Bunratty Castle and Folk Park

I’m getting to be an old hand with the Irish bus system1, and made it to Bunratty a few hours earlier than I had thought I would. This gave me plenty of time to check out Bunratty Castle and Bunratty Folk Park, which is spread out around the castle.

The folk park is a reconstruction of nineteenth-century cottages and a village street in front of the castle. Lots of thatched roofs and bright paint jobs, overhung with thick leaves.
A farm cottage, with stable.
The stone building is the forge. Out front is a shaggy little bog pony.
The main room of a cottage. The fire in the fireplace was real, and was burning peat.
The bedroom of the cottage. Full of stuff, very colourful.
All over Ireland, you find religious statues and shrines tucked away in the strangest corners. Here’s a madonna and child in the hedge wall in front of one of the cottages.
I found the shop you were talking about, Al. Very nice people inside, and some beautiful pottery. The roof was in the process of being rethatched, which was kind of interesting in its own right.

The big draw, of course, is Bunratty Castle.

The front of the castle as you approach through the folk park. Notice that there is glass in the windows – this castle has been restored a lot farther than Blarney Castle, for instance.
Cannons sitting in the front yard of the castle.
The feast I’m going to this evening will, I think, be held in this room – the guard hall. I believe this table will serve as the high table. I could be wrong, though.
The Earl’s Hall, from a notch in the wall of a staircase. I believe this is where the welcome will take place at the feast tonight, before we go downstairs to eat.
This looks like the butler’s pantry (or whatever the equivalent might be), with the bottle, pitchers, and large chalice.
This was the Earl’s private chapel. Note the decorated ceiling – it was done in 1619, and was the cut-off point used during the restoration of the castle. Anything more recent than that didn’t get restored.
This is the side of Bunratty Castle, where you exit after touring around the inside.

My brother and sister-in-law and my nephew and niece bought me a ticket for the medieval banquet taking place in the castle this evening, so thanks again Al, Daph, Ryan, and Keira! I’m looking forward to it. I’ll probably post a little something more tonight after the feast, but I’m not sure if they’ll allow photographs, so it may not be much.

But it’ll be something.

Then tomorrow, I’m off to Galway for three nights.

  1. Of course, now I’ve just jinxed myself, and the next bus I get on will deposit me in Krakow. []

Portmagee Epilogue

So, I didn’t get to go see the Skelligs. I did get a nice chance to wander the countryside and talk to some nice people. Really, the folks in Ireland – whether they live here or are just visiting – have been amazingly nice.

The Moorings is a fantastic place to stay. The rooms are good, the food is amazing, and they’ve got a restaurant and a bar attached. But the nicest part of it all is that the people who work here are so friendly and helpful. That’s seeming to be a pattern, here in Ireland – the folks who run guesthouses are all absolutely delightful to talk to. But The Moorings is second to none.

I spent this evening in the bar, talking to the staff, to the other tourists, and to the locals. I had a wonderful dinner of roast lamb, and I even tried a pint of Guinness1.

Here’s proof for all you doubters.

And now I pack up. The taxi is coming at 7:30 tomorrow to take me to the bus which will take me to the other bus which will take me to the third bus which will take me to Bunratty, and a medieval feast.

  1. For those who don’t know, I don’t drink. I’m not against drinking, I just never picked up the habit. But coming to Ireland, it seemed that I would have to try Guinness, just to be able to say I did. While I didn’t hate the flavour, it’s obvious that it’s an acquired taste. I only finished half my pint. []

No Skelligs For Me

Got up this morning, and it was raining a bit. I went down to breakfast and found out that the seas were too choppy for the boats to go out to the Skelligs. As today is my only day in Portmagee, that means I miss my chance1 to visit Skellig Michael and see the monastery.

I’m pretty disappointed, because Skellig Michael was one of the things I really wanted to see. I mean, I can’t blame the boatmen for making the decision – they know their business, and if they think it’s too rough, then it’s too rough. Really, it’s my own fault for coming so late in the season, and for not building in the flexibility of staying an extra day to take a chance tomorrow.

Oh, well.

