Celebrating the big 3-0 in Ireland: click here for the full itinerary. When I turned 30 I decided to celebrate by travelling across Ireland, including through County Meath, County Sligo and County Mayo.
“What did you do to piss them off? Were you being a bit too cheeky when you made the reservations?” This was the good-humored response from our cab driver when we told him we were on our way to the rental car agency to pick up a Skoda for our trek around Ireland.
On our third day in Ireland it was time to say goodbye to Dublin and hello to our mode of transportation for the rest of our time in Ireland, a beautiful blue Skoda. It was tiny and quaint and I loved it. Bryan the driver, not so much.
Now the roads in Ireland are an adventure in themselves. Here’s a place where bigger is definitely not better. The roads are narrow, the speed limits high, and addresses are hard to find. Note: we found that keying in the latitude and longitude of locations we wanted to visit worked best. Pick the smallest car you can fit into. Remember to stay on the left side of the road (for those of you that drive on the right as we do). Do not get freaked out (or at least try not to) when other cars bear down on you. Most importantly, take time to look out the window because the view is breathtaking.
Taking a break in our sightseeing so Bryan could teach me how to drive a standard car. It didn’t stick. (No pun intended.)
Our first stop now that we had a car was the Hill of Tara, located right outside of Dublin in Couty Meath. The Hill of Tara is renowned for being the original seat of the ancient kings of Ireland (going as far back as the 3rd century). Tourists flocked for miles to see the mounts and passages dating back to the bronze age. However, I’ll admit it, I am a huge Gone with the Wind fan. There was only one reason I wanted to visit the Hill of Tara. Gerard O’Hara took with him a piece of earth from Tara before coming to America. He placed this earth on the grounds of his plantation in Georgia. The plantation that he then named Tara.
More windy than normal on account of Hurricane Katia, which was getting close to the coast at this time.
Since County Meath is known for its archaeological sites, next we were off to Newgrange. Newgrange is Ireland’s best-known prehistoric monument. Built as a burial mound over 5,000 years ago, it is only accessible via the Bru na Boinne Visitor Center, which we could not find at first and got hopelessly lost. We finally passed by a County Meath cop (garda) and stopped to ask directions. The Garda started to explain what we had to do, but possibly alarmed by the lost looks on our faces he got in his car and gave us a police escort to the center.
County Meath’s Newgrange consisted of 200,000 tons of stone, many of which were hauled from farther away counties. These stones fit perfectly together in a pattern that created a water-tight structure. The coolest part of Newgrange takes place during the winter solstice. During that time, a shaft of sunlight travels down the arrow-straight passageway for 17 minutes until it hits the back wall of the burial chamber. Still, standing inside the monument with all that tons of stone on top of me and knowing it was built by people over 5,000 years ago had me a little freaked out. (Possibly a lot freaked out.)
After Newgrange, it was finally time to head out to County Sligo for our night’s stay at Temple House. Click here for a detailed write up of our time at Temple House.
After our first and very hearty Irish breakfast, we left Temple House armed with very detailed instructions from our hostess and set out to find (and then hike) Knocknarea mountain. I’m not the world’s best navigator and I quickly proceeded in getting us lost. We just could not find the place. I was expecting a lot of signs directing us to a giant car park but instead, all we saw were spaces for a couple cars to pull over. We parked and started to climb, figuring that must be the place. We climbed for a few minutes until we came to a fence set up to keep the nearby grazing cows from wandering off. The climb took only a couple minutes on account of the fence that stopped us before we barely climbed up the mountain. Could this really be Knocknarea? It turned out, no. Nonetheless, the views were spectacular.
Driving along I started to mumble that maybe we should just give up when we saw a tiny sign pointing back into the mountain. Lo and behold, we found Knocknarea! Sitting on the top of Knocknarea is a gigantic unexcavated cairn (or grave mound). Folklore says it was built for the mythical Iron Age Queen Maeve. Maeve was buried standing in the cairn in full battle gear, spear in hand. Clearly the goal was to make it to the top. Sadly, this was a goal I did not succeed at.
I blame it on my tiny feet and some remnants of Hurricane Katia. I got blown off by industrial-strength winds every time I tried to climb the last mound. After three failed attempts I finally parked myself at the bottom of the cairn and tried to figure out how I could catch Bryan if he blew off the cairn (just kidding, sort of). After Bryan returned from his trek up the cairn we ran back down to lower ground and as we did the sky let up. That certainly made me believe that Maeve really was buried in the cairn. And Maeve was not happy that we were disturbing her!
From County Sligo town we drove northwest (the most northern point we stopped at on this trip) near dramatic sea-cliffs to Ballycastle. Ballycastle was home of Ceide Fields, a neolithic farming settlement in County Mayo preserved for nearly 6,000 years beneath bog.
After the awe-inspiring sites of Newgrange back in County Meath I have to admit, I was expecting a little bit more. County Mayo’s Ceide Fields laid out white stones to depict where the farm stood several millennia ago. The visit did teach us about something that had us enamored for the rest of the trip… bog.
From Ceide Fields we were off to Westport in the southwest of County Mayo for the night. After quickly checking into the CastleCourt hotel we headed out in search of dinner. An easy task until we realized that nothing was open save for a dark pub with a couple patrons lingering to hear the live music. So we crowded around a tiny table set up in a separate room from the bar itself and ordered fish and chips. And I tell you, it was the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted.
Next Up: the jaunt continues across The Emerald Isle (north to south on the western coast).