quinta-feira, 8 de outubro de 2009

Day 04

Day 04


on the way to the burren

I just tried to get to the burial chambers, but had no much luck. It was not difficult to get to the Ballyvaghan. The bus goes following the coast and have some very beautiful sights. The Burren is chain of limestone mountains with a very rocky area with a lot of wildlife. It has been inhabited for quite a while, since it is possible to find remains of stone age people until the iron age, covering thousands of years. It was in the Aillwee, the best known of the Burren caves, that was found evidence of the now extinct bears in Ireland.

In the way it is possible to find stone circles and standing stones around, just lost in the landscape. I’ve been following the road until get to the famous Aillwee cave.

The complex also houses a prey bird project, which includes owls, falcons and eagles. most of the birds are native animals from the Burren. The falcons, eagles and other birds of prey are breed in the center and perform little shows. There is a little zoo in the center too. I am not enthusiast of zoos, but I confess it was beautiful to see those birds close and flying. they have a special relation with the humans.
After that I went to visit the caves in which you got to be in a tour (like everything here...).

the view from outside the cave

The cave that was found in the 40’s by a hunter and its dog, and it was open to public only in mid 70’s. It is one of the biggest natural caves in the whole Europe, and it is only possible to walk around one kilometer of the area inside. It was inside this cave that was found the bear bones which was capital to prove the very existence of the animal. The cave is a world apart: waterfalls, stalagmites, stalactites, weird rocky formations.
After the tour, I realized my time had gone and I had to go back to get the last bus from Ballyvaghan to Galway.

On my way I've found this beautiful ditch and round fort. Would it be an Iron age or early medieval fort? The place was being excavated, but no further information was given so far.

The structure was clear and I figured there are thousands of those in England. It must be almost impossible to excavate all of them and organize this information. That was clear in places like Newgrange and Knowth, where there are so many to dig that some sites are kept closed until the advances of the science can help them better.

After that my time was really short, so I decided to go back to Ballyvaghan, and then to Galway. I could visit the Museum of Galway and see a fine collection of Corraghs, the small boats from people from Ireland. The sillouete of the fishermen carrying the boats is very known around here, and a powerful image. But it wasn’t a very significant day for my research, so maybe tomorrow I have a better luck.


the shields of the fourteen tribes of galway

Just beside the Museum there is the famous Spanish Arch, built at the 16th century to protect the city. The name carries a bit of a mystery since there is no proof that it has any spanish relate with it. Maybe it was built to protect the quays from the Spanish Armada.

Spanish Arch

lynch wall

Day 03

Day 03

In Galway, which is a port city west of Ireland, the third largest city of the island. I quite like this city, when I’ve been here in 1998, and there it goes ten years, I stayed in a very cheap hostel which was on the top of a butcher, so there were a sign in which you could read “Pork Butcher Hostel”, although it was two distinct business. At that time I had other interests, so not only I have changed as the city did too. It is said to be the city that grows faster in Europe at the moment. Sure it has now modern spots, but some of the old stuff are still there. Some houses, some streets, they never leave one’s memories . Today after my arrival I had time to walk around Galway and enjoy the alleys and the port.

the pork butcher hostel

The city was founded by the Normans in the 12th century, but there are hints of much older occupation, and it is generally accepted that 7000 years ago there were already people living here. From its foundation, the city was informally ruled by fourteen families from England, which organized the trades and the port activity. It’s been under seize in 1652 in the civil war.

a house of one of the fourteen tribes

South of Galway is located The Burren, a National Park, a rocky area of 15 square kilometer, containing no less than 90 stone monuments, although only a few are spot in the Ordnance Survey. No wonder, I have found monolithic sited not in the Ordnance Survey myself.

I have noticed that is not easy to get there if you are not in a tour. Quite bad. I will try it anyway, because I definally don’t like tours. It’s like being rushing all time and it really don’t give you enough room to think about. Mostly of my questions about Newgrange only appeared after I leave the place.

Tomorrow I will see how it works. Most of my information until now were not very encouraging.

sábado, 3 de outubro de 2009

day 02

Day 02

Another rainy day (now they are six or seven in a row, quite depressing) and I went to the train station quite close to my B&B to get the guided tour to Brú na Bóinne, the valley of the river Boyne, where stands Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth and other 40 pre historical mounds, cursus and other landmarks.

As there were not many people into the tour, I just decided spare my money and go by myself to the place, first to Drogheda and from there to Donore. As Newgrange is very known, there is a bus line that literally takes you inside the park. Newgrange is a National Monument, and there is no access to it unless through the park or if you live there. There is a strange mixture of private and archeological sites. As I mentioned before, Newgrange is not the only place of interest there, but is the most known.