So, to make up for my lost chance to see the Skelligs, I indulged in a full Irish breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, and white pudding2. Black pudding is a blood sausage that is sliced up and fried, and white pudding is just black pudding without the blood. I was a little leery of them, but gave them a try, and they’re not bad. I’m not terribly fond of the flavour – I liked the regular sausage and the bacon much better – but the puddings are nowhere near the level of disgusting that you’d think hearing people talk about them.

I lingered over breakfast, talking to another guest, named Frank Cooper. He told me an interesting story, which is documented here. We talked for over an hour, and I heard about his solo circumnavigation of the globe, how he met the King of the Gypsies in Papua, and about some close calls with whales on his various voyages. All in all, an interesting breakfast.

Afterwards, I took a walk to the Skellig Experience, the little visitor’s centre on Valentia Island just over the bridge, and got some pictures along the way.

This tower sits midway along the bridge. I think it is a leftover from when the bridge was able to be raised to allow ships to pass, but I could be wrong.
Looking inland from the bridge, up the Portmagee channel. Tide is low.
This little island in the Portmagee channel apparently has the ruins of an old monastery on it. I couldn’t get out to it today, either. But it looks cool.
The road stone welcoming me to Valentia Island.
This is the Skellig Experience, the interpretive centre for the Skelligs. They offer cruises around the Skelligs without landing, but even those were canceled today because of rough seas.

The Skellig Experience was small, but it had some neat little displays about the history of the Skelligs. There was also a film about Skellig Michael, showing the climb up to the top. I have to say, watching the zooming helicopter shot3, I was a little relieved that I wouldn’t be climbing up those steep, smooth steps in a light misting of rain.

Then, of course, they cut to some tourists climbing the stairs with a young child – maybe three or four – and all of a sudden I felt like a big wimp. I will need to come back at some point and try again.

I did buy a little book and some postcards showing the Skelligs. But it’s not the same. And then I walked back across the bridge4 and back to my room to write this post.

A look at Portmagee from across the channel on Valentia Island.

I’ve got dinner tonight, and then an early bed time. I need to be in Cahersiveen by 8:00 tomorrow morning to catch the bus back to Killarney, or my entire travel schedule falls apart.

Wish me luck.

  1. On this trip, at least. []
  2. It also came with tomato, but I don’t like tomato, so asked that they not bother putting it on my plate. []
  3. Or whatever they were using. It looked like a helicopter shot. []
  4. With my hat tied on again –  the wind was pretty fierce. Made me believe that the seas were too rough for the boats to go out, no matter how calm the waters in the channel looked. []


Today was mainly a travel day. Bus from Cork City to Killarney, then wait four hours for the bus to Cahirseveen1, and finally take a taxi from Cahirseveen to Portmagee. I got here shortly after five, just a little too late to make it across the bridge to the Skellig interpretive centre on Valentia Island.

I’m staying at The Moorings, which is a very nice guesthouse. The room here is bigger than at either Ariel House or Garnish House, and looks a little more like a North American hotel room.

The Moorings, where I’m staying. It’s right on the water in Portmagee.
This is directly across the street from my guesthouse. It’s where I’m going to take the boat tomorrow morning to get to the Skelligs.
Across the water, past the boats, is Valentia Island. The low stone building is the Skellig interpretive centre. I got here too late to check it out tonight; maybe tomorrow after the boat trip.
Looking down the harbour towards the sea. At 10:00 am tomorrow, that’s where I’m heading.

The Skelligs Package here at The Moorings is really quite nice. Not only do you get the room and the trip to the Skelligs, but you get a voucher for a dinner, a packed lunch for the trip, a free special Irish Coffee2, and some very nice Skellig chocolates.

Apparently, according to the taxi driver who brought me here, the boats were not able to land on the Skelligs last week, but did land this morning. Weather looks promising, but the announcement will be made in the morning at breakfast whether or not the boats are going out. I hope they do, obviously.

