ogham stones re-erected above ground. One inscription reads, 'CUNALEGEA MAQI C...SALAR CELI AVI QUECI'. Another stone bears the insciption 'MANU MAGUNO GATI MOCOI MACORBO'. Another stone reads reads 'CALUNOVIC MAQI MUCOI LIT......'."
On our way to Lough Gur, we noticed in our Lonely Planet guide rave reviews for Cahir Castle, so off we went!
Here I am at Cahir Castle
As we drove down the road, we notice this behemoth in the distance! Imagine our surprise upon seeing this magnificent castle on the side of the road! We stopped to take some photos from a bridge with a couple of Scotsmen.
Lough Gur is an interesting place. From University of Notre Dame's website, "Lough Gur is a small horseshoe-shaped lake nestled among limestone hills in south-eastern Limerick. Over 30 ancient sites and monuments can be found around its shores today, ranging in date from Neolithic to Medieval times, and many more may originally have been present (view map). Lough Gur’s monuments include stone circles, dwelling-places, field systems, standing stones, ringforts, crannogs, castles, and a megalithic tomb."
So we go to the visitor center, with the intention of doing some hiking and we unpleasantly surprised to find that the woman there was quite unhelpful. We left with the impression that no hiking would be done that afternoon. So we decided to meander a bit and came upon a gate in the woods, not far from the visitor center. There was a sign that read that this was private property and no dogs were allowed. So we were a bit bewildered: What about people? Were they allowed? All of the sudden an old man with a walking stick appeared behind us. So we asked him and he said he wasn't sure, but he was going to carry on. So we decided to as well, stepping over the gate. The old man wandered ahead of us, as stopped to take photos here and there.
We get to a clearing with a beautiful view of the lake and there's a rather large hill, that we eventually worked up a sweat climbing. But before we approached the hill, the old man slowly disappeared into the distance. Now, I know that so many people revere this place as being mystical, but I began to wonder if that old man actually existed......
After spying some spittle bugs, we slowly climbed the hill among bright blue dragonflies effortlessly whizzing around us as we worked a sweat, and we were afforded some nice views of the lake.
We studied the lake and wondered.....could we walk around the whole thing??? As we made our way down the hill we encountered two men about 30 years old. They were an interesting pair, especially the one who reminisced about of his edge-of-the-law stories of living in the US and repeatedly asked us if we had marijuana. I talked politics with him, figuring that he had an opinion about the upcoming Irish vote on the EU Constitution that I had seen signs about everywhere. Indeed, he had an opinion staunchly against Irish approval. He seemed to like us and gave us the tip the the lake isn't really walkable on the one side and recommended the other side of the lake. So we were off......
We would now encounter a taller gate that said "Caution: Angry Bulls" or something like that. In an attempt not to appear to be rude Americans (were we?), we mentioned the sign to some Irish people swimming right there and they said they couldn't read the "No Swimming" sign either, so we confidently hopped the gate and started our walk. We are on our way to look for some stone circles on the hill up there and we encounter a bunch of cows. I mentioned to Steve that I thought the sign was an attempt at bizarre Irish humor, to which we replied with a resounding "no". I cringed. Were these bulls really "angry"??? We quickly made our way over the hill, and I stupidly thought this would provide shelter from the "angry bulls" not calculating the fact, that eventually, I'd need to make it back down the hill.
It seemed as though the sky was beginning to open up. We were prepared and grabbed our raincoats out of our backpack. They were effective in keeping our torsos and heads dry when the sky opened, but the remainder of our bodies was soaked, including our squishy hiking boots. Before the sky opened, we did reach two stone circles. Upon the advice of my mother, I left a bit of chocolate in each circle, as legend has it that fairies there expect that you leave them a little something or they get grumpy. Here is one of the circles.
Now that it is teeming, we decide it's time to make our way back to the car, which seems like a continent away at this point. I follow closely behind Steve and as we make our way over the hill again, and all of the cows seemed to move right into the area we needed to go! Steve thought it was comical, but I feared making eye contact with any of the massive animals, lest they think I was "challenging" them! In retrospect the whole thing is pretty hysterical. Still, I wonder.....where there "angry bulls" in that herd?
We stop at another wedge tomb and incidentally it is the largest stone circle in all of Ireland at Lough Gur as we drive away in the rain, toward Ennis.
We rolled into Ennis soaking wet from our encounter in Lough Gur. We dried off at the Stonehaven B and B and headed out to check out Ennis. What was weird is that the whole town closed down pretty early. Some pubs were open and we ate dinner at one of them.
After dinner we asked our server how long it takes to get to the Cliffs of Moher. He asked if we were looking to go right then and there and we said we were thinking about it. For a 30-40 minute drive, we determined we could do it. It was about 7:30PM and it got dark at about 10PM. So off we went, out to the Cliffs. It was overcast, so we brought our now-mostly dry raincoats.
