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Ireland Trip Part 2

Posted by julival on August 17, 2004

The plan for Friday was to drive up to Armagh with a side trip to the stone aged tombs at the area of Newgrange and Knowth. I had called Uli the night before to get directions. *snicker* Uli’s directions work…but you have to sort of allow for room. Lots of room. I think since she is the passenger, she doesn’t think about little details like how far apart things are when you’re driving. And names of roads. *l* Most of her directions consisted of things like “a little ways further along…” and “you’ll see a McDonalds…” and “go left and then left and then when it starts to look sort of city-ish, go away from the traffic lights…” *chuckle*

So anyway, since alleeeeeee was renting one car to drive herself, jani, kitty, and jana, while we millers were going in our car (mark was taking a bus up later – he’s seen the rocks and hills *g*). We just sort of planned to make phone contact once everyone was on the road and to meet up for lunch in a little town called Drogheda (pronounced something like Drow eh da) that was on the way and close to the Newgrange stuff. Since we knew alle had to taxi out to the airport and get the car and wait for the others to join her, we weren’t in too big of a hurry that morning. We got all our junk together and wandered down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast around 9:30 or so. The breakfast was really really good! Jeff and I split something called a breakfast bap (like a huge bacon, egg, and cheese muffin, only the bread is infinitely better and the bacon is really thick and nice) and a big bowl of fruit with yogurt. Alec had a bap all to himself. I was amazed at all the new foods he tried on the trip. He’s always been so picky til just recently! Rob was delighted to discover Brown Sauce at our table. He kept trying to get Alec to try some on his bap. But Alec wasn’t feeling quite that adventurous. *l* We determined over the week that the key condiments in Ireland are red sauce (ketchup), brown sauce, mayo, butter, garlic mayo, and mustard (which is not called yellow sauce). I’m not positive, but I think both the boys had chips with their breakfast.

After we ate, I told the guys I was going to go up to the desk to get directions back to the highway from the hotel and suggested they go get the bags to put in the car. Rob, however, decided it would be much more entertaining to watch me get directions. He was right. It took three people to give me directions. The first guy literally broke out in a sweat after 10 minutes of squinting at the map and scratching his head and giving me directions that made no sense at all. Then he decided to call in reinforcements. The second guy was really cute. He walked out found out what I needed and immediately said “well, I don’t drive, so I’m useless.” He went back to the office and after some minutes returned with a young lady who knew what she was talking about. *g* And she was bright enough not to say “it’s EASY.” But it wasn’t particularly hard with good directions.

We’d gotten about half way to Drogheda when we got a call from the allemobile to let us know where they were. They’d actually gotten in front of us by about 5 or 10 miles, so not too bad. They alerted us to a tollbooth coming up and gave us a good heads up about which exit to take and we planned to meet at a specific place just outside of the town – a little fortress on a hilltop called Millmont. We’d assumed there would be parking, as there was a museum, and planned to leave the cars and walk around and find lunch somewhere.

Somehow, the road we came into town on was not the road we thought we were coming into town on. This led to a great deal of confusion. We were suddenly on the wrong side of the river and totally turned around as to where we should be. But it served to give us a nice little preview of the town and helped us with our later travels. *g* We had just finally spotted the Millmont (it’s high up and visible all around from the one side of the river) and were trying to figure out how exactly to get to it, when the bad finn called to give us directions (I was a bit worked up by the time he called, and was sort of…loud…). They’d made the same error in road that we had, but had found their way up to the hill. We got to the top to find Jani standing on a little strip of grass, waving his arms to point us to where they were parked (on the curb of the narrow road!). We got the saga of the car problems and then went out to check out the Millmont.

They wouldn’t let us in! that was a bummer. But we did get a nice view of the city from up on the hill. Then it was back to the cars and a round-about (pun intended) trek back to town to the nice car park we’d all spotted during our earlier detour. I think we all did a fair amount of extraneous driving on that trip *l*

We got lucky with the car park. It was supposed to be a pay lot, but all the little meter things were out of order, so we got to park free. *g* We wandered up to the main drag to start the great restaurant hunt. The keys to a good freak restaurant hunt are a lot of walking up and down, peering at menus on the windows or doors, and looking to see if there is enough seating. We found a couple of good possibles, but both lacked seating. Then, as we approached the place we finally settled on, we spotted a Very Important Tourist Destination: The Head.

