Did Anyone Order a Side of Jetlag?
When we landed in Ireland after an overnight flight, I was so tired I could barely see normal. My friend Angie and I were starting a 10 day road trip around the country. Our plane had taken off at 9 p.m. Chicago time and we had arrived in Dublin around 9 a.m. Ireland time. I had started to fall asleep about 3 hours into the flight. I tossed around in my uncomfortable seat, dozing in 10- 20 minute increments (which was terrible for my tmj headaches). During the last hour of the flight, all the lights in the plane came on, which is 3:00 a.m. Chicago time and the flight attendants began to pump us full of coffee and breakfast to get us ready to start our day.
What Happened to the Steering Wheel?
We grabbed our luggage and secured the car rental. I knew they drove on the opposite side of the road, but was somehow shocked to see the car itself was built differently with the steering wheel on the right.
“Well how are we supposed to drive that?” I echoed through the rental garage.
Angie fearlessly hopped into the driver’s seat which happened to be in the passenger side.
“I feel weird over here!” She laughed.
I repeatedly reached out in front of me for the steering wheel that wasn’t there on the passenger side.
It seemed like a not so nice joke when we discovered that our 1st driving experience on the wrong side of the car/road was going down a spiral ramp to exit the garage.
“We need a practice lane first…!” I exclaimed. “It’s sink or swim.”
“Ok enough…” Angie interrupted, turning down the ramp, “Help me out here. Driving on this side might be a two person job.”
We both craned our necks, practically noses to windshield to navigate out of the tight spiral.
Once out on the M-highway, it was somewhat smooth sailing being that all three lanes were going the same direction with a giant divider between the oncoming lanes.
It was a lot of hours until the hotel would even consider letting us check in so we wearily navigated the 45 minutes north to our 1st stop on my list, The Hill of Tara. This ceremonial burial site was said to contain the visible remains of 20 ancient monuments some dating back to around 3200 B.C. It was also historically the inauguration place of the High Kings of Ireland.
Hill of Tara
When we arrived in the parking area, there was a dome shaped tea-shop/gift-shop built of stone. We checked out St Patrick’s Church on the grounds and followed the path. Once we passed through a set of sheep-gates, the path disappeared and we were flip- flopping through squishy turf.
A short way through the squashy grass was a large grassy mound with a small gate in front. The Mound of Hostages was said to be a passage tomb built over 5000 years ago that is the resting place for more than 500 people. We peered through the small rectangular grate. There were stacked stones draped with ferns and larger rocks covered with ancient carvings.
We trudged further through the grass and up a small hill to the Lia Fáil standing stone monument.
“This is so cool, but I thought it would be huge from looking at the pictures.” I crouched down, angling for photos.
“I didn’t know what to expect…maybe the huge one is further up.” Angie stood tiptoe and squinted into the distance.
“I think this is the one.” I laughed.
We stood staring at the meter high “Stone of Destiny.”
Our 1st Abbey Ruins
After visiting a few other ancient remnants, we were back on the narrow stone fence lined road on a 10 minute drive towards Bective Abbey. The Abbey was featured in a scene of the Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart. We could see the stone skeleton of the 1147 building in a field ahead.
My tiredness gave way to excited-ness. This was our first Irish building ruins. When the car was parked I practically ran up the gravel path towards the structure.
There were uneven stone steps, some leading nowhere . I ducked through several arches and passageways. The building itself was massive. I raced up and down the various stairs and into dead ends to explore all the vantage points and angles.
“I love this,” I breathed as I peeked through the archways.
To the Castle!
About 8 minutes up the road was the colorful town of Trim, home of Ireland’s Oldest Bridge (1393) and more Medieval buildings than any town in Ireland. Everywhere we went were signs boasting Ireland’s oldest bar, bridge, castle etc. and we were checking out every one we came across.
A huge stone ramp led up towards the 1200’s Trim Castle grounds entrance.
The central building had a huge 20 sided tower with a ditch, water moat and curtain wall for protection. It had taken over 30 years to complete.
We wandered the grounds, peeking in and out of the different stone buildings. This site was also in a scene of the Braveheart movie.