Now, to sleep. I need to be rested for climbing the 660 steps on Skellig Michael tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

  1. I gotta say, I have no idea if I’m spelling that right. I have seen four or five different spellings, many of them in this past day as I was trying to get there. []
  2. Which I’m not really interested in, but still. []

Cork City and Blarney Castle

It was raining when I got up this morning. Not the quickly ended showers we had when I was in Dublin; constant, lasting rain. It kinda put a damper on my mood. So, I lingered over breakfast, then sighed, put on my hat, and went to take the Cork City bus tour.

There’s lots of neat stuff to see in Cork City, but most of it is churches and, this being Sunday morning, you can’t just go wandering in with a camera to have a look. And with the rain, there was no getting any decent pictures. I debated just giving up and going back to the guesthouse, but decided to try and make my way out to Blarney Castle instead.

By the time the bus reached Blarney, the rain had stopped. By the time I made it into the grounds, the sky was clearing up. And I got some good pictures.

This is the village street where the bus dropped me off in Blarney. The entrance to the castle grounds is just a couple hundred yards behind me.
My first glimpse of the castle through the trees as I follow the path.
At the foot of the castle. This is what looming is.

Yeah, I’m a tourist. I wanted to climb to the top of the castle and kiss the Blarney Stone. Turned out to be far more of a challenge than I had anticipated. To get to the top of the castle, you climb about a hundred steps1. This may not sound like a big deal, but they are tiny, worn steps in very tight spiral stairways. I’m not claustrophobic, nor am I acrophobic, but I am afraid of slipping on wet, uneven, little stone steps and rolling all the way down to the bottom.

But I soldiered on and, when I got to the top, the bit where you have to lean out over a hundred-foot drop – backwards, mind you – to kiss2 stone in the underside of the battlement, well, that bit didn’t seem so bad. I lay down, leaned out, realized I was about to die, and then gave the rock a big smooch and it was over3.

See that gap in the floor of the battlements? Yeah, that’s where you have to lean in – backwards – to kiss the Blarney Stone.

Interestingly – and happily – the way down is a lot easier than the way up4, with wider, less break-kneck steps. It took about half the time to get down that it did to get up. All-in-all, the whole endeavour took the better part of an hour from entering the grounds.

But there was a lot of other cool stuff on the grounds besides the castle and the Blarney Stone, so I went looking around.

Here’s Blarney House, the more recent dwelling place for the family. It was closed – only opens in the summer. The misty effect around the top of the picture was neat to achieve: you just need a camera and a very humid day, so the lens can get a little foggy.
A cave in the base of the rock below the castle. According to legend, this was one of the escape routes used by the defenders when Oliver Cromwell’s forces besieged the castle.
This is the Poison Garden. Everything growing in it is toxic. Apparently, this was an attempt to educate people about poisonous plants. Hmmm.
There is a magnificent garden on the grounds called the Rock Close. This is a dolmen that is part of the garden.
According to legend, this is a real witch, turned to stone. She is freed from the stone at nightfall, and spends the night gathering firewood to build a fire and try to warm up after being frozen as stone all day.
To pay for her firewood, the witch grants wishes. To get her to grant your wish, you have to walk down then up these Wishing Stairs, backwards, with your eyes closed, thinking of nothing but your wish.
This is the Fairy Glade in the Rock Close.
The old Stable Yards now have a tea room for visitors.

After wandering around the castle grounds for a couple of hours, I caught the bus back to Cork City. The weather was nice enough that I took a little walk to get a couple of pictures. It’s not much, but it’s something.

This is the back of St. Finbarr’s Cathedral. The gold angel on the dome is supposed to come to life and sound its horn on judgement day.
The patriotic monument in the Grand Parade. The lady in the centre is Eire, and she is flanked by four men who are national heroes.
The Swan Fountain in Elizabeth Park. There are eight swans, one for each century of Cork City’s age when the statue was constructed.

And that’s about it for Cork City. Tomorrow, I make my way to Portmagee.