No no, silly. This isn’t a submarine. It’s a church! St. Patrick’s Church. (you’d be amazed at how many St. Patrick’s churches there are in Ireland *lol*) St. Patrick’s Church of Drogheda has the fine and honorable distinction of being the St. Patrick’s that contains the RELICS of one Mr. Saint Oliver Plunkett. Old Ollie got himself hanged a few centuries ago for supposedly being part of The Popish Plot (some bs the English came up with because they were totally paranoid about the catholics). He also got his head chopped off and his body drawn and quartered. Some nice folks gathered up the bits and saved them in a couple of lovely brass and glass reliquaries at St. P’s. It was a Must See.

Unfortunately, as we climbed the church steps (which seem to be a noontime gathering spot for the locals), we discovered that someone was getting married that afternoon in St. Oliver’s presence. We had to forego the Head for the moment, but never fear, we shall return.

Lunch was not bad. The highlights were listening to Jeff confuse the heck out of the staff and seeing Rob’s reaction when the lady who brought his food called him a “wee lad”. Alec, of course, called him that the rest of the trip. Oh, and chips were served with the quiche. I don’t remember if I saw Brown Sauce or not…

By this time, we were quite a bit off of our originally planned travel schedule for the day because of all the extraneous driving. Uli was expecting us to arrive at The Groom’s family’s house by around 6 pm. That wasn’t going to happen. But we pushed on, figuring if we were late, we were late. Next stop was the Bru na Boinne visitor’s center, where one gets an overview of the tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth, and can arrange to take a shuttle bus to one or more of the sites. The drive was well marked (yay!) and quite scenic. We passed the site of the Battle of the Boyne and drove on lots of narrow twisty country roads, bordered by hedgerows. The hedgerows can get a little bit claustrophobic making at times on those narrow roads *l*

When we arrived at the visitor’s center, we discovered that all the shuttle busses to the Newgrange tomb were booked for the rest of the day, so we were ‘stuck’ with Knowth. Or so we thought at first. Our tour guide and the nice man at the visitor’s center made it clear to us that the Knowth tomb was actually the more interesting of the sites – larger, more carvings, more stuff to see, TWO tunnels rather than one, etc. It seems that most people select Newgrange because it was the first one open to the public and is, therefore, more well known. Knowth is still undergoing exploration and has only recently opened a portion of one of the passages to visitors. But it was really spectacular!

The visitor’s center has lots of nifty displays to explain the sites (along with a really cool double winding staircase between floors *w @ jani*) and a scary suspension footbridge across the river to the shuttle stop. Evil people bounced it.

Our tour guide was very nice. She walked us all around the central giant tomb mound and told us the story behind the excavation and the various levels of occupation over time. They had a neat little schematic showing how the various different cultures had occupied the land at different times and what they had done there. It was an advantageous site for important settlements because it was high up on a hill and near enough to a river for transportation. The original people from the stone age (3200 BC – older than the pyramids in Egypt!) used it as an important burial site and for rituals. Newgrange is set up to mark the sun at the winter solstice (it shines along the main tomb passage only at that time), but Knowth it set up to mark the spring and fall equinoxes at rising and setting sun. There are impressive standing stones at the entrance to each of the two long passageways into the tomb center. The equinox sun shines over them and makes a shadow in a well of bright white quartz stone at the front of the passages and then the light shines down the passages to light the central rooms where some rites were performed.

The quartz was mined from mountains miles and miles away and brought to the site in tiny boats by the stone age people. It’s really amazing! There is also a ring of large boulders (about 300 of them) around the base of the mound that are carved with interesting symbols. No one has deciphered the meanings of them, but there are lots of suppositions. We were told that the site has the largest concentration of stone age carvings of any other site in Europe.

Here we are on top of the tomb mound . and the group . The dang thing was too big to get all in one shot, so I did two. tomb left, and tomb right. And then a close up of the center standing stone for marking the equinox. You can see the bright white quartz and some of the large carved stones around the base of the mound. There are a lot of smaller grave mounds ringing the tomb, but I didn’t photograph them. There’s also a recreation of sorts of a ring of trees on side of the tomb that was used for some type of ritual. I forget exactly how they determined it was there. *l*

After our nifty tomb tour, we were back on the road to Armagh. Uli had been trying to call me most of the afternoon to give more detailed directions, but we kept getting bad signal. She finally got a good enough connection as we were driving north to give me some important clarifications about what road signs to follow at the various roundabouts. We relayed the info to the allemobile via the kittyphone (akk). I’m not sure how much of the info translated. But we all made it to Armagh in good time.