We got to the Cliffs and it was desolate since they were "closed". Another couple was leaving as we got there. It was so much like our first visit. I had heard that they have become a tourist trap, so I was concerned. Since we were there after hours it was very quiet. We didn't need to pay the 12 bucks to park or an entry fee. All of this was new since we were there in '98. There was a visitor center and restaurant and gift shop built tastefully into the ground, but I could image hordes of tour buses there which would totally ruin the experience for me. As I said, it was quiet and misty and dark - just the way we remembered the cliffs - before all this was built up.
I took a photo as the sun was setting.
On the way out of the cliffs, we passed this church ruin that just looked cool, so we checked it out, respectfully, of course.
In the distance we saw lights for a carnival, we followed the shore to the lights and saw a small carnival set up. There was a ride that was American themed, which I found amusing, so I took a photo as the teenage girls on the ride waved at the camera.
June 3, 2008
In the morning we got up with the intention of checking out the Burren, which is probably our favorite part of the country. We're still in County Clare. We drove down windy roads through the expanse of the Burren. Our first encounter was the Dysert O'Dea castle. Look at how sunny and beautiful it was on this day!
It was actually pretty cool to be back in the Burren, knowing that a decade ago, we ambled along the very roads, but this time it was very different - and it wasn't just the dramatically sunny and mild day.
We bought some fresh cheese from a shop at a stone fort, that was made at the nearby Ailwee Caves, and then snacked on that before moving on.
Of course, we went to the Poulnabrone Dolmen. This was an interesting experience. A lot had changed since we were last here. It seems to have been "touristed". The peacefulness of the site seems to have been compromised by the parking lot, ropes around it, and tour buses pulling in - all new developments since our last visit. Steve sat on a rock some distance away as I walked around and snapped photos.
He was dismayed that this sacred place was relegated to a tourist trap with people oddly posing in front of the portal tomb. Had we done that at Stonhenge, I wondered? Is it cynicism or a great respect for the ancient culture we had been hunting down the last 4 days. There was a fine line. So here we are, after I set the camera on the tripod, near the dolmen, but not in front of it.......
Anyway, here is a photo I shot of the Dolmen.
We heard that the view from Ailwee Caves was beautiful so we went there next. When we got to the entrance gate, we felt awkward about telling them we didn't want cave tickets, we just wanted to go up there for the view, but they couldn't have been nicer. In fact, the girl gave us a map and told us where the views were. Perhaps they get a lot of these requests?
My mom recommended the Burren perfumery, and since we had the time to kill, we decided to check it out. It seemed pretty out of the way on narrow little overgrown roads through the Burren national park that were signposted with repeated warnings that no tourist buses were allowed on these little roads. I kept getting the feeling that we somehow had the "inside scoop" by not being on the bus. I am not sure if I was right or wrong. So we roll into this quaint, cute, little out-of-the-way stone cottage. This is where we had lunch!
It was (admittedly) very feminine, and cozy. We settled in with fresh butter and brown bread, salad, chutney, and an egg salad sandwich. We also ordered their herb tea of the day (herbs is kind of their thing!). And we got this little teapot with loose herbs and a tea strainer. Everything there was phenomenal. I wondered if this place was real. It was out of Alice in Wonderland.
Now as if we weren't enjoying this little place enough, these cats started weaving around our feet. The orange one was especially friendly.......reminding us of Stella at home.
We mistakenly bought some shower gel as a thank-you for Steve's sister, not realizing it would get confiscated at the airport for being more than 3 oz. They were very nice about it at Shannon, but it would be discovered on the US side and they didn't want a bad rap. We understood. We wandered around their herb garden after checking out the little store.
After the perfumery, we decided to make the drive to east Clare out to Killaloe to check out a stone in a cathedral there. What is cool about this stone is that it has both Runic (Scandinavian) and Ogham (Irish) writing on it. We drove around town a few times after going to the wrong cathedral. When we finally got to the cathedral it was probably about 2:30-3:00 pm and the door was locked! Drat! We went across the street to a little shop and asked what the shopkeeper knew about the cathedral. Well, he was incensed that the doors were locked! He said it should be open for children of God to visit! He told us where the Deacon lived and said we should knock on his door to open it. We hemmed and hawed, but he assured us that he tells people to do this all the time. So we went to the guy's house and he said it was often that he came down to open the cathedral. His name was Steve and he was most friendly. He let us in and talked about the cathedral and showed us the stone we were looking so hard for.
This trip has been cool. We were on a mission to find some ancient stones in Ogham writing and we found all the stones on our list, although some were a bit difficult to find. This trip was dramatically different from the trip we took in 1998. We were able to do and see so much more since we know how to travel much better. It's weird.....travel....it's actually something we have had to learn how to do. Anyway, Ireland has maintained her mystery as we remembered it 10 years ago.