An Ancient Temple and The Land of Fairies

Hello fellow internet-goers! How’s the craic? (Craic is like the Irish equivalent of fun. It’s a word, not a drug.) So I’ve now moved into my dorm at school for the year. That part was all well and good. It was nice seeing friends again after a year. My roommate and I are mostly unpacked but have yet to start decorating our walls. The biggest annoyance I’ve run into is that, until this morning, my internet wasn’t working. The wireless was spotty and the Ethernet cable didn’t work at all. That’s annoying right? Even more annoying is that the cable worked fine with my roommate’s computer, as did the wireless for both her computer and iPhone and my iPod. So I’ve had two days of frustrations with that (and even went to Tech support on campus) only to  wake up this morning to find it magically working. Fingers crossed that it will stay that way as classes start tomorrow.  I’m sure you all would like me to move on to the land of fairies bit, huh? Well, you’ll have to wait a smidge longer since I want to start with the ancient temple so….tough cookies.

Alright, ancient temple. What comes to mind when you hear or, I guess in this case read, that phrase? Do you think of South America and the Aztecs? Or maybe the Incas or Mayans? Do you think of ancient Egypt? Or perhaps you think of something from the ancient Roman period? I know those are what usually come to mind first. In this case however, we’re talking about something much older. Older than the Great Pyramid in Egypt and even older than Stonehenge in England. This particular ancient temple is one of a number that dot the countryside of Ireland. A large mound shaped sort of like a kidney and decorated along the outside with megalithic art, Newgrange is probably the most famous of these temples. In addition to Newgrange, there are two other principle mounds in the area, Knowth and Dowth, though there are as many as 35 smaller mounds spread throughout the region. And as I said earlier, they are older than Stonehenge. That might be a little hard to imagine, right? Stonehenge, I think, has always been assumed by many to be the oldest structure in the world as it is estimated to have been built in 3,100 BC. That’s pretty darn old. And to find out that there’s a structure older than that? Whoa. Newgrange is estimated to have been constructed in 3,200 BC so not a huge age difference between the two but big enough.

view of Newgrange from the side
view of Newgrange from the side

Why am I referring to these large, ancient mounds of earth as temples? Well, archaeologists originally classified Newgrange and the other structures like it as ancient passage tombs but experts are now beginning to think that ancient temple is a more fitting term as these mounds seem to have had spiritual, astrological, and ceremonial as well as religious importance. What is amazing is how precisely Newgrange was built. It is built facing the east so that the doorway is aligned with not only the rising sun but also the winter solstice.

I personally thought that this was a really cool Roberta trip. I like history in general but I love learning about some of the really early periods.  We were able to inside Newgrange while we were there which was cool. The entrance of the mound gives way to a long, narrow passageway made up of big stones, some standing up straight on either side forming the walls and others lying across the top of those standing up to form the ceiling. Be mindful of any bags or swinging limbs though, as the stones are not held in place by any cement or mortar. This passageway ends in a decent-sized circular domed room. Like the passageway, this room is made up entirely of stones carefully balanced on each other and this pattern continues upward, forming the domed ceiling. Inside Newgrange are three small alcoves. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the interior as photos weren’t allowed. On the walls of each alcove, you can still see symbols that were carved into the stone all those thousands of years ago. The stone that sits directly in front of the entrance is also covered in swirling circles, spirals, and arcs as well as a few pieces that make up the exterior of the mound along the sides. There has been some disagreement among experts as to whether these carvings held any special meaning or were purely for decoration.

the entrance to Newgrange
the entrance to Newgrange

After Newgrange, we headed for the famous Hill of Tara. Well, okay, maybe not so famous. Personally, I was kind of excited to see it. I swear though, it seemed like I was the only one in the group other than Roberta who even knew what it was though that may have to do with the fact that I absolutely loved the Artemis Fowl series when I was younger. For those of you who do not know the series, it’s about a young criminal mastermind who decides to capture a fairy and her for ransom to exploit the magical Underworld and restore his family’s fortune. That’s the basic plotline of the first book, there are seven or eight in all and in each one, in addition to learning more about the magical Underworld,  the friendship between Artemis Fowl II and the fairies develops a little more. It really is a good series. I’ve read (and own) all but the newest book. The slightly embarrassing part is that until I came to Ireland, I didn’t realize that the author, Eoin Colfer, was Irish. Seems like it should’ve been a no-brainer right? Whoops. (Eoin is pronounced the same as Owen). But anyway, the whole point I’m trying to make with all of this is that the hill of Tara is mentioned throughout the series. Actually, if you want to get real specific, it’s mentioned for the first time in the beginning of the first book. It’s supposed to be a magical hotspot, both in the series and in real life or so tradition suggests.

Artemis Fowl series
Artemis Fowl series

Whether or not there is any magical significance attached to the hill of Tara, it was a place of importance. According to the hill’s website, 142 kings are said to have reigned in the name of Tara during prehistoric and historic times.  When we visited, our guides pointed out the hills and valleys of various mounds and explained that there used to be a ritual, pointing out the order of the mounds and which ones would have been used. They then showed us what is supposed to have been the original fairy tree (or wishing tree). Like at St Brigid’s Well, people can attach small trinkets or prayers to the limbs of the tree but what most people don’t realize is that the fairy tree has been moved. The actual tree hasn’t been moved, but what people attach their prayers to now is not the original tree. The original tree is in the middle of a field by itself but it’s against the rules to tie anything to its branches. Despite this, our guides told us to write something and attach it to the tree. They would return in a day or two and remove the ties for us.

what's left of some of the hills and valleys
what’s left of some of the hills and valleys
one of the larger mounds
one of the larger mounds

While I found both of these visits interesting, I think I can speak for everyone in our group when I say that we were glad to get back on the bus. It was cold and had been raining on and off all day. Newgrange hadn’t been too bad but we were also indoors to some degree for most of it while at the hill of Tara, you’re walking around a large field and, because it was raining, was super muddy and slippery. A few girls fell and my fingers were beginning to go numb by the time we made it back to the little coffee/gift shop on the edge of the property. Not to say that it wasn’t cool; it was, it was just a bad weather day.

Classes start tomorrow (eep!). I’ll officially be a junior. Oh boy.

❤ Rachel



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