The approach to the city is from the top of a hill and you look out across the valley of the city to a higher hill opposite, which has the St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral of Armagh perched on the summit. It’s really a beautiful view! I was taking photos from the car window as we were driving, so they don’t really do it justice. But I also had to get a shot of the road sign we passed on the way down the hill…*Snicker* if you can’t quite read it, it says “humps for ½ mile”

We then followed Uli’s directions to the Irish house. The plan was for Louis to drive over to the guesthouse so we could follow him. The city is full of narrow twisty roads and hills and not easy to give directions through. Unfortunately, Uli had told me to look for a car wash and the house would be right after it. So I did. And there was a carwash sign, but we were driving too fast to stop on the opposite side of the road, so we went past and had to drive a ways to find a spot to turn around. As we drove by, we realized there were TWO car wash signs, and we weren’t sure which was the correct one. So jeff parked and I got out of the car and walked back to the house next to the first one and rang the bell and no one came. I walked back up around the corner where jeff could see me and motioned for him to come down to where I was, and then I went back and walked a bit down the hill to see if it was on the other side of that carwash sign. Then I discovered that there wasn’t actually a carwash there anymore, just the sign. *sigh* So I walked back up the hill and nearly had a heart attack. The car was gone. Jeff had left me!!! I freaked out royally. I had no ID, no passport, no phone, no money, no nothing! And I was standing in a foreign city with no idea where my family was! When I finally spotted him coming back up the hill from the other direction I was FURIOUS. I screamed bad things at him and shook my fingers at him. Heh. Then I walked up the hill to the next carwash sign and found the right house. YAY! There was a brief greeting of the folks and then we headed for the guesthouse with Louis in the lead. We drove up and down an extremely narrow road that curves over and around a hill. We did it a lot that week. Freaked me out every single time. *l* Jeff spent a lot of time driving up on the curb.

With our gallant knight to guide us, we finally reached our accommodations and got checked in. The allemobile was there, too. I don’t remember if they got there before we did or after. But we all got there. Here is Louis in front of the building: tadah!

I need to tell you a little bit about our guesthouse in Armagh and our magnificent host, Mr. Tony Hughes. The DeAverell House is a relatively new guesthouse in a _very_ old building. We learned on our walking tour of the city on Saturday that the building itself was part of a row of buildings called “The Seven Sisters”. There are only six of them now, because the last one on the end burned down some time ago, but the original seven were built by some bishop (I think) (named De Averell, naturally) for his seven maiden sisters. The architecture in the city is absolutely gorgeous. Most of it is Georgian – lots of beautiful, vibrant colors on the doors and trimwork and lots of lovely stone. A number of the buildings are constructed from a local stone that they refer to as Armagh Marble. It’s not really a marble – in fact, I think it’s more like a sandstone – it weathers to a rough, grainy texture. But it has a very distinctive pinkish color. The seven sisters were all built of Armagh marble.

Tony bought the house back in the mid 1990’s. He used to be an accountant and then owned a bunch of pubs before he bought the DeAverell house. He’s renovated it and made into a wonderful restaurant and bed and breakfast. All the colors inside are beautiful! There are 4 rooms that can accommodate 1-2 people each and then one big ‘family’ room that we rented for the four of us. It had a really high ceiling, two huge windows, a fireplace, two double beds and a little sofa and coffee table. They also gave us a fold out bed for one of the boys so they wouldn’t have to share. I wish I’d taken a photo of it – it was so pretty!

After we had time to get situated and freshen up, we all headed over to Louis’ house for the big pre-wedding barbeque. WOW. His family definitely knows how to throw a party! I don’t even know how many people were there, but it had to have been somewhere between 50 and 100. There were oodles of cousins and aunts and uncles and second cousins and friends. The aunts brought tons of food and Louis’ mom made tons of food and there was grilled chicken and chops and I don’t even remember what all. We ate well. The deserts were amazing!

The Irish have a thing about threes. Apparently three is a mystical number. And not just because of the Christian Trinity. It goes back to Irish myth and legend where adventures were always in threes. One had to find three items or complete three tasks or whatever. I think it was just perfect that this wedding gathering revolved around three groups. *g* We had The Irish, The Swedes, and The Internet People. *lol* yes, that’s right. Our group was dubbed The Internet People. We clumped. Three circles. One of Irish, one of Swedes, and one of Internet People (a truly international group *g*). Eventually, as the evening mellowed into night and enough libations had been consumed, the circles started to merge. But it took a while, and there was a lot of hilarity in the Internet Circle both before and after. Here’s another photo that captures the Swedish Circle. If you look carefully, you can see that our Bride is mingling with the Internet Circle (she being part of all three!) and our Groom is lurking against the back wall of the house (I think that’s his English friend he’s talking to…): *bg* OH! And there is our cheeky Dutchman, the wishmaster! He’s over to the right in the photo, sitting with the Swedes! He came into town by bus or train from Belfast that day and spent the day roaming the city and picking up chicks. I reckon we must have collect him up at the De Averell house after Jana checked into the Hostel where the both of them were staying. He did join the Internet Circle a bit later *nods*