  1. According to the signs around the castle, anyway. []
  2. I firmly believe that, at night, the locals pee on the stone. Like that’s going to stop me. However, I overheard some of the other visitors in the castle complaining about the cleanliness of kissing the stone, when the folks guarding it said they clean it four times a day. I mean, you’re kissing a stone. What about that makes you think it should be hygienic? []
  3. I have pictures of me kissing the stone, but they were taken by the castle staff, and I have them only in hard copy. I’ll have to see what I can do about that. []
  4. I’ll wait until someone makes the obligatory joke about just letting gravity take its course. There. We all done? Good. []

The Ring of Kerry

Things started off substantially better today. I actually made it to my tour bus on time, and was off on a tour of the Ring of Kerry.

One important word about this tour: if you are planning on taking a bus around the Ring of Kerry, and you are at all susceptible to motion sickness, take something before you go. I rarely get motion sick, but the narrow, twisting roads and the rocking and bouncing of the bus had me feeling nauseous fairly soon. And I was an idiot; I kept suffering through the bus ride portions between the stops, feeling worse and worse, then getting off the bus into the fresh air and feeling a bit better. I finally broke down and got some pills at a pharmacy in Killarney on the way back, and the ride back to Cork City from Killarney was fine.

Anyway. Word to the wise. I’m just even more glad that I didn’t sign up for a guided coach tour for the whole vacation.

So, our first stop was a replica 19th-century bog village.

Here’s the lane of the bog village. That big pile of black stuff is cut turves – chunks of peat ready for burning.
So, there’s this town near the bog village called Killorglin. It celebrates Puck Fair every year, wherein they crown a goat King Puck, put him in a cage on a pedestal and proceed to have a party. No one’s sure why. We didn’t get to stop at the official King Puck statue in Killorglin, but they had one in the bog village.
The village also had a couple of Irish wolfhounds. These dogs are huge, and beautiful. I understand why they need to keep them in a pen away from the tourists, but I really wish I could have got closer.
Here’s a look at the mountains from the bog village.
And here’s the view as we leave the bog village and head into the mountains.

We went on from there to a stretch along Dingle Bay that is obviously a popular stretch for pictures. The narrow road that wraps around the mountainous coast had a number of little nooks on the water side where cars and buses could stop for pictures. And they were mostly full when we stopped.

Looking across Dingle Bay.
Here’s the end of Dingle Bay, peeking around the shoulder of the hill.
Looking towards the mouth of Dingle Bay. Can’t quite see the ocean, but getting close.
The little farms across Dingle Bay.

We stopped for lunch in Waterville, a very nice little village on the end of the peninsula.

This is the main street in Waterville. Very picturesque.
Apparently, Charlie Chaplin and his family used to vacation frequently in Waterville, so they’ve put up this statue. The also recently had a Chaplin Film Festival, approved by the Chaplin Family.


This is the shore in front of the Waterville main street.
Looking out into the bay at Waterville.

After lunch, we were back on the road for about fifteen minutes, getting to this little overlook above Waterville.

Looking down the valley back toward Waterville. Can just barely see it.
Looking up the mountain above Waterville, into the clouds.
Looking down the other side of the overlook, out to sea.
Some neat rocks on the mountain above Waterville.
These stone fences are everywhere in the area, dividing the various fields. This one is unusual because it has a gate – apparently, the standard practice is to fill the opening with more stone after you get the animals onto the field.

We then drove on to the village of Sneem.

The Sneem River runs through Sneem. It’s a lovely little river. And saying Sneem is fun. Try it. Sneem.
So, there’s a traditional song called “The Stone Outside Dan Murphy’s Door.” This is either the place, or it’s a place based on the song. It’s also in Sneem.

We drove off through the mountains, up through Moll’s Gap, and on to the Ladies View, above the lakes of Killarney.

We stopped last in Killarney, but only in the heart of the city. Not a lot of really interesting picture material, but it is a very nice city to walk around in.

Really, the tour was great, but it was also kind of a tease. There were dozens of times when I wished we could have stopped to take a picture of some thing, but we didn’t. Sometimes there just was no place to stop a whole bus load of people, and the time it took to unload and reload all the people for a photo op was substantial. So, the driver picked a few very good spots.

