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June 19 - 21

June 19 - 21 Hill of Tara; Donaghmore Tower; Slane Hill; Newgrange; Monasterboice; Mellifont Abbey; My Rental Car; Ireland's Roads.

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 Hill of Tara

Hill of Tara On my way north from Dublin, I stopped at the Hill of Tara in County Meath. The significance of Tara goes back to the Stone Age. One of the many mounds on this hill is a passage grave from about 2500 BC and during the Bronze Age people of high rank and status were buried here.

From 405-1198 A.D. Tara was known as the "Capitol of Ireland" -- the seat of the most powerful rulers in Ireland, a place where the Ard Ri (High King) and his royal court had their ceremonial residence, feasted, and watched over the realm.

During these 800 years, our McLaughlin ancestors, who often were kings of the province of Ulster, were inaugurated as High King of Ireland 13 times -- the last was Muirchertach MacLochlainn c.1166 A.D.

Hill of Tara Horses and sheep graze on the side of the hill near a former Protestant church and cemetery.

Hill of Tara Mounds and depressions in the grass mark where an Iron Age fort and surrounding ring forts once stood on top of the hill. A Stone Age passage tomb rises in the center.

Hill of Tara The "Mound of the Hostages". This stone age passage tomb dating from 1800 B.C. was later used by a 3rd-century King as a prison cell.

Hill of Tara Having a commanding view of the beautiful Boyne Valley below, to the right stands the Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny) representing the joining of the gods of the earth and the heavens. It's said to be the inauguration stone of the High Kings of Tara. Imagine the would-be king Domnall Ua Lochlainn of our McLaughlin ancestors standing on top of it c.1121 A.D. If the stone let out three roars, he was crowned. I think it would be quite a feat just to be able to balance oneself on it!

The gravestone to the left marks the mass grave of 37 men who died in a skirmish on Tara during the 1797 Rising.

Hill of Tara On Tara, St. Patrick is said to have used the shamrock and its three leaves to explain the Christian Trinity. Hence the adoption of the shamrock as the Irish national symbol. This statue of the saint is holding a shamrock.

Hill of Tara The first of many large Celtic Crosses I'd find standing around the Irish countryside during my trip was at Tara. This cross stood about 7 feet high. The Celtic Cross began to appear during the 5th-century A.D. The shape of the Celtic Cross derives from a pagan sun symbol, the sun wheel and later became a symbol of the Christian godhead. The cross represents eternal life; its horizontal axis being the earthly world and the vertical axis the heavenly world coming together as the union of Heaven and Earth.

Donaghmore Tower

Donaghmore Tower During one of my many times getting lost, as I drove around looking for Slane Hill I accidently found a nice 60-foot 10th-century tower near Navan. Besides being lookouts, towers in Ireland were used to protect valuables hanging inside which included manuscripts or food from marauders or vermin.

The tilt of high objects in my pictures is due to a wide-angle lens.

Slane Hill

Slane Hill In 433, a year after his arrival in Ireland, St. Patrick is said to have lit a paschal (Easter) fire on Slane Hill to proclaim Christianity throughout the land. This act was in direct contravention of a decree issued by Laoghaire, the pagan High King of Ireland, that no flame should be lit within sight of the Hill of Tara. The king was furious but was restrained by his druids, who warned that 'the man who had kindled [the flame] would surpass kings and princes'. Instead, Laoghaire set out to meet Patrick and question him.

During the confrontation, St. Patrick summoned an earthquake to subdue the king's guards and then plucked a shamrock to explain the paradox of the Trinity. The king made peace and, while he refused to be converted, allowed Patrick to continue his missionary work.

Slane Hill Today, I find the remains of a Franciscan friary built in 1512 atop the hill.

Slane Hill On the Saturday night before Easter, the local parish priest still lights a fire on this hill. I can imagine the challenge St. Patrick presented to King Laoghaire perched on the Hill of Tara several miles away.


Newgrange After taking a shuttle bus from the new Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, I arrive at Newgrange, a Stone Age passage tomb and one of the most remarkable prehistoric sites in Europe.

