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devil duck

The Boyne and the Wicklows

Wednesday 20 June: took the airport shuttle bus to the airport, picked up a rental car, and started driving north. On the left side of the road. A good deal of the drive was on "motorway" (equivalent to a U.S. interstate highway), which was fairly easy, but the twisty narrow country roads are trickier. We haven't yet been on any REALLY narrow roads like the ones I remember from rural Scotland fifteen years ago, where two cars going opposite directions can't pass unless one of them pulls off at a wide spot in the road.

The Valley of the Boyne River has a lot of historic sites, of which we visited two 5000-year-old grave mounds (Knowth and Newgrange) and one Norman castle (at Trim).

The trail to the visitor centre for the prehistoric mounds in the Valley of the Boyne:
trail to Boyne visitor centre
The swift-flowing River Boyne, as seen from a foot-bridge over it.
river boyne
The brown spot in the lower right corner is one of two Golden Retrievers that were playing and chasing sticks in the water.

Some of the mounds at Knowth:
knowth mounds

knowth more mounds
Around the bases of these mounds are a lot of carved stones:
carvings at knowth

carved stones at knowth
Knowth has two passages that ALMOST meet in the middle of the mound, aligned with the spring and fall equinoxes; they let the public only a few feet into one of them, but our tour guide gave us a very informative explanation of what we know about the mounds, pointing out lots of beautifully carved stones around the outside and some of the souterraines that were dug through the mounds in the early centuries AD.

A few miles away is another prehistoric site named Newgrange.
newgrange distance
It too has some impressive carved rocks around the base:
carving at newgrange

more carvings at newgrange

Newgrange was discovered in the 19th century when some workmen were trying to get building-stones from a hill known to have a lot of rocks on top. By pure chance, they found an intricately carved stone the size of a small car almost immediately. It turned out to be the center-front stone in the following photo. The workmen's employer, an amateur antiquarian, found a hole above-and-behind the stone, crawled into it, then found he could stand up and that the passage went some distance straight into the hill.
newgrange entryway
The entryway had collapsed and is reconstructed, but mostly from rocks found on the site. The dark semicircular entryway is a modern addition to allow visitors to get to the passage without climbing over the entry stone. The white quartz (which comes from mountains 40 miles to the south) and the dark spherical stones embedded in it (which come from somewhere else entirely) appear in exactly the proportion, and within a few feet, of where they were found.
newgrange wall

Newgrange has one long passage aligned with the winter solstice (we were there on, approximately, the SUMMER solstice); they take groups of about fifteen people at a time in there to see the carvings, and they turn out the lights for an electrically-lit simulation of what it looks like on the winter solstice when the rising sun illuminates the chamber. There's a lottery for slots to be in there at the winter solstice itself. A third excavated mound, Dowth, has a short passage aligned with the summer solstice, but they don't let the public in there and we were too tired to make the side trip to it. There are also dozens of smaller mounds surrounding these three, and dotting the surrounding farmland.
unexcavated mound

Trim Castle, built by a Norman lord named Hugh de Lacy in the 12th century, is an impressive and picturesque ruin site. We arrived minutes after the hourly guided tour, so we wandered around for an hour on our own
trim castle

archer at trim
before taking the last guided tour of the day, which took us inside the keep and was quite entertaining and informative.
field and ruins in trim

Then we drove back to our B&B in the southern Dublin suburb of Donnybrook. This was the trickiest driving of the day, and I hope of the whole vacation: we didn't want to drive through the middle of downtown Dublin, as Google Maps's directions suggested, so we took the beltway, got off one exist earlier than we probably should have, and wandered through a lot of twisty suburban roads none of which go quite the direction one would like them to.

Thursday 21 June: It was raining steadily, so we wanted to do something indoors at the start of the day: we took a bus into the centre of Dublin, picked up a few more items at the Trinity College Library gift shop (where we had earlier seen parts of the Book of Kells and two of its friends), picked up a cable to connect an iPhone to the car stereo, and took the bus back to the B&B.

Checked out and drove south, in intermittent rain, to the Wicklow Mountains.
car in Wicklows
Which would have been a different and more accessible experience on a sunny day, but the rain stopped just as we reached Glendalough, site of a monastic community founded in the 6th century.
glendalough valley

ruins in glendalough
The surviving buildings mostly date to the 12th and 13th centuries, and some of them are in remarkably good shape, notably the 30-meter-tall round tower, built between 900-1200, which needed only the conical roof restored,
round tower at glendalough

and the 12th-century "St Kevin's Church" (Kevin had actually died in the 7th century) of which the original nave and the 13th-century sacristy survive, with their corbeled barrel-vault ceilings, along with the outlines of the 13th-century altar addition.
st kevin's

And the mountain scenery is amazing! We took a two-mile round trip walk up past the "two lakes" (da lough).
bald from glendalough

hillside forest at glendalough

perfect tree at glendalough

hillside from glendalough

upper lake at glendalough

glacial valley from glendalough

another hillside from glendalough

I decided to play with the telephoto settings on our new camera:
bird 1

bird 2

bird 3 (pantalone)

The day was getting late, and we had miles to go before reaching our reserved B&B in Kilkenny, so we set off up the valley and over the Wicklow Pass. The guidebook describes this as "historic but uninteresting", which I guess would be a good description if you weren't interested in pilgrim roads or stunning mountain scenery.

We pulled off a few times, either to give the driver a break, to let other drivers pass, or to see the stuff along the way, and happened across an extensive complex of ruined buildings and stone walls, but with no signage whatsoever. At first, I thought it was medieval, but as far as I can tell from half an hour's Web research, the "medieval ruin" in question is actually a 19th-century lead mine; I stand corrected. The scenery is still amazing.
glendalough valley from above

bald in fog above glendalough

iffin at leadworks


Anyway, we drove over the pass and down into the richer farmland of the interior, still on tiny twisty country roads until we reached the motorway that took us to Kilkenny, where we are now.