stevenpiziks: (Ireland)
stevenpiziks ([personal profile] stevenpiziks) wrote2008-07-06 10:21 am
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Ireland--Tuesday Journal, Part 2 (The Hill of Slane)

I heaved a fast right and followed the usual narrow, hedge-lined road.  This one was also steep, steep, steep.  I found myself in an empty car park at the top of the hill.  A low stone wall with an iron gate in it stood guard.  Past the gate was a wide, green field of grass.  In the middle of the field sat a pairs of ruined stone buildings.  One of the buildings was surrounded by a graveyard.

Slane Hill is, according to legend, the place where Christianity made its first serious start in Ireland.  Patrick came to the hilltop on the night of Beltaine (May 1).  You don’t light fires on Beltaine Eve, and the Druids had forbidden them.  Patrick lit one anyway, either in ignorance or in defiance, the stories vary.  (I’m betting on defiance--you can’t live in Ireland for over a decade and not know this custom.)  The local king, instead of getting angry, let it ride.  The head Druid converted to Christianity and ultimately became the first Bishop of Ireland.

Rather later, a small monastery was built there, but it was abandoned and fell into disuse.  In the 12th century, another monastery was built there, still small (only a dozen men), but with an impressive bell tower.  Now, the monastery is once again abandoned and a ruin.  The graveyard, however, is still a working graveyard, with graves from the 1600s (possibly earlier) up to just last month.

Many people come here as a pilgrimage, since Christianity got its first major foothold here.  For me, it was rather the opposite, though I don’t know if there’s a word for the opposite of a pilgrimage.  Patrick did his best to wipe out an entire culture, and he succeeded.  I didn’t see anything to celebrate.  At least he did it peacefully.  As far as we know, the Irish converted to Christianity without bloodshed.  As far as we know.

I was the only on the hill.  There’s no tour guide, no office, nothing.  Like the Bective Abbey, you’re on your own with the exploration.  I poked around the graveyard.  The Irish are much more verbose on their gravestones than Americans are.  They also share monuments.  A tall tombstone will say something like, “Erected in loving memory of Sean Noonan who died on August 8, 1801 at the age of 84 years by his son James.  Also his wife Nancy who died on January 4, 1807 at the age of 88 years.  Also the aforementioned James who died on May 12, 1822 at the age of 61 years.”

The bell tower was in the graveyard, and it was pretty impressive, though thoroughly ruined.  About six or seven stories tall.  No way to climb it unless you were Spider-Man--the staircases were completely gone.  You would have been able to hear the bells ringing for miles and miles and miles.

By the time I got to the monastery across the path from the graveyard, a tour bus had arrived, and people began to mill about.  The monastery was another climb-if-you-dare place, and I dared, though it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as the Bective Abbey.  I climbed several spiral staircases to the tops of three-story towers and looked out across the Hill of Slane and the Irish countryside.  I also got some people to take pictures of me standing on various places in the ruins.

I found fireplaces--a new invention in the days when the monastery was built--and what I think were cells.  By this, I mean there was a series of shelf-like areas which I think were beds.  Each had a little cubby built into the wall nearby, one just big enough for a very few possessions--a copy of the Bible, some writing implements, a bit of food, perhaps.  Only the outer walls survived, though, and I couldn’t tell if they had a barrack-like setup or if each cell was private.

Eventually, I left the hill and started on the drive home.

The drive home was a little different because I was going straight home instead of to Newgrange, and somehow I ended up in Navan.  I don’t like Navan.  Frankly, it’s awful there.  The streets are narrow, the traffic is absolutely horrible (this is coming from someone who drives around Detroit, remember), and the signage is worse than useless.  You also can’t go around Navan on the highway.  You have to go =through= it.  Finally, the highways disappear in town, become regular city streets for a while (including some one-way traps that lead through badly-labeled roundabouts), then abruptly move sideways before picking up and becoming the highway again.  If you make a mistake, the congested traffic makes it extremely time-consuming to correct yourself.

It took me nearly half an hour just to negotiate through Navan, and I swore to never, ever return to the place.  (I didn’t, either.)

At last I made it home.  Put together a supper of french fries and leftover pizza and carrot cake (I hadn’t eaten lunch), and zoned out the rest of the evening watching some episodes of TORCHWOOD I’d been saving.

I did go outside for a while when we got a bright spell around 9:30, and decided to take a bike ride.  That was nice.  Bracing, actually.  Just rode around with no particular destination.  At the point I decided to come home, I realized I could shave a good mile off my return trip by cutting through the Drewstone House property, where the ruined castle is located.  The Drewstone House estate occupies a corner (a very =large= corner), and I could go diagonally across the land to get home, and it would pretty too boot.  I knew from my previous explorations that there are two driveways, a main one that leads to the main house at the estate and the back one which leads past the sheep pasture to the road not far from the cottage.  This is the road I first entered in a few days ago when I found the place.

I turned down the main driveway and pedaled along, zipped past the estate house and castle, and circumvented the lake.  Still very pretty, with its swans and heron and leaning trees.  I hit a locked cow gate that blocked the back road, hopped off my bike, lifted my bike over the gate, climbed after it, jumped back on the bike, and continued on my way.  The entire operation took less than fifteen seconds.

At the back entrance (or, for me, exit) was the giant stone archway and its imposing gate.  I knew from a previous ride that the little side gate barely opened wide enough to let a bike through, and then only if you did some finagling with the pedals and the handlebars.  What interested me most at this moment was the show going on just outside the gate.  A older man in a gray wool jacket and wool cap was arguing with two people who had apparently just gotten out of a car parked outside the big gate.

“No!” the man shouted.  “You can’t go in here!  People go through here all the time, and I keep tellin’ ’em it’s not allowed!  Ye’re trespassin’!”

One of the people said, “But we--”

“No!” the old man howled.  “This is private property and ye can’t go in!”

Okay, now Siobhan had specifically said that the people who stay at her cottage had permission to visit this area.  But I didn’t feel like getting into an argument.  I also didn’t feel like backtracking all the way through the estate and riding the long way home.  However, I noticed that the walls of the archway were effectively blocking view of me from the old man’s view.  I quickly worked my bike through the gate, then hopped on it while the old man’s back was to me.  I built up speed and rushed past him as if I’d been pedaling past on the road the entire time.  He didn’t pay any attention to me, so I think I escaped notice.  The two people didn’t say anything, either.

Then I wandered around the Clonmeason estate gardens, where I’m staying.  I played the recorder a little, then thought the better of it--I didn’t want to disturb Siobhan and her (so far) invisible husband.  I went down to my private little garden instead.

The gravel path that leads away from my slated back porch leads through a shady, ivy-covered trailway bordered with incredible bushes and shrubs.  It emerges in a large rose garden.  The roses border three sides, and they’re amazing.  Thousands and thousands of fragrant roses, pink and red and white.  The fourth side is the bushy path from which you emerge.  To the right is an arbor with a bench in it.  To the left, beyond the waist-high rose bushes, is the field I explored on my first day.  You can sit in the arbor and look at the roses or at the lush green field beyond.  Straight ahead as you enter the rose garden is a tributary of the River Boyne.  It’s at the bottom of a deep gully.  I sat at the edge of the gully, dangling my feet, and played my recorder there.  The 300-year-old stone bridge sat a little ahead of me and to my right.  The shallow water ran fast over gray rocks about fifteen feet below me.  The rough stone arches of the bridge made slight echoes of the music.

I played until I got tired, then went back to the cottage.