The area is still not totally excavated, and several small mounds are just kept closed until there are proper ways to dig it. There are around 37 around the area, which is way too much for a single place. The other concentration like that can only be found in Stonehenge or Avebury, which are major sites. So we must consider Brú na Bóinne a major site too. Unfortunately there is no access to most of the mounds, and even to Newgrange and Knowth – the two sites possible to visit- it is only possible with a guided tour. So that is, in the end I could not escape my guided tour. They probably have reasons for that: the site is precious, and although is considered World Heritage Site by Unesco, not always been like this. Marks of graffitti are all around Newgrange, especially from the 19th century, when the site was kept unprotected.

Rocky Art at Newgrange

From the beginning, the story goes like that, the Neolithic people of the place, at 3.000 BC (this is some centuries before the Great Piramids and Stonehenge), that people that were some of the first farmers in Ireland, those guys which lived around 28 to 35 years old, and that were a bit too short because of their life conditions, and they had a very hard life, these guys with no metal tools, only stones, no horses, only men, again, these guys constructed an amazing very impressive mark in the landscape. For this, they brought stones from far, probably by the river (Ireland was mostly forest right then), each weighting several tons, after finding it in a spot, working it and transporting by human power and then boats. The finality of all that was to create a place for their dead, a ceremonial place where they could lay their bodies and make ceremonies for them and for the gods. They needed several years to make the whole structure, but the plane was clear since the beginning: this is one of the few sites that can be said it has a specific function. Newgrange was constructed in order to mark the transition of the time.

Newgrange is a passage tomb, which means a big mound with side decoration ( 97 carved stones), a front wall in quartz stone and an entrance. This entrance has a very decorated carved stone before you actually get to the passage and a window on the top. The passage is narrow and long – it must have around 40 meters up way – and leads to a cruciform hall with three burial chambers. Though the passage is narrow and low, the hall has something like 5 meters high, built with stones overlaps, like a dome. The structure supports the weight of several tons, and remained intact after 4.000 years abandoned.

What is remarkable in this place is that in the winter solstice, this mean, the shortest day of the year the sun enters through the narrow passage and reaches the center of the tomb for something like 15 minutes. Of course this don’t happens only in that very precise day, but also in the few next and before. The fenomena was first witnessed (in modern times) by the archeologist Michael J. O’Kelly in december 1967. This gives a whole sense of sacred place to Newgrange, and adds a new idea of their planners.

In some other passages tombs this property happens again, like in Bryn Celli Ddu, in Wales – which also have some few carved stones and in some aspects resemble Newgrange. This was enough for a new turn in the researches on the Neolithic sites. Unfortunately, not many sites share such precision as Newgrange.

the interior of the passage grave in Newgrange

There were distinct phases of occupation of the Newgrange site, as like happened with Stonehenge. After the place been left by their builders, it decayed and was incorporated by the landscape, but several other traces indicates that it’s been in use after that. There is a Woodhenge just beside it, and a cursus. All around there are small mounds, which indicates that the area surely had been used for sacred rituals.

Not far from Newgrange, there other site that shares some of its features, named Knowth.


This site though is known since the 40’s has only been fully excavated –and opened to public visitation- in 2002. This means, is quite new and unknown from the public. The site is from the beginning breathtaking.

There is a central circular mound surrounded by other 18 little and medium (in other context I would say big) mounds. Knowth has some of the most striking carved stones surrounding it, in a total of 127. The patterns are basically geometrical, spirals, and diamonds.

Knowth was constructed around 2.500BC and like Newgrange, was left and was incorporated by the vegetation around. The site was taken by the Iron Age Celts, which turn it into a fort with two ditches. Later the Normans built a village on the top of it. The Vikings have been there twice in 963 and some years later while raiding the little villages along the river. Only in the 60’s the site was cleared and initially excavated.

inside the Knowth passage

Rocky Art at Knowth

The site has two passages, possibly related with summer and winter solstices rituals. Although not as clear as Newgrange, it shares its main axis.

Inside the chamber it was found what is considered one of the finest stone age sculpture, a flint mace which depicts a head, not much bigger than 10 centimeters, and is in show at the museum I visited in Dublin, just yesterday. There is a replica in the Visitors Centre in Brú na Bóinne. There is a little museum there with models and replicas – and of course some original pieces too, to introduce the sites of the area.

models of Newgrange's evolution

Founds in New Grange includes some of the best carvings of the Neolithic period.

At this point, the pictures will speak for me, as I am quite tired. Tomorrow I will try to go to Galway, or Ennis, where there’s more waiting for me.