Sunday, May 1, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Navan ➝ Dublin: "Baaaaaaaaart."

I cannot believe another month has gone by. Our time here is almost over! Only 30 days left to enjoy before heading home to that Midwestern summer. Today, we made our way back to Dublin via Trim Castle, the Hill of Tara, and the Battle of the Boyne museum in Oldbridge. It might have been a dreary day, but I am glad I got to see these famous and historic places before we leave!

Our first stop of the morning was Trim Castle, where the movie Braveheart was filmed. Though I have never seen the movie, it was cool to experience something that even Hollywood deemed historically fit to film. We had a little time to explore the grounds first, so we walked around looking at the beautiful gorse bushes, a demolished bell tower, old gates, and lots of broken walls. The castle loomed ominously behind us against the rainy gray sky. It was picturesque in a very macabre way. I loved it.

The rain slowly fell steadier as we made our way back to the castle for the tour. We had an amazing tour guide whose name I unfortunately did not catch, but he gave us a great overview of the way the castle exists now. Trim Castle is preserved as a ruin, which means the OPW came in during the 20th century and have not restored it at all. In fact, the modern construction materials are a stark contrast to the old stone and wood so that visitors can clearly see what is original and what was added later. I thought that was a great way to demonstrate how the years have altered the appearance of the place. The walls are definitely covered with mildew and moss, though, which made for some green marks on coats when we were finished!

The first floor was used as a meeting room for when visitors would meet with the resident Lord for business. They were required to leave their weapons behind a closed and locked main door to the castle just to avoid unnecessary conflict. The castle has two clockwise staircases—one for the public and one for only the Lord and his family. There were originally three towers extended from the main rooms where people would live: the coldest side went to the servants, the warmest to the priest, and the last to the Lord. We got to see the chapel tower, which faces east to utilize the morning sun coming in the window. We also got to see the window from which a character in Braveheart gets thrown… an interesting piece of movie history, if nothing else! 

From there, we went up to roof—one of the only accessible castle roofs we’ve been to besides Blarney! It was great to be up so high and look around at the rest of County Meath. We saw the bell tower we had just come from, more of the river, a beautiful church just across the road, and the majority of Trim town. Unfortunately, the rain and misty weather prevented us from seeing Dublin mountains or even the closer mountains in Co. Meath, but the view was still very impressive. I love heights no matter what the weather.

A long journey back down the stairs, and we were back onto the bus to head to the Hill of Tara. This entire green space was the seat of the ancient High Kings of Ireland. Many smaller monuments make up the whole site of Tara—portal tombs, ring forts, an Iron Age enclosure, and the Stone of Destiny. All of these sit high up on the hilltop looking over the surrounding fields of Co. Meath—an impressive and amazing sight, especially when a rainstorm is coming across the valley in various places. Seeing rain has always been a fascinating experience for me, so getting to see pockets of it falling and others staying dry was really cool. Any type of hilltop view is always great in my book.

We spent about ten minutes touring around the different monuments and got our shoes good and soaked in the grass. Our final stop was the Stone of Destiny. This stone, which is basically just a round pillar sticking straight up from the ground, was told to scream when hugged by the next High King. Our professor jokes that it has never screamed for him, and he is very sad about that. To get to the stone, visitors have to climb two steep trenches, which was a lot of fun in the rainy, wet grass. We had an almost 360° degree view when up on the center hill, which was really neat. Despite hugging the stone, it did not scream for any of us. No future high kings of Ireland in our group, sad to say.

The little shop street next to the complex had a really nice café, a fabulous gift shop (that had a lot of cute stuff that had nothing to do with Tara, unfortunately defeating the purpose of a “gift shop”), and an old book store. I looked through the books in the store and knew I could not buy anything huge. But luckily I found an amazing little song book in a plastic sleeve just begging to be noticed. It is called the Songbook of Irish Ireland and contains the lyrics to the greatest hit Irish ballads. I bought it for €3 and the shop owner told me to take good care of it. I said I would, I promise.

Back on the bus to drive to the Battle of the Boyne Visitors Center, which is like a tour combined with a museum experience. The Battle of the Boyne was the largest assemblage of troops ever in Ireland and determined who would get the English throne, which would in turn determine the favored religion and culture in a British-ruled Ireland. The English and Irish Protestants (plus a variety of other European nationalities) took up arms with King William of Orange, a Protestant king. The Jacobites fought for King James, a Catholic who got support mainly from the rest of Ireland and France. William would use a diversion of troops to successfully win the battle and thus secure the throne of England, leading to continued favor of British/Irish Protestant populations in Ireland.

Our tour guide there was actually American, which was an odd change of pace. She took us outside the stately Victorian house and showed us the physical landscape where the battle took place. The most interesting part of this part for me—a non war buff—was that the canon set up right in front of the house had a range as far as just beyond the modern cable bridge. That was almost a mile, at least. It was crazy! Take a look at the pictures again to see just how far that canon could shoot. I was definitely impressed.

The museum itself was fairly educational and held quite a few artifacts like swords, coins, medals, rifles and muskets, and portraits of generals and kings. The most helpful part for me was a laser show that overviewed the battle visually on a model landscape. I was able to see how the troops moved and how William was able to divert attention from the main battlefield as a distraction for the Jacobites. That was how he won the battle, which was very helpful to see on the terrain rather than simply visualize in my head. The tour ended with a short video that reenacted various parts of the battle.

Then, it was time for a quick spot of 2:30PM lunch—sausage roll and chocolate cake, of course. The tea room overlooked a splendid garden done up just like a French estate garden back in the day, complete with hedge rows, colorful flowers, and little pointed trees at the corners to accent them. It was pouring by the time we were set free to enjoy it, but it was nice enough to sit on the inside of the window walls and look out on the rain falling over the scene. The café even has a resident cat called Bubbles who just lives in the garden and comes in occasionally. So cool!

The day was basically over after that stop. We drove the 40 minutes to Dublin and settled in to our new hotel on O’Connell street around 4PM. Dinner was a nicely proportioned small meal, which I appreciate greatly after these past three weeks of heavy food. There is a gym here, too. The rooms are cozy, but we can make it work. We have a free day tomorrow to get some work done, then we head out on Tuesday to go to Newgrange. On Wednesday, we leave for Norway! It is going to be an amazing week and I can’t wait for it to begin. Stay tuned for lots of updates from all over Europe!

photo credit Katie Walker

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