(Day ten recap of my late April Ireland trip.)
Our last full day in Ireland! For the final hurrah, Kim and I had scheduled a trip to view the ancient passage tombs at Brú na Bóinne, a famous archeological find and also designated UNESCO world heritage site.
Tour-mates Debbie, Kim, and Alicia had also decided to stay an extra day. We'd had so much fun with these ladies, that at first I was sorry I'd booked this trip. After ten days in Ireland, Kim and I were nearly toured out, and a free day with our new friends sounded like a much better option. But our Rick Steves guide Pascal said Brú na Bóinne was fantastic and encouraged us to go.
|Empty Dublin streets on a Sunday morning|
So we arose the following morning and walked through the now-familiar streets of Dublin to meet up with our tour. It happened to be Sunday, and the downtown area was deserted. After enduring shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrian traffic here for two days, this felt weird! However, the rubbish from a rowdy Saturday night of partying was everywhere. Trash and broken glass littered the streets and sidewalks. Our hotel was right across the street from several popular bars, and we'd heard the revelry until the morning's wee hours.
|We said hi to Molly Malone|
The meet-up location for our tour group was at the Molly Malone statue. Kim and I had already passed by here on our first night's orientation tour given by Pascal. He had informed us that it was good luck to touch a certain part of this statue. A glimpse at Molly's shiny, well-worn bosoms tipped us off as to where this was! While waiting for our guide to arrive, I got a kick out of watching people walking up to the statue and giving her a caress. (And I must admit I did the same - who doesn't need a bit of good luck?)
|Entering Brú na Bóinne visitor center|
A few months ago I'd booked a trip with a local tour group called Hilltop Treks to visit the ancient burial mounts at Brú na Bóinne. The tour also included stops at Trim Castle and the Hill of Tara. Well, about a month before our departure, the company emailed me that due to road construction they were changing the itinerary - now we were only touring Brú na Bóinne and nearby Monasterboice Cemetery. I was a bit disappointed. One of the reasons I'd booked with this company was because they offered Trim Castle and Hill of Tara tours in addition to the scheduled burial mounds visit. But afraid if I canceled I wouldn't find another group with openings, Kim and I opted to keep our reservation.
|These ancient burial mounds were older than the pyramids!|
Before long a white minibus with the words "Hilltop Treks" emblazoned on the side pulled up. A thin, strange man wearing knee-high leather boots popped out and introduced himself as our guide. Kim and I squeezed into two seats of this tiny and very cramped minibus. The vehicle only held 18 passengers and that's exactly the number of people we had. After riding in a spacious full-size bus all week that was only half full, this was definitely a downgrade. To top things off, the lady sitting directly in front of us began hacking a deep raspy cough and didn't stop the entire trip. Kim quickly donned a mask (and in hindsight, I should've too.)
|The River Boyne|
|A friendly bird who posed for me|
After having such a fabulous guide as Pascal for over a week, today's tour guide was an utter disappointment. He had the personality of a rock and dismal communication skills. Once everyone had unloaded from the van, our guide simply said "follow me" and took off towards the visitor center. When we got inside, he left us by the front door and disappeared. Our group waited for several minutes, not knowing if we could take a bathroom break or not. Kim peeped through a nearby door to ask him, and he practically snarled at her to stay put. Finally the guy emerged with our wristbands. He said we had 45 minutes to check out the visitor's center before our tour began. He then motioned us to gather round. When we didn't get close enough for his liking, the guide admonished us to get closer. He then stressed we had to be at a certain door by 10:35 or we'd miss our tour. To make sure no one forgot, he wrote the time down on a notebook and had us repeat it several times. (It felt like I was back in kindergarten!) His final instruction was that when the tour was over, we were to head straight back to the van, no stopping in the visitor center for anything.
|Knowth burial mounds|
The visitor center was well done. It explained that Brú na Bóinne was comprised of three sites - Knowth, Newgrange, and Dowth. In all three places archeologists had discovered ancient passage tombs. Today's tour would take us to Knowth and Newgrange. The tombs were over 5,000 years old - older than the pyramids in Egypt! Kim and I enjoyed looking at all the exhibits, but we hurried our way through. Our guide had put the fear of god in us. Not wanting to miss our tour, we made sure to be at the specified door extra early (as did the rest of our group.)
|The mounds were fascinating!|
Once off the bus, our group was handed over to an on-site guide, who led us onto the grounds of Knowth. This site had one large passage tomb surrounded by several smaller round tombs.
|Sundial outside one of the mounds|
The tombs were incredible! The smaller ones looked like rounded grassy mounds. They blended well into the green landscape. Thought to be built in 3,200 BC, our guide told us that all these mounds had been buried over the years, and were recently rediscovered and excavated.
|Another burial mound|
|The rocks surrounding some mounds had designs carved into them|
|The people give an idea of size|
|The largest mound had a staircase so visitors could walk on top|
Although visitors weren't allowed inside any of these burial chambers, they were allowed to go on top of the largest mound. For this purpose, a staircase had been built onto one side. After circling around this tomb, our guide directed us to the path that led to its grassy roof.
|The clouds were fantastic that day|
|Kim is ready to go on top of the mound|
|View from the top|
|Fabulous views of the surrounding countryside|
|Top view of one burial mound|
|Replica of a ceremonial circle or "henge"|
Our tour of Knowth took about an hour, and we'd enjoyed every minute. What an incredible piece of history!
|Newgrange burial mound|
After our tour of Knowth was over, the group reboarded another bus that took us down a narrow, country road to our next destination, the huge burial chamber called Newgrange.
|This mound had white rock on the outside|
|Another view of the entrance|
|Walking around the perimeter|
|Another stone hut|
|The views from here were wonderful|
|Close up of the rockwork|
|Our turn to go inside!|
|Another view of the tomb entrance without people|
|Watching a storm come in|
|Such an amazing place!|
|Selfie after touring inside|
|Shamrock flavored chips?|
|Gardens at the Battle of the Boyne|
|This sign explained the Celtic cross inscriptions|
|The main Celtic cross|
|Inscriptions in the cross explained Bible stories to the illiterate|
|The center carving depicts Christ's crucifixion|
|This carving is supposed to be two old men pulling each other's beards|
|This person obviously loved soccer|
|Round tower and Celtic cross|
|This cross depicts the crucifixion|
|This round tower had a door near ground level|
|One final look as I was hustling back to the van|
|Drinks with our tour buddies!|
|The Kims and Alicia trying to locate our restaurant|
|I had a most excellent seafood salad|
|One final nightcap with our new friends|