Still, there was a beautiful view with interesting things in it pretty much around every corner. The Ring of Kerry is a beautiful drive, and I heartily recommend it.

Failure and Cork City

Well, my plans for today fell apart.

I missed the bus from Dublin to Cashel by mere seconds this morning – I watched it pull away from the station as I was scurrying to make it to the gate. Not a big deal, it just put me behind a little bit. All it meant was that I had to wait two hours for the next bus, and that would get me in to Cork a little later than I had intended, but nothing insurmountable.

See, the plan was to take the number 8 bus, which goes to Cork, but also stops at Cashel. I would get out at Cashel, take a couple of hours to go see the Rock of Cashel, and catch the next bus through to Cork. So, a little delay in the bus station wasn’t a huge problem, though it was a bit frustrating. I did get a chance to watch this pigeon very fearlessly stalk through all the folks sitting in the bus station, looking for crumbs on the floor.

I’d swear, you’d think he owned the place. By the time I left to catch my bus, he had three or four buddies with him, and they were starting to eye the humans belligerently.

I was very determined to make the next bus, and did so with no problem. But about half an hour into the trip, I realized that there had been two number 8 buses, and that this one was the express bus to Cork City – it would not be stopping in Cashel1.

I had a momentary fit of disappointment, but then sat back to see the scenery2. And it was interesting scenery to see. A lot of it was very much like driving along the highways in Canada or the US3, with the trees pushing in fairly close to the road. But every so often, the view opens up to these marvellous hills and valleys and little towns and round stone towers4, and it becomes very obvious that I’m not in North America. I didn’t get any pictures, because I was on a moving bus, and they would all be crappy, but it was a beautiful drive.

I made it to Cork City at about the time I had planned when I thought I was going to get to stop in Cashel, which was okay. I’ve got an Irish GPS app on my phone, so it walked me through downtown Cork City to Garnish House, where I’m staying.

This is what they brought me when they asked if I’d like a cup of tea and I said, “Yes, please.”
And here’s my room. It’s tiny and lovely and comfortable. Not much of a view, but I’m not going to be spending a lot of time in it, anyway.

So, tomorrow is my tour of the Ring of Kerry. The nice folks here at Garnish House have told me where to meet it, and I should not have a repeat of today’s failure. I should also have a lot more pictures tomorrow.

Tonight, I will wallow in my despair and get that out of the way so I can enjoy the rest of my trip.

  1. This is what happens when I forget that I don’t know what I’m doing. I get cocky, think I can make decisions like a big boy without asking any questions, and bang! Express bus to Cork! []
  2. Don’t get me wrong; the Rock of Cashel was one of the things I really, really wanted to see. I am terribly disappointed that I probably won’t see it this trip. But I’m on vacation, and I’m going to concentrate on all the stuff that goes right and is amazing, rather than the one or two things that go wrong and make me sad. Otherwise, why bother? []
  3. Except, of course, on the opposite side of the road. []
  4. Called cloigthithe, I am informed. []

Dublin Walkabout

Today was my last day in Dublin1, and tonight is my last night at Ariel House.

I can’t say enough good things about Ariel House – my room is comfortable, the bed is very nice, the breakfasts are wonderful2, they have a laundry service, and the DART station is a two-minute walk. Then it’s about a six-minute ride on the DART train to downtown Dublin, so even though it’s a little way out of the downtown area, it doesn’t cause a problem.

The best thing about Ariel House, though, is the people who work here. Everyone is amazingly friendly and helpful, ready to jump in to help with advice, recommendations, and help with making arrangements. It’s a wonderful place to stay, and I recommend it whole-heartedly.

Anyway, for my last day, I had nothing scheduled. This was the day I had set aside to catch up on the things that I had missed on the other tours. Of course, that’s impossible; there’s just too much stuff here in the city. Still, I had to give it a try.

First of all, I had to go take a closer look at the statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square.

My next stop was the National Museum of Ireland. There are actually three of these, and I went to the Anthropology and History.

On the way there, I passed by this little spot, just tucked in between a couple of buildings.

It’s a Huguenot cemetery, right in the heart of the city.

