Day 145: Bru na BoinneJuly 10, 2017 in Ireland
Exciting day today, since it's our first UNESCO site for quite a while, and will be the last one for quite a while as well! The site in question is Bru na Boinne (Bend of the Boyne), where there's a collection of neolithic burial mounds, many thousands of years old. It seemed like it would be a bit similar to Orkney, so we were a little apprehensive, but set off early in the morning to go and check it out.
We decided to arrive fairly early, since you can only visit on guided tours and we'd read that they tended to fill up pretty quickly - meaning you either had a long wait or missed out entirely. Neither of which were options we particularly wanted to contemplate! As it was, we drove the 40 minutes north of Dublin to the site and arrived around 9:30am, early enough to get on the 10:15 tour of Newgrange mound, and the 11:45 tour of Knowth mound. Just enough time for a quick look around the museum!
Since the museum and visitor's centre are a few kilometres from the mounds, they have shuttle buses to ferry you around. We hopped on one just before 10:15 and got to the first mound. Newgrange is very large, probably 10 metres tall and about 30 metres in diameter. It was a burial chamber likely for someone very important, as the cremated remains of three people were found in the central chamber on large granite bowls.
It had been perfectly preserved since it's just a large (man-made) dirt and stone mound, and the site was abandoned after only a couple of hundred years. So it was completely unknown and unused for something like 5000 years until it was discovered in the 1960s. The front had a facade of quartz stones mined a few miles away, though it's not known if that was the original facade or not (the rocks were just found at the base, so the original archaeologist just assumed so).
This one is like Stonehenge, in that sunrise on the mid-winter solstice lines up perfectly with the passage and central chamber. There was even a light-box well above the (blocked-off) doorway to allow this to happen, so it was definitely deliberate and very carefully calculated. Seemed like a hell of a lot of effort for a burial chamber, particularly when the villagers probably weren't particularly rich or important!
After an hour of looking around the site, we got the bus back to the visitor centre and then switched to the other bus for Knowth. This is a series of burial mounds - one large one, and 18 smaller "satellite" mounds around the outside. Unfortunately this one wasn't quite as well preserved and you couldn't go inside, since the hill itself had been re-purposed over the centuries (a Roman fort, wooden Norman castle, early Christian settlement etc) and many original features had been lost.
But the most distinguishing feature here was the artwork - it's known as the largest collection of megalithic art in Europe, and for good reason! The largest mound had "kerbstones" running around the entire base, and most of them had carvings or engravings of some sort on them. It was interesting, since most ancient peoples depicted important things to them: animals, plants, trees, stars etc. But these engravings are all completely abstract: swirls, whirlpools, chevrons, zig-zags, wavy lines. What do they mean? Language? Heiroglyphs? Lucid dreams? Religious rituals? Drug hazes? Nobody knows. Fascinating stuff though.
Back to the visitor's centre where it was now 1pm and high time for lunch. Fortunately they had a cafe on site where we indulged in paninis and hot drinks, then headed out to the car to collect our dog.
Drove back to Dublin where we figured we'd make use of the afternoon, and so found a park and wandered around St Stephen's Green, a nice park right in the middle of town. Schnitzel enjoyed himself! Did a little more wandering of the nearby city streets, but since we'd only paid for an hour's parking we didn't explore far. Back home where we had home-cooked pasta for dinner and spent the evening working and planning next steps after the UK.Read more