For our last excursion in Ireland, we visited the Hill of Tara, Knowth, and Newgrange: burial tombs in County Meath, just 30-minutes outside of Dublin. Since we went on Halloween, our trips were being wrapped up with a tidy, spooky bow. Fun fact about Ireland: they take Halloween very seriously. Last week I could hear fireworks being fired off into the early hours of the morning, which (as anyone could’ve guessed) got extremely annoying––but I’ll give them points for enthusiasm. They also have cause to celebrate, since Halloween originated from the Celtic Samhain festival, marking the end of summer.
In my opinion, summer has been over in Ireland since the third week of September.
Waking up at the crack of dawn I met up with my class in front of the Shelbourne Hotel, which looked like a place where people several tax brackets above me would stay. We were advised to wear rain jackets and boots since it heavily rained the day before our excursion (is anyone surprised at this point?). The rain meant that our trek through the Hill of Tara would be a muddy, sluggish mess. My boots sank into the mud, something that was reminiscent of one of our very first excursions to the bog. As I tried to navigate the minefield of dog poop from neglectful owners, I learned that the Hill of Tara was once the seat of Ireland’s High Kings thousands of years ago. The Stone of Destiny sat atop the hill where kings were coronated, if it “screamed” then that meant you were the right one for the job (it did not scream for me, sadly). The Hill of Tara had seen everything from banquets to burials and monster parties.
I should note that “monster parties” are not Stone Age costume parties, just a term for a party that one million people attended on the Hill of Tara…allegedly.
The tombs on the Hill of Tara were built so that their narrow passageways would be illuminated by the position of the sun during the summer and winter solstices. The tombs in Knowth and Newgrange were also constructed the same way. Our tour guide also let us know that Halloween was the period which early Celts believed that the “veil” between our world and the spirit world was the thinnest, so many Samhain festivals were held on the Hill of Tara.
At Newgrange, I got to go inside a tomb. I spent a couple minutes in near darkness, watching the sunlight creep in through the entrance. We learned the various theories surrounding the stone carvings outside the tombs, my favorite one being that they were done under the influence of toxic mushrooms. In the spirit of Halloween there was a black cat hanging out at the tomb’s entrance, and we spent at least ten-minutes trying to get her to come over to us.
No pubs, just tombs. That’s how I spent my Halloween on the Emerald Isle, a fitting conclusion to this year’s spooky season. This weekend I’ll be flying back to the States and reflecting on my time in Ireland in my last blog post of the semester, oh how time flies.
Until then, thanks for reading!