Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bru na Boinne

Knowth, and a couple of its satellites

Knowth kerb stone, one of 127

Knowth's eastern passage way, longest of any megalithic structure

Newgrange's entry stone

Newgrange; the facade is reconstructed original

The "Stone of Destiny" at Tara; found nearby, erected in 1928

All the previous megalithic stuff, however interesting (to us), was mere prelude. Saturday we toured Bru na Boinne, the megalithic super-complex on the River Boyne in County Meath...Newgrange and Knowth, and later, Tara Hill.

Newgrange is a massive solar site, like Stonehenge in England, but very, very large, and fully mounded. It has a few carved stones, like Gavrinis in Morbihan, which has lots, but is in its size an architectural wonder, especially for its 5000-6000 year age. The corbaled vaulting in the central chamber is incredible. 200,000 tons of stone comprise the structure. Knowth is a more recent discovery, larger than Newgrange, with an east/west orientation, and has the longest interior passage way of any known tumulus. Were that not enough, at least half its giant kerb stones, 127 of them, are carved, although not as delicately as Gavrinis. A third tumulus, Dowth, midway in size between Newgrange and Knowth, is still not open to the public. All three are within a few km of each other, as are scores of lesser tumuli. Knowth is surrounded by such satellite tumuli.

The Office of Public Works visitor center, museum, displays, and tours were superb. Our only complaint was that not enough time was allowed for Knowth, where the carved stones are all visible and want attention. At Newgrange, you simply enter the passage with a guide, proceed to the central chamber, and are given a 60 watt light bulb demonstration of what winter solstice looks like inside, through the 5,000-year-old light-box. But it's still pretty moving. After a couple weeks of touring here, I am deeply impressed by Ireland's care for these monuments, display and interpretation of them, and making them a central feature of tourism here. Bravo!

Tara Hill is the site of an iron-age fort, that of the Irish kings of yore. Only the mounds and ditch-work remain, but the site's command of the countryside is impressive.

All in all, an incredible day.

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