Tuesday, 28 April 2015

On Saturday, 18 April, I took my last trip with UCD's International Student Society. We ventured north to Boyne Valley in County Meath and visited Newgrange, which dates back to the earliest known civilization in Ireland during the Neolithic period (estimated at 3200 BC). It was rediscovered in 1699, but is older than both Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt, and is one of three largely significant passage tombs in Ireland.  It is located on a hill overlooking the River Boyne, and the other two well-known tombs are Knowth and Dowth, located a couple of kilometers away but also at points near the river. There are as many as 35 smaller burial mounds in the region.


The River Boyne

We walked down to the visitor center, where we then took a shuttle to the site

This is a distant view of Newgrange from the visitor center

Closer view


What is so significant about these three passage tombs? Well, each of them was constructed using huge slate-like rocks, stacked and layered with smaller stones, and no mortar, in all of the crevices to withstand the weight of the mound. At ground level, Newgrange's exterior base alone contains 97 "kerbstones," each weighing approximately five tons, and these are the supporting structure which have held up an estimated 200,000 tons of weight for over 5000 years. The River Boyne provides the only logical means of how early civilians were able to transport these stones to this location, because the kerbstones are not native to this region of the country. It is also estimated that it took over 200 years to construct, most likely at least four to six generations of Neolithic-period civilians.


One of the most significant artistic and architectural details about these tombs is that they each contain a single passageway which leads to a chamber (Newgrange's passage is just under 60 feet in length). What is unique about this is that the passage for each tomb was aligned perfectly to line up with the sunrise on the solstice of each season. Newgrange is aligned with the winter solstice, so from December 19 to 23 of each year, at dawn the sun shines through the "roofbox" above the entrance to the tomb, and lights the entire passageway through to the chamber at the end. Knowth is aligned with the summer solstice, and Dowth is aligned with the spring and autumn equinox.

The entrance stone is decorated with megalithic art, and it was the first piece of Newgrange to be discovered, alerting the finders to something more underneath the land which they were digging through. Because these symbols predate any recorded writing, it remains a mystery what significance the artistic markings may have.

The "roofbox" is located just above the entryway

Audrey and myself

At the base are 97 "kerbstones," and an approximate estimation of over 400 more used to construct the interior of the tomb

More megalithic artwork decorates some of the exterior kerbstones

The front-facing "wall" of white quartz stones are the only part of the monument which may not be accurately represented. The stones were found scattered around the front of the mound when it was first discovered., and the wall was constructed based not on documented evidence, but rather on the interpretation of a man named Professor O'Kelly between 1967-1974.







Boyne Valley countryside



Another burial mound which remains to this day un-excavated



After Newgrange, our other stop for the day was Causey Farm. This farm is used for recreational and educational purposes. It frequently receives groups from primary schools and, oddly enough, "hen parties" (bachelorette parties).  While there, we got to experience Irish dancing, witness a border collie at work herding sheep, milk a cow, and more.

Patch, the border collie, napping in a haystack

Yes, it was even my first time milking a cow





This little lamb was born literally minutes before our arrival



There's Patch again, dutifully awaiting her master's command

She was absolutely brilliant





Patch successfully herded the flock through a gap and into the circle which we had formed



Donkey buddies

Irish set dancing...much more fast-paced and exhausting than I had anticipated

Our tour guide, Andy, sang songs with us as we took a hay ride to the bog land




Bog is a type of wetland that accumulates as "peat," which holds moisture well but is not oxygenated, so it does not allow decomposition to take place. Therefore it is actually very clean, unsuitable for insects, and has the ability to preserve carcasses. It maintains its acidity, which deters most plants from being able to grow, and also maintains a rather cold temperature, so historically it has been used for storage of goods which spoil without refrigeration, such as butter.

Stepping into the bog...there was really no way to tell how deep you might sink with each step...and because it retains water so well, washing it off was not the easiest

Myself and Audrey

Perhaps ten of us braved the cold, quicksand-like pit

This guy looked like he was having a pretty hard time...

The vegetation that grows on bog land is not especially colorful or scenic

Upon our arrival back at the farm, we learned how to play the Irish bodhrán,  which is a drum with a goat skin head and with which rhythms and sounds can be manipulated by moving your supporting hand along the underside of the drum head.

Andy was a pro



Next, we joined the cows in their field for a feeble attempt at hurling



Audrey was actually very skilled - she had a slight advantage using the hurley due to playing field hockey back home

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