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Kate kate_nepveu
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Dublin: Newgrange, Tara, Merrion Park, and the National Gallery
Today Chad & I went with some friends on a bus tour to Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. The advantage of taking a bus tour (or possibly just this particular tour, I'm not sure) is that (a) you don't have to drive there yourself—major advantage, twisty narrow narrow roads; and (b) reserved time for a tour of Newgrange (again, I don't know if all buses get this).

Newgrange is really fascinating. It's a passage tomb that's over 5,000 years old and that's aligned so that the burial chamber in the center is lit by the winter solstice. The passage in is very narrow and low (we had at least one person decide that they were that claustrophobic after all), but being inside this vaulted chamber, that has stood water-tight for all this time, that was decorated by the builders (and then, alas, defaced by vandals over decades before the site was properly excavated and controlled), well, it's kind of hard to describe how amazing it is. The art of the interior and also the exterior kerbstones that circle the base is also mesmerizing.

Here are a few pictures of the exterior:

Chad outside the heavily-carved entrance stone

the reconstructed front wall—this is controversial, because fairly early in the tomb's history it stopped being used and the stones and earth on the top slid down and covered everything, and so while the big dark stones on the bottom were in place when it was excavated, the white quartz stones were on the ground. Wikipedia says that critics think the technology to put a retaining wall at that angle wasn't available at that time and that a plaza/path is more likely (Chad heard someone describe it today as kind of a classic 1970s over-reconstruction). The reconstruction is very visually striking, from a long ways away, and I'm sure a plaza would have been likewise.

Carved kerbstone roughly a third of the way around to the back.

Then we had basic sandwiches & soup, and rather good pie (there's a caramel and banana pie which is apparently very good if one likes banana) at a farm just down the hill, and then we piled back in the bus and went to the exhibition center that's been built to control visitors to Newgrange, which is 1/2 mile directly but our bus had to go the long way. This did a nice job of context, though its reconstruction of the passage is way too wide and its reconstruction of the chamber leaves out the left-side chamber that opens off the main one, which was the biggest and apparently most-important (two basins instead of one). I also bought some art from a local artist who was part of a craft fair that's held there for a few weeks in high tourist season.

Then we went to the Hill of Tara. Considering it's relatively low, the view is amazing; I can absolutely believe you can see 20% of the island on a clear day (which we did NOT have) and that it would be hugely symbolically important.

We had a tour guide meet us there and heard about the church & the Rath of the Synods, which is a very lumpy area that was a ringfort, a circular fort surrounded by walls or embankments, which was dug up by a bunch of unscientific types hoping to find proof of some religious theory I can't remember the details of now, and it took about three years (?) to rally public opinion enough to get the means to stop them. We peeked into another Neolithic passage tomb, this one much smaller, called the Mound of the Hostages, and heard about the full skeleton of a teenage boy that, unusually, had been buried there (cremation was the norm) with grave goods suggesting high status; the guide said that he was believed to have been a visitor who was being accorded an honor?

And then we went over to the Forradh (Royal Seat) which is the current location of the purported Lia Fáil, or Stone of Destiny, where the High Kings were crowned. (At this point the rain, which started over at the Mound, was blowing sideways and we got pretty soaked, but it didn't last long.) What particularly fascinated me about this is that the stone was moved in the early 1800s allegedly to mark graves of Irish fighters in the Battle of Tara in 1798, but our guide said that that part hadn't been excavated so it wasn't clear whether those burials did take place. That was not that long ago! Anyway, we were able to admire the view with clouds but at least without rain before we squelched back to the bus.

We went back to the tapas place from last night for dinner because it was only 5:00 and we knew they'd be open and would be good for a group, and shared round many dishes and enjoyed it very much. Then Chad & I came back to the hotel so I could drop off my art and change into dry socks, and we walked around some more.

First we went to Merrion Park, which is near-ish and which has some very nice public art, some colorful and some quiet. There's also a great Jester's Chair that's a genuinely fun tribute to Dermot Morgan, an Irish comedian and actor (Chad will be uploading pics of both of us in it, I think) and a monument to Oscar Wilde that shows him lounging on a big rock, with choices quotes hand-written (etched) into two columns that have statues on top.

Then we discovered that the National Gallery of Ireland is open late on Thursday nights and went in for a half-hour wander. I took a bunch of pictures which I briefly put up on G+, but I was able to find them all on the Gallery's website, so I will just link directly:

"Banks of a Canal, near Naples," Gustave Caillebotte, c.1872. I find this weirdly compelling.

"The Castle of Bentheim," Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruisdael, 1653. I'm fairly sure I've seen this cover art before, and I mean that in a good way.

Things that need to be captioned by the Toast: "Bathers Surprised," William Mulready, 1852-1853; and "Saint Mary Magdalen," Felice Ficherelli, c.1640 (which made me want to bust out laughing).

"The Artist's Studio : Lady Hazel Lavery with her Daughter Alice and Stepdaughter Eileen, 1909-1913," John Lavery. It's a huge work and the photo can't convey how creepy the looming dark space over the actual people is.

"The Cottage Girl," Thomas Gainsborough, 1785. Chad says this is the face of "They gave me this puppy but I really wanted a cat."

"Ophelia", Margaret Clarke. An extremely good Ophelia from Hamlet.

"The Taking of Christ," , Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1602. It's stunning.

And tomorrow we'll do another museum or two here and then fly back to London, and then Saturday morning I head back to the States (and SteelyKid and the Pip! I miss them so much. No delays for weather, volcanos, or other disasters, universe, please.).

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