Discovering Brú na Bóinne

The couple of months since my last post have allowed me to find a bit more time to settle into Dublin, and though the pace and stress of my academic work has picked up significantly, Ireland has proved to provide countless opportunities for stress relief. Lately, my favorite thing to do has been to make time every week to do some exploring, whether that means simply walking around Dublin, or hopping on a bus or renting a car to visit some remote corner of the island.

Though I haven’t had all that much time to explore the island as much as I would like, one of my best experiences here so far has been a day trip I took with fellow Mitchell Scholar Benjamin Bechtolsheim to the prehistoric sites of Brú na Bóinne and the early medieval castle of Trim, both in County Meath, about an hour north of Dublin.

Brú na Bóinne is one of the world’s most unusual prehistoric sites, and its highlight, Newgrange, is a dome-like mound housing a small space, whose purpose is still not fully understood, and which can only be accessed through a narrow tunnel. It is thought to have been used as a tomb and pagan site of worship, and the entrance passage is structured in a way that the obscure room is completely lit up on the morning of the winter solstice. It is simply mind-boggling to envision how such a massive and complex structure could have been constructed more than 5,000 years ago Standing inside the tiny space at the center of the mound was an awe-inspiring experience.

Trim’s castle nearby was constructed in a completely different era but was just as great. Built in 1172, it was a major administrative center in medieval Ireland, and was once the home of Richard Mortimer, who was apparently more powerful than the King of England in the 14th century. The castle has been remarkably well-preserved, and the surrounding ruins, such as that of Newtown Abbey, helped provide a taste of medieval Ireland.

Although spending time outside of Dublin has been great, explorations within the city have been tremendously fun as well. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is supposed to sit at the approximate location where St. Patrick first started baptizing the Irish in the fifth century, was rendered particularly special thanks to the explanations of a young fellow who worked at the cathedral. He was able to highlight many intricacies of the Cathedral that could easily have been overlooked, ranging from the flags of the Order of St. Patrick, to the stained-glass window dedicated to the ancient Irish king Cormac of Cashel.

Living in the United States is wonderful in many ways, but for me — brought up in a European city — living in Ireland has reinforced how great it is to be able to spend everyday reliving history through buildings and monuments that are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old.  I have been very impressed with Ireland’s efforts to preserve its monuments and ensure that they can be fully appreciated, and I can’t wait to discover new monuments that can help me understand how Ireland came to be as it is today.

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