Oireland, a Week in a Small Car - Part Two
After a good, alcohol free, nights sleep we dragged ourselves out of our flashy hotel and went in search of breakfast. For this I cannot recommend Bewleys enough. It is a great Victorian edifice of a tea rooms with art on the walls and baked goods by the bucket load. It also does a very fine bowl of porridge, which was exactly what I required. While searching for breakfast I noticed something rather odd. We passed a number of the chain of O'Brien's Irish Sandwich Shop. 'Eh' says I. Why in Ireland? Surely in Dublin, the most Oirish place in the world outside Boston, they have no need to add the Irish. It is like finding an establishment called Washington's Old American Style Diner in Brooklyn.
Anyhoo, quitting Dublin after breakfast we drove north, getting only vaguely lost, to end up in Tara. The hill of Tara was where the High Kings Of Ireland were crowned on the Stone Of Destiny and it has earth works that are believed to be five thousand years old. There is not a great amount to see today but it is none the less very impressive, especially if you have read any dodgy Celtic fantasy. Unfortunately it was also very windy and wet. Did not ruin the mysticalness though. After our soaking at Tara we went in search of a hot lunch and then to find our hotel in the allegedly sleepy hamlet of Ashbourne. Which turns out to have been built last Tuesday. In its entirety as far as we can see. Nothing but row upon row of new houses. Something to do with being commutable to Dublin I suppose. We got so lost trying to find this though that we can't be bothered to leave. Sleep.
A nice early morning and a decent fried breakfast saw us up and fixing the headlight on the B. Which turned out to be wonderfully plug and play. Left me feeling like a real bloke, able to fix a car by the side of the road. Provided it is only something minor of course. Having achieved this we went to Bru na Boinne. Eventually. Having been down every single track lane in the Boyne valley. I am of the opinion that locals actively alter the road signs to confuse. I passed signs that had been reversed, made to point in the wrong direction and had been removed. Still, more by luck than judgement, we found the Bru na Boinne visitor centre. Huge! Evocative! Ancient! Glorious! All words that can be used to describe the Neolithic structures at Newgrange and Knowth which make up this site. Built five thousand years ago these burial mounds are an astounding piece of engineering. The Normans built an Abbey on the top of Knowth and didn't even know it was there. As part of the Newgrange tour they take you into the burial area, big enough for about twenty people, and fake the solstice sunrise. It certainly brings out the rock hugging hippy in a fellow. It even rained to make the atmosphere perfect.
Eventually dragging myself away from these ancient cathedrals we went for a wee drive around on some more of Ireland's hypothetical roads, according to our map. These took us through some very pretty little towns before we ended up in Navan. Where there were even more new houses. As far as I can tell the whole of Ireland appears to be five thousand years old or built since the last map publication. This is probably a stunning historical metaphor but I shall just leave it as it is. Navan itself had some very nice people including the girl in the Milliners. I popped in to look at the hats, couldn't find one in my size and was taken aback by her efforts to help. Considering I was a tourist and would never be back I was amazed when she emailed me later on with the best hat suppliers in Glasgow. Irish people are that nice. So, if you are ever in Navan please stop in at the hat shop. Cheers.
Drogedha for the day. Another wee town with loads of new building and a particularly bloody history. Cromwell was very nasty and the town's most striking building, a Martello tower, was destroyed during the Civil War. It has been rebuilt as part of the Millennium celebrations and a very friendly and informative tour can be had there. There is also a chance that the tower is built on another Neolithic burial mound. No archaeology has been carried out though so it may just be a picturesque lump of earth.
Following our climbing of hills we found a very nice pub for dinner before an early night, as Toc had acquired a stinker of a cold.
Time to go home. We took the scenic route back north, visiting Mellifont and Thingy. Mellifont is the remains of a huge Cistercian monastery with an interesting wash-house. Thingy, whose name turns out to be Monastaboice, has two of the worlds most well preserved Celtic Crosses. There is also a medieval tower, some old church buildings, and a graveyard that makes you realise how many people used to die young in Ireland.
Eventually we wound our way back north of the border to where there are a lot more cars and the road signs look sensible. Sadly I had no time for an investigate of Belfast as we had to catch the catamaran back to Troon.