A Stone Tower with a Little Residual Healing
We wandered to a grassy uphill path near the river leading to the St. Mary’s Abbey tall stone tower. It was historically known for a Virgin Mary statue, ‘Our Lady of Trymme’ that was formerly housed at the church. Pilgrims flocked to the statue to pray for healing miracles.
The Hospital and the Oldest Bridge
We continued up the street to the Priory and Hospital of St John the Baptist built in the 13th century. It was a careful endeavor racing for a photo over the one-lane, flower-lined stone bridge. We hurried to the middle snapping photos while on the lookout for cars.
We followed a path leading alongside cow pastures to the 1206 Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral ruins and cemetery. We had to hurry in, do a quick look and get out.
The Oldest Passage Tomb
I had purchased tickets for Newgrange online weeks in advance and we needed to be there by 2 p.m. It was a 35 minute drive. I GPS’d it and we would have a few minutes to spare. We went as fast as the stone wall lined, one-laned roads would allow and arrived at the entrance.
I jumped out and asked one of the attendants near the long line where the parking area was.
“Oh you’re gonna need to go back a ways and catch the shuttle.” He pointed.
“Our ticket is for 2:00 and it’s 5 minutes till…” I frantically explained.
He told us it was ok and directed us to the parking and shuttle pick up spot.
Once we parked we went inside and showed our tickets. We then wound through a wood trellis walkway and over several bridges to the bus. Once seated, we had to wait till it filled to capacity.
We were warm and still and I could feel my eyes fighting to stay open. My head felt like it had been jammed with cotton and my thoughts were hazy. I barely remember the ride there but I jostled awake and exited bleary eyed and foggy headed.
I sucked down fresh air in huge breaths trying to focus and wake up. My body was feeling the pull of being mostly awake for more than 26 hours.
I could see the round stone building ahead of us and started to perk up. We were led to the entrance and the guide stood looking out at us until we all assembled.
“Newgrange is the best known passage tomb in Ireland. It dates back to 3200 B.C., before the Great Pyramids of Giza and more than 1000 years before Stonehenge.” She pointed out the impressive entrance stone decorated with ancient Neolithic carvings.
“The passage into the chamber is a bit less than 19 meters. When we enter, you’ll need to duck down for several meters until we get into the main chamber. Make sure you look at the corbelled roof. No mortar or concrete was used in the stacked stone construction and it’s remained waterproof for over 5000 years.”
We were then instructed to follow her and not to touch anything and no photographs allowed inside. We ducked and crouch walked under the wooden beams and through the chamber.
Three dimly lit recesses were within the chamber. We explored the artifacts and carvings, moving from one area to the next.
“You may have noticed a small hole above the entrance.” Our guide indicated towards the entrance and gave us warning and then shut off the internal lights of the tomb. We stood, careful not to move in pitch dark and silence with the group and waited.
The guide’s voice echoed eerily in the dark tomb.
“Each year, on the winter solstice around 9 a.m., a beam of sunlight shines down the passage, lighting the tomb through the roof box. The event last around 17 minutes. In Neolithic culture, the winter solstice marked the new year, a period of rebirth.” The lights flipped on and we all blinked, looking around at this ancient marvel.
After duck walking back out of the structure, we explored the outside stonework and carvings. We all loaded back onto the bus where we struggled with our awake-ness on the ride back to the car.
It was almost 5 P.M. and we made it into Dublin where we found the fresh smelling Westin Hotel where we would be staying. A friendly bellhop helped us in and we checked and dropped off our stuff.
We walked a few blocks up the road to the Auld Dubliner restaurant/pub where Angie had some of her favorite fish and chips in all of Ireland and I had a nice vegetarian pasta and a stout.
We walked a little further down to a corner with brick buildings covered with overstuffed flower boxes. Music and the smell of various foods filled the air.
Fighting Sleep at Temple Bar
We stepped inside the famous Temple Bar and found a seat. A band was playing and the crowd was singing along to ‘Sweet Caroline.’ We sipped our drinks and gazed around at the happy crowd.
I felt happy to have had these new experiences and seen ancient places and a different culture.
Seven P.M. Bedtime?
Angie had the same half lidded face I did. We were half dozing with full tummies and more than 30 hours of very little sleep. We finished our drinks and followed the wafting fresh smell of the Westin through the streets back to our room.
I was out cold by 7:30 P.M. and we slept a long needed sleep before we headed to Belfast the next day.