When my mother was visiting in January, Sascha took the day off one day so he could pick up the boys from crèche and we could head out on one of the daylong tours that depart from Dublin.
We got picked up at a nearby hotel and set out about 45 minutes north, into County Meath to get a glimpse of Ireland’s pre-Christian history and its Viking blood.
I do not recommend the tour for young families, because it cannot accommodate a buggy/stroller. The terrain is extremely hilly and mucky (both mud and sheep excrement) and thus very slippery. Also, our tour guide took herself very seriously. There was an 18 month-old girl (in a pink coat and purple boots, with a rosebud hat) babbling happily in the seat in front of us, until the tour guide turned around and mentioned to the parents that they should take “him” to the back of the bus, where “he” might be more comfortable, because “he” was sitting close to the microphone and it was her show.
An old church is now the visitor center at Tara. Its graveyard looks down at the Boyne Valley
The first stop was the hill of Tara, the ancient capital. That morning there was an incredible fog and a bright coin of sun trying to bore through it. As we wedged into a cut in a stonewall to walk out to the site, everything was shrouded in mist. It truly felt other-worldly, making our way over grassy trenches and mounds, underneath of which were several thousand year-old unexcavated earthworks, included a royal house and passage tombs.
My mom heading up to the site
Exploring a distant world
Looking down at the valley coated in fog. Beyond are the remains of an old monastery
One of the most famous things on the hill is believed to be the Lia Fall or Stone of Destiny, the coronation stone for some 142 kings. Showing how much does not change in politics, it is priapic and attached to a legend: it was said that ancient conquering people of Ireland, the Tuatha De Danaan, brought the pillarstone and it would roar when the true king stood on it. The stone was moved from its original location on the site and ringed with contemporary stonework.
Of kings and men
A more modern mythical object is a “Fairy Tree” – a leafless hawthorn whose black branches were covered with ribbons, bits of fabric, and even a USB cable. People make the pilgrimage for luck and good health.
Fairy tree at the Hill of Tara
Part 2 (in a few days) will feature Newgrange, a 5000 year-old passage tomb and astrological observatory