We can tell you why Ireland is so green…. it rains. But somehow the dull skies and bitter winds contributed to the mystery and magic of the landscape. We had come in search of neolithic monuments and medieval carvings, and we were willing to leave the relative comfort of the beaten track to seek them out.
Our first stop was Newgrange, a popular pilgrimage destination that is all but deserted at this time of year. An architectural cousin to some of the sites we visit in Scotland, Newgrange was built some 5000 years ago as a burial mound with a very precise solar alignment. Should you be fortunate enough to be standing in the chamber at sunrise on Winter Solstice, you would witness a shaft of light entering through a small window and lighting the chamber. Adding to its appeal, an elaborately carved stone stands guard at the entrance to the passage, and more spirals decorate the inner walls. Absolutely amazing… such an elegant reminder that despite our 21st century advantages, there are still mysteries left to explore and experience.
From Newgrange, we drove south to the small community of Laragh where we were booked into a lovely B&B, the Tudor Lodge. Too tired to bother with going out to get dinner, we fell into bed so that we could get an early start in the morning. Despite the ongoing rain, we were the first arrivals of the day at the Glendalough Visitor’s Centre where a boulder with a Medieval carving of a labyrinth is now on display. The so-named Hollywood Stone may be the earliest example of the labyrinth symbol known in Ireland. It was discovered in a nearby field in 1908 by a group of men chasing a stoat… when they turned over the boulder, under which their quarry had hidden, they saw the labyrinth carving on the underside. Originally a marker stone for the start of the long winding pilgrims path through the rugged Wicklow Gap, it stood beside a branch of St. Kevin’s Road, an ancient pilgrim’s trackway that leads through the Wicklow Mountains from Hollywood to the famous monastery at Glendalough, founded by St. Kevin in the mid-6th century.
Noting the vast but empty parking lots, we realized how fortunate we were to have the place to ourselves… while Jeff photographed, I let myself daydream my way back into history, imagining the people and the circumstances that might have drawn them to pilgrimage. Unfortunately, however, the steady rain discouraged us from exploring the entire Glendalough site with its magnificent Celtic crosses, carvings, churches, and famous round tower. Even the modern labyrinth in the field next to the visitor’s centre was too soggy to enter, though the standing water did make it quite picturesque!
From Glendalough we travelled up along the pilgrim route, stopping to see the field where the stone once stood… it is fairly unremarkable now, but it gave us pause to appreciate the many pilgrims who have passed by over the centuries, using this spot as a milestone on their spiritual journeys.
to be continued….