Travelling from Derry on our way out of Ireland, we stopped at Giant’s Causeway, an incredible landscape of interlocking stone columns, then stayed overnight in Trim to visit the 5,000-year-old passage tombs, Newgrange and Knowth.
The Giant’s Causeway
The rock formations in the Giant’s Causeway are so beautiful and unusual. They resemble organ pipes and were formed by volcanic activity in which lava cooled in a fractured way, often compared to drying mud. These formations exist elsewhere, but the Giant’s Causeway is one of the most striking examples, partly due to its location on a beautiful coastal area.
We were curious about the name, Giant’s Causeway. As is the case so often in this area of the world, there is a legend. According to the legend, an Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumhaill was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Bnandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. But, to avoid actually having to fight, Fionn’s wife, Oonagh disguised Fionn as a baby and tucked him into a cradle. When Benandonner saw the size of Fionn’s ‘baby,’ he fled back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway and leaving only the coastal columns.
Newgrange and Knowth
Newgrange and Knowth (pronounced like ‘south’) are remarkable and fascinating, even for those of us with only a mild interest in archaeology. Passage tombs are tunnels leading to areas where the remains of, presumably, important leaders in the Stone Age were laid to rest. What is remarkable about these two places is that they were built for their passages to align with the Vernal and Autumnal equinoxes (Knowth) and the Winter Solstice (Newgrange). Today it is possible to go to Newgrange in the few days surrounding the Winter Solstice, just past dawn, and see the sun illuminate the interior passage for approximately twelve minutes. For a visitor to Newgrange, this effect is simulated as part of the tour and this will need to be good enough for us – we don’t expect to be back in December! Both sites have plenty of ancient art in their kerbstones, surrounding the passage tomb mound, and in their interiors.
There are many other unexcavated, smaller passage tombs in Ireland, most on private property; all known sites protected from destruction or tampering.
The unexpected delights of Trim
For our last night in Ireland, I booked a place in Trim, a town about 40 minutes away from the Dublin airport. Knowing nothing about Trim before we got there, we were pleasantly surprised that it’s a beautiful little town with the largest Norman Castle in Ireland, a lovely river walk across a beautiful countryside, and ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, in addition to being the home of Regan’s Pub, one of the oldest pubs in Ireland.
Since we arrived in Trim mid-afternoon, we had time to visit the castle. Normally castles are not at the top of our list of places to go, but this one is special as the largest of all of the Norman castles. Besides, we had not toured a single castle during our three weeks in Ireland. “What the heck,” we thought. Trim Castle is mostly ruins, but with a fairly well preserved ‘keep’ or interior, that can be seen only on a tour. We went to the castle, which was across the street from our B&B, and got there just in time for one of the last tours of the day. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and, better yet, was hilarious in a deadpan, earnest way, riffing off here and there on various topics related to Irish history. Very entertaining.
At the end of the day we took a walk along the river and made a stop in Regan’s Pub for one last Smithwick’s Red Ales before leaving Ireland to continue our travels in Salzburg, Austria.