I took a lot of pictures. I mean, on the previous days, I took between twenty and forty pictures. Today, I took over a hundred and forty, and most of those were at the museum.

I’m not going to post them all here, though. I’ll just provide a sampling.

Here’s a reconstruction of a passage tomb, made with stone from authentic passage tombs that have not survived.
This is an unfinished dugout canoe that is a little better than fifty feet long.
The National Museum of Ireland has the largest collection of Bronze Age gold in Europe, I am told. They also have some nice amber and bronze decorations.
A collection of items from the Dowris Hoard. I had to ask what the gourd-shaped things were. Got some interesting theories.
This is the Tara Brooch. It’s amazingly beautiful. The picture can’t do it justice.

There are a lot more pictures from the museum, but those will do for now. I have to get the rest of them uploaded and sorted.

I headed down to O’Connell Street, next. I had walked it a little bit on Tuesday, but didn’t get the pictures I wanted, so I came back today to take them.

The foot of O’Connell Street, from the O’Connell Street Bridge. That’s the statue of Daniel O’Connell, with the spire rising in the background.
Here’s the front of the General Post Office. I don’t think you can see them, but there are chips and bullet scars in the walls and pillars.
A look at the spire in the daytime. It’s really tall.
The monument to Charles Stuart Parnell at the top of O’Connell Street.
A view of the Ha’Penny Bridge from the O’Connell Street Bridge. It’s actually called the Wellington Bridge, and was originally commissioned by the Duke of Wellington, but everyone called it the Ha’Penny Bridge because that’s what the toll was to cross it.
Things are tough in Ireland right now, and there are a number of people begging on the streets of Dublin. This fellow created a poem explaining his situation.

At this point, I pulled out my map and decided to go find St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which I hadn’t got a really good look at, yet. It was quite a wander, and I got lost a couple of times. On the way, I passed Christchurch Cathedral again, but from a different angle than I had seen before.

I found St. Patrick’s, right when the sky opened up and rained. I stayed there under my umbrella, and the rain stopped after about ten minutes, so I was able to get these pictures.

I don’t know what these are meant to be, but they look kinda cool and they are on the sidewalk outside of St. Patrick’s.
St. Patrick’s was built outside the walls of Dublin so that it wouldn’t fall under the purview of the monks at Christchurch. It was a collegiate church, meaning it was run by a lay brotherhood.
The area north of the cathedral is a public park. It’s very nice.
The churchyard behind the cathedral.


The Guinness family financed the restoration of St. Patrick’s. Christchurch was restored with money from Jameson’s distillery. So, the two cathedrals were restored by whiskey and beer.

It was getting on in the afternoon, and it was a good long walk back to the DART station, so I headed back then. I went by way of Grafton Street, to try and get a few pictures there, and was well-rewarded.

Despite the fine drizzle, the street was very busy.
You have to admire someone who’ll haul down a hammer harp on a drizzly afternoon to do some busking.
These guys were down at the other end of Grafton Street. I could hear them from half-way down the street.
When I saw this scene, I realized that I was in love with Dublin. If you can’t see everything that’s awesome about this picture, then you have no soul.

And then I made it back to Ariel House.

Now, everything is packed, and I’m ready to head off to Cork – with a  stop at Cashel – tomorrow morning.

I’m gonna miss Dublin.

  1. Well, except for the overnight when I come down from Belfast to catch the plane back. But that doesn’t really count. []
  2. Confession time. I’ve only had porridge every morning, but it’s their Orchard Porridge, with apples, raisins, walnuts, and stuff. It’s more than enough to keep me going for the day, and it’s delicious. []

The Hill of Tara and Newgrange

I’m putting this in the Dublin category because that’s where I’m staying right now1, even though this post is not about Dublin really at all.

Today’s agenda was my Mary Gibbons bus tour out to the Hill of Tara and Newgrange. On the drive out, Mary filled us in on the history of the Boyne Valley, the Battle of the Boyne, the importance of Tara to Irish History, and the significance and history of Newgrange and the other passage tombs in the area. It was an informative talk, and helped the time pass swiftly. She was also very good at pointing out interesting things that we passed, and giving us a bit of history on them.

