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Day 2: When in Dowth...

in which your author revisits an old haunt and conquers a paleolithic thing

rain 62 °F

Day 2: Maynooth, Ireland

Sleep, glorious sleep! After reacquainting myself with it, I get up around 10am, have some French pressed coffee and toast with honey and Kerrygold (all bread in Ireland is automatically delicious) and ask Tom and Jo about where to take a run. I’ve brought sneakers and will insist on running every other day over this trip – it’s so easy to eat and drink and I figure running will be a good way of seeing things. “The archive of the feet,” quoth historian Simon Schama, quoted in the paper I gave on Day 1.

Tom suggests we head over to Castletown House, site of our development week in January 2011, where I was so excited to return even if only for a brief walk. (Kinda fun to click back to the entries for our rehearsal week at Castletown House, found Right. Here. On. This. Very. Blog!) Castletown is a stunning, vast estate, like something out of Downton Abbey. I have such fond memories of being here and spending five consecutive days exploring structured creativity for 8 hours a day. Yoga warmups and those dreaded planks (great for the core!) first thing in the morning, and self-directed mini-projects in groups: click above for more, but suffice to say one of the touchstone artistic experiences of my life.


I run close to three miles – literally that’s only part of the distance around the place – popping into the front hallway for a little bit and over to the mini-castle where I stayed that week. Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones plays randomly on my MapMyRun app as I peered through the spider-webbed windows. I would love to come back and stay overnight again some day. Jason McCool, Professional Purveyor of Personal Nostalgia.

I run back to the estate – last time I was here, running to the estate required trudging through cold, wed mud but in the intervening years they’ve cleaned it up, even installing a few bridges. We drive back to the house, I shower and head out to try to get a bit of writing done before we embark on a mini-road trip to Newgrange. The walk into Maynooth takes about 10-15 minutes; it’s colder here than in New England and there’s an ever-present threat of drizzle. I get to Bon Bon Café , order some veggie focaccia and a sweet frappe and commence attempting to catch up with my promise to write daily; mostly, I spend time booking an Airbnb to Madrid where I’m flying Thursday night. Tom picks me up and we pick up his nephew Kilian, stopping to visit with Jo’s brother, whose other tyke sports a Red Sox t-shirt!

We’re heading to Newgrange, one of the oldest and most popular archeological sites in the entire Celtic world. Still fighting jetlag, I struggle to stay awake for much of the 45-or-so minute trip. Kilian is precious, to say the least; when I ask “How do you like growing up in this part of Ireland?” he practically gushes about al the things he gets to do and his sports leagues and friends. I sense a career in politics for this young lad.

Unfortunately, Newgrange is sold out for the day; apparently, because it’s newly a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they have to cap the number of people on each tour, and reservations fill up early every morning. (The woman at the check-in counter says once they expand to online ticket sales, the reservations will probably start four months in advance!) I tell the worst #dadjoke of all time: “If Newgrange is 5,000 years old, imagine how old Oldgrange must be!”

Undeterred, we take in a mini-tour with dioramas about Paleolithic people (they were just like us but smaller! And probably also would have no real use for Pokemon Go) and a short film about how Newgrange was set up to reflect the angle of the sun, then walk around the grounds a bit. (The shot of the diorama looks like I took it from a hot air balloon far above it, amirite?)


Tom has the idea to drive to a spot where we can actually view the site (lamenting the days when one could simply jump over the hedge and walk around), and it’s pretty cool to see the place: a raised circular mound within which exist intricate tunnels and all manner of ceremonial carvings.


