stevenpiziks: (Ireland)
stevenpiziks ([personal profile] stevenpiziks) wrote2008-07-06 10:17 am
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Ireland--Tuesday Journal, Part 1 (Revisiting Knowth)

I'm splitting this one in half because it's so long.


This is weird, but I’m actually feeling ready to go home.  It’s because everything is so unfamiliar and I’m alone.  I don’t even have Internet access, so I can’t check e-mail or my blog.  I like being here; I just wish everything weren’t a challenge.  Though compared to being in Ukraine, everything here is a breeze.  I speak and read the local language, understand the money, and know how to shop perfectly well.  Getting around is the difficult part.

Ireland has public transportation, but it’s pretty much confined to large cities.  I asked Siobhan about trains to Quin, where there’s a bunch of prehistoric stuff I wanted to visit, and she said they aren’t any that she knew of, though there are some buses.  On the radio, I head a talk show about cars and the environment, and one of the speakers pointed out that Ireland is second only to America in dependence on the automobile.  So outside of Dublin, it’s drive or stay home.  That’s what’s a bit difficult.  Driving is a challenge, a scary challenge.  Every time I go around a curve and find a car coming toward me, it looks to me like I’m in the wrong lane and I’m about to get into an accident.  An automatic jolt of panic hits me, and I have to forcibly remind myself of two things: 1) that I’m not going to get hit, and 2) to stay in my current lane and not swerve into the other one.  In cities, it’s worse.  Trying to negotiate turns is really hard because everything is screwed up for me.  If I want to turn right, I have to cross the intersection and pull into what twenty-five years of driving instinct tells me is patently the wrong lane going the wrong way.  When it’s a busy intersection, there’s no time to think or figure things out, so I often make a wrong turn.  It’s a difficult, nervous business, and the stress tires me out.

Today, I decided to go back to Knowth.  I didn’t feel the need to see Newgrange again, but I did want to look at Knowth a second time.  Later, I was glad I did.

I hadn’t driven myself to the Newgrange/Knowth area last time--I’d taken a tour bus--so this was going to be interesting.  I looked on the maps I had, traced a route, and set off for Slane, the town closest to Newgrange/Knowth.

The drive went fine until I got to Slane itself.  There’s a big, confusing intersection in the middle of Slane, and signs point every which way.  Unfortunately, they don’t quite point in the correct direction, and they say confusing things.  One sign says NEWGRANGE and another says NEWGRANGE FARM.  Both point in different directions, and neither says KNOWTH or NEWGRANGE VISITORS CENTRE, which is where you have to go to visit the monuments.  Just to make things more fun, the NEWGRANGE sign doesn’t actually point in any particular direction.  It points in a direction between two streets.

My usual way to compensate for this sort of thing is to drive straight through the intersection, go a ways down the road, turn around, and come back.  Often there are signs for traffic coming from that direction, and they’re more clear.

From the new direction there were no signs at all for Newgrange.  Just the single sign pointing at a spot between two streets.

I pulled into a parallel parking space on the side of the road, went into a convenience store, and asked the clerk for directions.  She said I needed to turn left at the intersection.  After that, she said, there would be plenty of signs.  Okay, then.

I carefully pulled back into traffic and turned as directed.  I crossed the Boyne Bridge.  This was quite the procedure.  The Boyne Bridge was severely damaged in the Battle of Boyne (look it up) and was rebuilt in the 17th century.  It still stands, but it’s not wide enough to accommodate four lanes of modern traffic.  However, it’s the only way in and out of the eastern side of town.  So the town council made it a one-way bridge, after a fashion.  A light controls traffic.  You sit on your end of the bridge and wait because the light is red and traffic is coming across from the other direction.  At last, the light on the other side stops more cars from crossing.  When the bridge is clear, your light turns green and everyone from your side drives across.  Be nice, take turns.

Anyway, I followed the promised Newgrange signs down several interesting country lanes.  This happens in Ireland all the time.  To a similar attraction in America, you’d follow a four-lane road choked with cars and lined with big jersey barriers on either side.  In Ireland, the most famous attraction in the country is at the end of a narrow road barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other.  It winds past farms and sheep pastures and ends at the most famous tomb in Europe.  Four hundred people per day (the maximum allowed) tour the place, meaning 146,000 people visit every year in addition to archaeologists, professors, and other researchers, but you’d think you were visiting a stately home in the country when you drive there.  The only hint of commercialism is the small gift shop in the visitors centre.  How wonderful is that?  The Irish are to be commended.

I arrived at 1:00, and the next Knowth tour was for 1:15.  I knew the drill already, and wandered slowly across the bridge and up the path to the bus stop.  It was a cloudy, windy day given to rain showers, just like the first day I’d visited Knowth.  At first, it was only me and four other people on the tour bus, and I thought, “Cool!”  But then a whole lot more boarded, and it was about twenty of us.  Ah well.

David wasn’t the tour guide at Knowth that day, a little to my disappointment.  Since he knew me, it would have been easier to pester him for extra information.  I only listened with half an ear to the “new” tour guide’s beginning lecture explaining the origins of the Knowth.  One new thing I did pick up was that some researchers think the white quartz used as a facing stone on the monument back when Knowth was used as a sacred site was possibly brought piecemeal by pilgrims.  When you traveled to Knowth, you brought with you a load of stone to add to the tombs.  This is possibly how the smaller stones got there.

After the tour was over and we were turned loose to wander around on our own, I found myself staring at the main tomb.  Knowth is different from most passage tombs in that it has two passages, one facing east and one facing west.  The passages don’t meet in the middle.  They’re separated by about three meters of earth and stone.  Over the last few days, I had been coming to the realization that I was going to have to move the Morrigan book to Meath, mostly because I was getting to know the place, but also because there are more monoliths and tombs and henges in Meath than in any other area of Ireland, and I was going to have to make use of these monuments in the book--they’re just too good not to use.  These two ideas--moving the setting a little and the tomb having two passages--connected inside my head, and a major part of the book suddenly shifted.  Morrigan.  The tombs.  Gateway between this world and the next, between life and death, death and rebirth.  Oh yes.  Now I know what to do with this.

So worth the extra trip.

I did play my recorder in some of the collapsed tombs and on top of the main tomb, but it was too windy to do it well.  And then it was time to leave.  Drove back to Slane, wondering if I should try to find someplace to eat lunch, get some Internet access, do some shopping, or look for more sites.  There are many, many sites in the area.  I needed gas, and I drove down a likely-looking road toward a likely-looking area, one that looked more modern and less village-y.  Gas station!  Filled up (twenty Euros for 3/4 tank) and turned around to go back to Slane.  And then I saw the sign for the Hill of Slane pointing right.  Ah!