The buffet was set up inside the house but most everyone was going out back to eat. So I filled my plate, headed outside, found the Swedish Circle around the table and most of the Internet folks standing around. I don’t stand and eat well and I like picnics, so I just wandered on out into the huge back yard and plopped myself down in a nice patch of grass. For a while, the Internet folks continued to stand around on the patio, but eventually, Alle spotted me and joined me out in the grass. (yay alle!) It didn’t take too long after that for the rest of the crew to form our circle. Our kids left us at some point and were in the house getting whupped at Nintendo by Louis’ little brother.

The highlights of the early part of the evening included wasp catching and wasp freeing and the repeated attacks of the small demon irish child. *lol* he was absolutely adorable! I’ll just call him wee D. Wee D is a cousin of some sort and he must be about 3 or 4 years old. He’s a little bundle of energy and mischief. My grandmother would have loved him. *l* He spent the entire evening running around the yard at full speed doing various activities. Our first encounter with him was a bit risqué…

This was prior to the food and the Circles. About half the freaks were standing around on the patio talking, when out of nowhere, wee D came running up, grabbed DK by the legs and buried his face in her crotch. Then he kissed her and ran. We laughed hysterically, so, of course, he came back to grab a lot of other people and kiss as high as his wee mouth could reach. Later in the evening, after we’d eaten, he had somehow found a rope and was having a grand time running in, through, and around our circle attacking each of us in turn. Periodically he’d wrap the rope around someone’s neck and pull. *l* I know it sounds awful, but it was really very funny. He was so tiny that he couldn’t do much damage.

But alas for wee D. He finally attacked the wrong guy with the rope around the neck. Markwcats isn’t a man to let something like size get in the way of defending himself *snicker* in the process of extricating himself from the noose, he managed to cause pain to wee D. Wee D ran bawling from the circle to find his not so wee Da. Luckily, Da knew wee D well enough to know that any minor injury he may have suffered was most likely his own fault. But he made an amusing show of coming over to scold Mark, who shall forever after be known as The Bad Man. Da shook his finger mightily at the Dubliner and scolded him, “Bad man! Bad man! Bad bad man!” and wee D took up the cry. *lmao* poor mark.

There were many other chuckles during the evening. At one point I made a very graceful partial rise from the grass that ended with me falling on my butt. And all I was drinking was soda pop. But the biggest laugh I managed to inspire came after dark. After the merging of the Circles.

Uli decided to unite all her divided peoples. First she pulled the Irish groomsmen into our Internet Circle. Then the Swedes started to trickle in. Then other sundry Irish. And then…

The Wiking!

Er…Viking. *nods*

Swedish vwiking. Aka Uli’s uncle. *snicker*

Louis’ aunts were busy tearing up the disco floor inside the house and Uli’s dad and uncle had been adding fuel to their own fires all evening. They treated us to a number of drinking songs in both Swedish and Finnish (ask jani *l*) Then they joined the Circle.

At first, I didn’t understand what was happening. This very tall dark and handsome Swede stood in the center of our newly widened Circle and started asking everyone’s name. For some reason, no one else would tell him their names. But I did! Then I became The Object of His Affection. Akk. *lol* Suddenly I was the only person he was talking to. Loudly. He was wooing me. He sang to me. He kissed my hand. He fondled my toes…

At that point I introduced him to my husband and children. *l* He was only momentarily delayed. Then he invited me to come to his country. He was going to show me the moose and the salmon and the bears and I don’t even know what else. I don’t even think I want to know what else. *chuckle* Jeff was helping him think of the English names for all the animals he wanted to show me. Such a helpful spouse I have. My vwiking told me that he’d pay my way if I didn’t think Sweden was the most wonderful country in the world.

I’m not sure if Uli sent her dad to save me at some point or what. But while he wasn’t as interested in wooing me as uncle was, he did serenade me with some folk songs and then launched into the finnish drinking song for jani. Then uli DID send the Best Man (Louis’ brother Demon) to save me. He got dad to go with him to get some whiskey, but uncle was not to be moved. I don’t remember exactly who finally got uncle’s attention away from me, but someone did, and I scurried away to sit with Uli and Lou on the other side of the circle. Saved! I was traumatized. *l*

All in all it was a fantastic evening. *g* we had to leave before most of the guests because we were going to turn into pumpkins if we didn’t go to sleep soon. So off we went, back to our lovely guesthouse to call it a night. Tony promised us breakfast at nine the next morning. Mmmm.