Newgrange Newgrange dates from around 3200 B.C., predating the great pyramids of Egypt by some six centuries. The purpose for which it was constructed remains uncertain. It may have been a burial place for kings or a center for ritual -- it may have been designed to act as a calendar.

Newgrange Holding the whole structure together are 97 boulders of the kerb ring, designed to stop the mound from collapsing outwards.

Newgrange Most of the facing of the mound is covered with quartzite from the Wicklow mountains over 50 miles away to the south and some granite from the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland.

Newgrange Facing exactly south is the entrance with a large slideable rock door guarded by a carved kerbstone. Above the entrance is a slit or a roof box, which lets light in.

Newgrange Our tour was allowed to enter the narrow, low 60-foot passage which sloped upwards slightly leading to the tomb chamber with three recesses. It was a tight fit for all of us. In the chamber, massive stones support an 18-foot-high roof that has not let a drop of water into the tomb for over 5000 years! Then, our guide turned off the electric lights and simulated with one light how at 8:20am during the winter solstice (December 19 - 23) the rising sun's rays shine through the slit above the entrance, creeping slowly down the long passage and illuminating the tomb chamber. It was a thrilling, memorable, Indiana-Jones-type experience!


Monasterboice Continuing towards the north, I stopped at Monasterboice, a monastic site with standing ruins from the 10th-century. Muiredach's Cross is a superb example of Celtic art.

Monasterboice Both sides have subjects from the Old & New Testaments.

Monasterboice A key identifying the carved subjects.

Monasterboice The West Cross stands almost 20 feet making it one of the tallest high crosses in Ireland. The round tower is over 90 feet tall. An invading Viking force took over this settlement in 968, only to be expelled with 300 Vikings killed in the process by Domnall Ua Neill, the Irish High King of Tara and in the McLaughlin pedigree. In 1097, the tower interior went up in flames, destroying many valuable manuscripts and other treasures.

Mellifont Abbey

Mellifont Abbey Mellifont Abbey was Ireland's first Cistercian monastery dating from the 12th-century. The buildings clustered around an open cloister, or courtyard. The octagonal building was a lavabo or washing house for the monks. Lead pipes brought water to the building. At one point, as many as 400 monks lived here.

Mellifont Abbey A map of the grounds.

My Rental Car

My Rental Car This is "Notagain!" my rental car at an early stage of my trip. His name came from the second thing out of my mouth at the point of impact with hedges along the road, parking lot barriers, and other cars' side-view mirrors. If you don't look close you won't notice Notagain!'s missing paint.

It was amazing how much abuse Notagain!'s side-view mirrors could take without losing them!

Ireland's Roads

Ireland's Roads This is an example of a good Irish country road called boreens. (I call them "bwinnngs" - the sound your car makes as it bounces back from the hedges onto the pavement. This bwinnng is fairly wide and the hedges and stone walls lean slightly away from the sides of the rough pavement, reducing the chance of damage to the sides of a car. Miraculously, there is also a line in the center. You could actually feel quite comfortable traveling 40 mph down this road while fighting fatigue.

Ireland's Roads Now this is how 99% of the other country roads are like in Ireland. (Or how they appeared to me.)

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 Main Index

June 19 - 21 Hill of Tara; Donaghmore Tower; Slane Hill; Newgrange; Monasterboice; Mellifont Abbey; My Rental Car; Ireland's Roads.

June 22 - 23 Newry, County Down; Mountains of Mourne; Belfast; Carrickfergus; Glens of Antrim; Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge; Giant's Causeway; Dunluce Castle.

June 24 - 25 Arboe High Cross; Tullaghoge Fort; Ulster American Folk Park; Redcastle; Inishowen Peninsula; Grianan of Aileach.

June 26 - 27 Sligo Town; Isle of Innisfree; Carrowmore; Carrowkeel; Aughanure Castle; Connemara; Kylemore Abbey.

June 28 - 29 Cliffs of Moher; The Burren; Poulnabrone Dolmen; Rothe House; St. Canice's Cathedral; Black Abbey; Kilkenny Castle; Jerpoint Abbey; Rock of Cashel.

June 30 - July 2 Browne's Hill Dolmen; Glenart Castle Hotel; Arklow Beach; Greystones; Powerscourt Gardens; Dublin.