Thursday, September 07, 2006

A day of magic and kings

So John and Sam waited for me at the visitor's center while I made a trip to the ladies' room (conveniently located next to the jewelry where Sam bought me the most beautiful trinity knot pendant EVER). When I came out Sam immediately points to a sign on the bulletin board:

"On the evening before Easter, 433 AD, St. Patrick kindled a fire on Slaine Hill close to Tara. It seems like a simple and unobtrusive action to us now, but at the time it was equivalent to declaring war: a war on the Druids and their pagan beliefs and war against the King of Ireland. That small act of starting a fire was a turning point in St. Patrick's life and it marked the beginning of a new belief system for Ireland's native people."

I immediately made a face and held up a fist of rage at the sign. Laughing Sam said he told John that was exactly what I would do, and we consequently loaded up the car and headed to go see St. Patrick so I could go give him the what-for in person.

The drive was beautiful, of course, and as we approached Slaine, I couldn't help but be awed once again how Ireland was ever-so much more amazing than I had imagined.

We walked up the hill to ruins of a graveyard that seemed to be a combination of both ancient and recent gravestones, which as fascinating to me. Across the pathway from the graveyard was a castle, or fort of some sort, that strangely a group of boys were playing soccer in. At one point they lost their ball to a lookout tower and one had to scale a wall to retrieve it.

The first thing I did, of course, was have a little chat with St. Pat.

And then we climbed and explored the ruins, which while themselves were beautiful, offered up a pretty unrivaled view.

We eventually said goodbye to St. Patrick and the Hill of Slaine to find Tara, the legendary seat of the High Kings of Ireland.

"The hill of Tara is actually a low-lying ridge located half way between Navan and Dunshaughlin in Co. Meath, but it commands a stunning view of 40% of Ireland. Unfortunately, all that remains of the original site is the Dumha na nGiall (Mound of the Hostages) and a stone of destiny where druids still celebrate midsummer. Tara was also considered a gateway to the Otherworld and passage tombs dot the surrounding countryside. Many of these are considered the burial places of the Kings, and give the nickname, "Valley of the Kings", to the site."

We got to Tara just as dusk was falling and it really did seem magical. There was no one specific point that was "Tara", it was more a bunch of seemingly small things that collectively made the space. There were mounds across the fields (much smaller than Newgrange and Knowth, but still decent sized) and a few stone markers.

One mound, labeled The Mound of Hostages, had children playing a game of king of the mountain on it with their hurling equipment. There was a great commonality about the place, children playing, parents lolling about, tourists wandering and sheep grazing amongst all of it that made the area seem all the more ironic as the place where great kings gathered. Bit really, it seemed all the more wonderful to me it was all like that. There was a sort of beauty in the legend just existing without great fanfare.

Sam and I, of course, found a spot where it seemed the christians and pagans had set to vie for our attention. On the left, a giant Celtic cross with inscribing we couldn't quite make out. On the right, what I had assumed was a fertility symbol of some sort . . .

I later found out the right stone is a pillar stone known as Lia Fail, which is believed to be the inauguration stone for the Kings of Tara. Apparently legend has it that when the new king approaches you can hear bells. (In case you're wondering, neither Sam nor I are the new king.)

From Tara, we headed home on the small winding roads. We only had one traffic incident, where we met an oncoming car and got so close we had to push in our mirrors and I was sure we would topple on each other, both cars were on such a steep incline after scooching of the road onto the hill to make room . . .but we made it fine.

Our day, overall, was wonderful; filled with legends of thousands of years and the magic of generations of lifetimes. I love that our lives intersected with that for a while, even just for a day.

We went to sleep early this night, in preparation for our train trip west the next day. To the cliffs! To the city of the tribes! It seemed the excitement just never stopped . . .

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