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  • Writer's pictureLizzy Shannon

Heading south: 5,000 years into the past

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

Yesterday I woke up at 6am with the sun streaming through my bedroom window, and couldn't get back to sleep. The morning beckoned; too gorgeous out there to stay in bed. I’ve been wanting to drive south of the border to visit Newgrange in County Meath for some time. Here was the perfect excuse: I’m compiling an anthology of lesser known Irish myths, which will be available later in the year, so what could be better than visiting a 5,000 year old Neolithic (New Stone Age) passage tomb?

I got ready to go and as soon as Dad surfaced from his room I informed him I was off on another wee adventure. “Are you right in the head?” he wanted to know when he found out what Newgrange was. Probably not. But, at least it's only a couple of hours away by car. I took the now familiar high mountain road through the Mournes to Newry, where I’ve been back and forth a few times on my researching forays into Armagh. In Newry I headed south and picked up the M1 to Dublin. In minutes a sign by the roadside welcomed me to County Louth, and I was already in another country! Not that you could tell. It’s all beautiful.

The speed limit signs showed 120. All right! I put my foot to the accelerator... let’s see what my little Sputnik capsule (Ford Ka) was made of. It roared into delighted overdrive and zoomed past all number of trucks and RV’s. Then I remembered it was 120 kilometers per hour, not miles. Oops. Not that I reached that high, of course! I slowed down, but not before I found out that wee Sputnik definitely has warp drive capability.

At my exit not far from Drogheda I had to pay toll to leave the freeway, but had forgotten they use the Euro down here. The lady in the kiosk gave me a pitying look and accepted my two pound sterling coin for the €1.90 and handed me back 10 cents as change.

A few miles west and I arrived at the visitor centre. Coaches filled the parking lot; a popular tourist spot, obviously. To my surprise (but shouldn't have been) I discovered the majority of visitors to be American. Busloads of them! Now, here’s an odd thing. When I’m in the States I don’t hear anything out of the ordinary about the way people talk. But here I noticed immediately how loudly most of them spoke; forcing everyone around to hear whatever crossed their mind at any given time. It somewhat spoiled the atmosphere of Newgrange. Not that I expect people to talk in hushed tones of reverence, but I was there to see part of Ireland’s ancient history, not listen to folks bellow about the minutiae of life.

I am a person between worlds. The Irish treated me like an American visitor, and the Americans treated me like a local. I am both, of course, which is confusing at best. I stayed silent most of the time. I do have a lot on my mind and this trip south afforded me time to think and hopefully get perspective. But I was the only single visitor there at the time, and it appeared to disconcert the others. Strange.

But I digress. I took both of the tours available, to the Knowth site as well as Newgrange. The only time I got a feeling for the ancient majesty of these passage tombs was when I was able to steal away by myself and take photos of a standing stone in front of a parallel line-engraved kerbstone. That was brief, but at least I felt it. It was fascinating to crouch down low and follow the long passageway into Newgrange to the inner chamber, but it was devoid of any ambience. Just too many people and too many loud conversations. The guide used lighting to emulate the sunrise as it flooded through the roof box into the chamber, which was the highlight of the tour.

At the end of the afternoon, as everyone else piled into their coaches to head back to their hotels, I got into Sputnik and drove back up north. What a lovely way to spend such a glorious sunny day.

Passage entrance, with roof-box above

Passageway into Knowth

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