The Hill of Tara was our first stop. When we got there, Mary warned us that the wind was going to be fierce out on the hill, and that the ground was going to be slippery2, so we should think carefully about going down into the trenches or climbing the mounds.

Enough exposition. Here are the pictures.

The statue of St. Patrick by the path leading up to the Hill of Tara.
The gate to the churchyard, through which you need to pass to get to the hill, is locked. You have to squeeze through a little notch at the top of some stairs in the churchyard wall.

As you might be able to tell in this picture, it had started drizzling at this point. And the wind, which I had scoffed at in my mind, was getting stronger. My hat blew off at one point, and a pair of nice ladies walking their dogs had to help me catch it. Thanks, ladies! After that, I tied the cords under my chin no matter how stupid it made me look.

The churchyard at Tara. You can see the Mound of the Hostages rising in the background.
These are the sorts of trenches Mary warned us about. You can’t tell very well from the picture, but they are at least six feet deep, and some are easily fifteen feet deep, with steep, slick, grassy sides.
Some perspective: this is the view of the top of the Hill of Tara from the foot of the hill. Note the two rings of trenches. Yeah, I totally ignored Mary’s advice about them.
On top of the Hill of Tara. The stone to the right is the Lia Fail, the Stone of Kings. The stone to the left marks the grave of 400 Irishmen killed here in the 1798 rebellion.

They say that from the top of Tara, on a clear day, you can see two-thirds of Ireland. Well, we didn’t have a clear day, but we could see a good long way. Easy to see why it was chosen to build the High King’s Fort – you can see any enemy coming for days.

Then I made my way back down from the top, through the treacherously slippery trenches3, and went look at the Mound of Hostages.

This is a smaller, less-elaborate version of what’s coming at Newgrange. It was closed to the public, so we could only look at it from outside. Looked like a tight crawl, anyway.

The wind was blowing something fierce on top of the hill – there was nothing nearby to slow it down, so it basically got a running start right across the whole country and slammed into us up there. My hat was more like a kite from time to time; thankfully, I had tied the idiot strings under my chin to keep from losing it. It was also drizzling a fair bit of the time up there.

And then it was back on the bus, and on to Newgrange, through Slane village, which was neat to see. We didn’t stop, but we got a look from the road at Slane Castle4, and the four big stone houses in the middle of the village that a man had built for his four daughters who couldn’t get along with each other.

We also got a nice look at the actual site of the Battle of the Boyne, and a glimpse of Knowth Tomb on a hill near the river. Then we were at the Bru na Boinne Interpretative Centre, where we had a nice lunch, saw a little film about Newgrange and the thirty-nine other passage tombs in the Boyne Valley, and basically waited for the rain to get really ready to fall on us when the shuttle buses arrived to take us up to Newgrange itself.

I don’t have as many pictures of Newgrange, for two reasons. First, they don’t allow photography inside the tomb itself. Second, as I think I mentioned, it really started raining while we were up there, and most of the pictures I took are useless because of water drops on the lens. Still, here are a few.

A look up at Newgrange from the area where you wait for your guide. See the nice blue sky? It’s a filthy liar. Rain is falling.
For purposes of preserving the site, visitors to Newgrange are limited. Here’s the whole crowd from our tour waiting for our guide to take us up. The tractor is just cutting the grass.
An unexcavated (and smaller) passage tomb in a nearby field.
One of the megaliths that surround Newgrange and dot the hills all throughout the area.
The entry stone at Newgrange. Archaeologists think the original builders had those who wished to enter the tomb climb over the stone, letting it represent the barrier between life and death, between the physical and the spirit world.
Fortunately, in modern times, we get to climb over on a stairway. Note the opening above the main opening – that’s for the sun’s light at Winter Solstice.

Okay. The guide gave us a good buildup about how tiny and cramped it was going to be, and how the ceiling was low and it got so narrow at one point that they requested we take our backpack and bags off and carry them by hand to minimize scraping. She stressed that it was a pretty claustrophobic place, and that there was no way in or out except for the passage, and that almost a quarter of a million tonnes of rock was sitting over and around us.