We arrive at another site, that of Dowth, which is one of three Paleolithic sites; this one is in bad disrepair and is rarely visited – which to me makes it like the hipster version of Paleolithic ceremonial sites – mostly due to a bunch of pseudo-archeologists having decided to blow off the top of the mound using dynamite back in the 1850s. Apparently this caused the top to collapse inward; we walked around the upper ridge and looked below us and it felt like a sort of mini-mountain designed by elves. We spotted a few gates presumably leading into “the inside,” but all were blocked off. Crouching down close to one gate, we instantly felt the cold. We could spot rock carvings, fenced off from the public, on one side of the mound. A shaggy sparkplug of a dog lumbered all around us the whole time, including when we crossed a grassy field to explore on old graveyard adjacent to the hollowed-out remains of an ancient church.


Come to find out there was a celebrity burial – or at least monument – here. Poet John Doyle O’Reilly (unbeknownst to me) was born in the tower abutting this church in 1844, and after he was exiled from Ireland for becoming a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, he moved to Boston, where he published The Pilot, the first Catholic newspaper in America. He’s actually buried in Hull, MA, but there’s a monument to him here at his birthplace. Apparently, he was John F. Kennedy’s favorite Irish poet, and JFK quoted him during his trip to Ireland in 1963. There’s also a memorial to him by noted sculptor Daniel Chester French in the Fenway area of Boston, which I will make a point to check out when I return home! We climb through the dilapidated old church which actually has old, crumbling graves inside it. The sense of forgotten history here is overwhelming.


On the way back we stop in Slane at the birthplace of Francis Ledwidge, terrific Irish poet sadly killed 17 days before his 30th birthday at the Battle of Ypres during World War I. My great-great-grandmother’s mother (on my father’s side) was a Sarah Ledweedge, so there’s a chance I’m distantly related to him. Seamus Heaney was a big fan. There’s a rich sense of literary imagery, history, and presence everywhere you go in this country.


We drop off the young lad, drive back to Maynooth, and talk about evening plans. After being given free reign in Jo and Tom’s liquor cabinet I improvise a cocktail borrowing a line from Swampoodle, according to the following recipe:

2 oz gin (we used Bombay Sapphire East)
0.75 oz gentian liquor (they had this delicious Italian stuff but Aveze or Suze would also work)
0.5 oz lavender simple syrup
0.25 oz fresh lemon
splash of club soda
fresh lemon balm (from the garden!)
luxardo maraschino cherry


Dublin seems too ambitious after a long weekend for everyone, so Jo proposes a short trip: “how do you feel about a pub in the middle of nowhere?” Always, always.

Maria joins us and we drive the winding, narrow roads, passing the field where Jo and Tom were married some fourteen years prior. Fagan’s is truly in the middle of nowhere, and is set up oddly: a long horizontal structure divided into three portions – a dank, ancient feeling space with TVs on the left, on the right, a living room with couches and books, packed to the gills with about 20 people who all know one another, and the middle section which only fits about 8. Maria leaves to pick up Stephanie, German-born mother of future politician Kiiian. We settle ourselves in and have a few pints of Guinness, interrupted at one point by a representative of the local GAA football club who sells us raffle tickets to the weekly “Ball Buster” drawing in which we could win over 1,000 Euro for correctly picking the four digits which come up on the yellow balls in the machine he carts around. None of us win, but it’s a good story. We talk about regional dialects and eat numerous bags of crisps and discuss the American election and family dynamics and Tom demonstrates the inhaling sound the Irish allegedly make when they’re listening to stories and it’s all good craic. Walking to the car, the Big Dipper is overwhelmingly bright.


Back in Maynooth, I catch up on the political news of the day (what the hell did the DNC do now?!) and it’s off to bed. Just as, gentle reader, I ought to head to bed now – it’s 2:30am local time from Magherafelt on Day 3 (I write these entries the day after, dontcha know?) and I’m yet again, exhausted. But also, exhilarated. I love traveling. I love how travel mars you as “someone who is about to travel” for days and weeks prior to your trip – and now here I am and everything is flying by so very quickly. Until the morrow – there is much to tell!

Posted by coolmcjazz 10:19 Archived in Ireland Tagged dowth newgrange maynooth Comments (1)

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