Tuesday, September 4, 2018

5000 Years Ago...New Grange

The name does not have the same ring to it as Stone Henge or Killarney or Culloden, but New Grange is indeed a mythical and historical wonder. Imagine, if you will, leaving the hotel and its fairy tale grounds early, swathed in mist and fog, with everyone half-awake, on our way through a green landscape, dotted with castles and lined with stone walls, to a mystery destination at the end of a road somewhere half an hour away. 

We arrive and park at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center, where I was instructed to arrive by 9:00, on the dot, if I want to be assigned to a tour that same day. The monument is yet a bus ride away, but an entire museum is dedicated to New Grange here for one's perusal. I neglected to make reservations six months before, and a month before was not soon enough, so we are at the mercy of the "same day tickets" system. Such luck; we are on time! We have been given spots on the 9:30 tour, so the walk to the shuttle needs to happen soon. Dad leads the way, traversing the foot bridge that spans the stream, which affords views of farms and white dots that are sheep in the distance. We are on the shuttle and ready to go in no time, happy to be out of the wind, because the morning is chilly. 

The short ride takes us down a road that ends in a farm, where the bus does a u-turn to head back up half a block to drop us off at the monument. We can see it. There is such excitement, but contained, as we have to sit in a corraled-off area around a stone cottage to wait for our tour guide to come fetch us. The kids think the monument is pretty cool-looking, but they are not yet overwhelmed with anticipation. Soon, it is the turn of our group and we climb the hill with our guide, who tells us the story of New Grange in the most compelling way. It is the story that brought us here, the one told in "Ireland, a Novel," by Frank Delaney, or perhaps another, of a thousand possible stories.

Made to honor the ancestors, New Grange, circa 3300BC, is a passage tomb, built out of time immemorial, so long ago that writing had not been invented in the western half of the world. The two most fascinating parts are; what happens inside the passage once a year on the winter solstice, and the stone artwork,  the most extensive collection of megalithic artwork in Europe. The latter is visible all around; on the stones on the outside of the circular structure; the most magnificent being directly in front of the entrance to the chamber, the others in place as part of the supporting structure. The first marvel is the reason people flock to New Grange; the passage, 60 feet long, narrow and irregular but straight to the end, where the sun, once a year, on the Winter Solstice, shines through a frame built on the top of the entrance, to allow it to illuminate the carving on the far wall, in a beam of sheer gold. 

We make our cautious way along the passage lit by lamp light, to the end, craning necks to get a glimpse of the side nooks as we crowded into the area before the final tomb. We listen intently to the guide, and then prepare ourselves for total darkness, as the lights blink out, and the simulation of the sunrise at winter solstice travels the length of the passage to shine on the far wall's carving, a demonstration of the power of human invention, long, long ago. No one fails to be awed, in the end. I am grateful to have been given the chance to see this fantastic achievement of our ancestors for myself.

Bridge from Brú na Bóinne to the shuttle:

Above: the stones of the surrounding ring
Next: a view from between fence rails:
The wall (reconstructed after being found in pieces all around the buried tomb):
The entrance to the passage, with the "sun box" overhead, and the large, carved neolithic stone, representing the rivers and fields and mounds: (hand rail added in more recent times)
Bodies were not burned inside the burial chamber, but outside; a stone oven:

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