Well, as a hefty guy, let me tell you, it was tight. I got to one bit where I had to turn sidewise and sidle through, and thought, “Huh. That wasn’t so bad,” and then got to the actual tight spot. I had a moment there, as I was crouching and twisting, and almost crawling, where I thought I wasn’t going to make it.

But I did. And man, was it worth it.

The central chamber was pretty cramped with the twenty of us in it5, but it was very tall – six metres, according to the guide, with corbeled stonework rising up to a capstone far overhead. There were three nooks of the main chamber, each one with a basin stone that had once held cremated human remains.

After a little bit of a talk about the place, and what it meant, the guide turned the lights off and, using electric light from outside, showed us what it looks like at Midwinter, when the light shines down the tunnel floor, which has risen to the same level as the light box above the entrance, and stabs one slender, perfect beam in to touch the basin stone in the end alcove.

It was pretty impressive.

So. Out we come, and in goes the next gang, and it’s really raining pretty hard by this point. I walked around the tomb, but couldn’t get any more decent shots, though I really wanted to capture some of the decorated curbstones around the base of the mound. I gave up and went back down the hill to wait for the shuttle bus.

Which had broken down.

And so we wait in the rain for another bus to come. After about fifteen minutes, the driver of the broken bus lets us wait inside the bus, out of the rain. And about fifteen minutes after that, the replacement bus shows up, but there’s so many people waiting for the bus now that I get to wait for the replacement replacement bus. And when we get back to the Interpretive Centre, the rain stops, and the world looks beautiful and green and amazing.

See? Once we were done with being outside, it decided to play nice.

So, that was Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. Wet, windy, cold, and absolutely worth every bit of it. Both sites were amazing, and the Mary Gibbons tour was an exceptionally good way to see them.

  1. Yes, in the category. You know I can hear it when you start thinking sarcastic thoughts, right? []
  2. In fact, someone had recently taken a fall out there and broken a leg. []
  3. I did not fall. I scoffed at safety advice and there were no consequences. []
  4. And incidentally got to hear the pedigree of the current owner. []
  5. The group had forty people, and they took us in two shifts. []

Dublin Ghost Bus

Tonight I went on the Ghost Bus tour of Dublin. This is kind of cheesy and touristy, but it’s also loads of fun. Nick, the guide, was awesome, dressing first in a black cloak to talk about Bram Stoker and Dracula, then in a bloodstained lab coat to talk about body snatching, grave robbing, and the… eccentricities of one of the surgeons.

Nick talking about Bram Stoker and Dracula.
Nick talking about a rather bloodthirsty surgeon.

I have to say, he got into it, and it was wonderful. He also pulled out some cheap startles to make people jump, which were great.

As the bus drove through the city, we stopped at various buildings to hear about their ghosts, and that was good, but the highlights were the two times we got off the bus.

First, we went to St. Kevin’s Cemetery, where we heard some more ghost stories1, and then he gave a demonstration of the bodysnatching technique used by one of the most famous and successful resurrection men.

Nick demonstrates bodysnatching using a hook and a very brave volunteer.

We were left to wander the graveyard for a bit once he got our imaginations revving, then it was back on the bus for another trip and a discussion of being buried alive.

The next stop was the same gate on Cook Street I had visited earlier in the day. It’s much more sinister at night.

This gate looks much friendlier in the daylight, when you haven’t been primed with ninety minutes of ghost stories.

Beyond the gate, in the dark, is what we were told was the Haunted Stair. This is where the best ghost stories of the night came out, as we were standing in the dark by a medieval stairway beside a sinister-looking church.

Tell me that doesn’t look at least a little creepy.

The stories he told us there are ones that I’m keeping to myself, in order to use in the Feints & Gambits game I’m running. But they were great. As a teaser for my players, here’s one last picture.

The Gates of Hell. That is all.
  1. And Nick is a master of telling them. He’s got the right mix of reluctant belief and skepticism and unwillingness to talk that makes them all the more convincing. []