Sunday, September 26, 2010
Trim, Tara, Town
At 10:30 on Friday night, completely on a whim, I called one of the day tour companies that operate out of Dublin to find out about available trips for the following day. I was exhausted, my back was killing me, and I had skipped Dublin's Culture Night, when everything is open for free for a few hours, because my back was hurting so much. But I called anyway, and ended up taking a lovely little tour on Saturday up north to County Meath (about an hour from the city center) to visit Trim Castle and the Hill of Tara.
Trim Castle was very interesting. It's the ruins of a twelfth-century Norman castle, the oldest surviving one in Ireland. The Normans invaded in 1169, bringing Ireland under English rule, at least in name. They are the ones who intermarried with the Gaels and became some of the big names in Ireland, the great Anglo-Irish earls. That's where we get names like Fitzgerald and Fitzsimmons - the Normans spoke French, of course, and "fitz" is the old way of pronouncing "fils" (son).
The castle, which was also used for filming Braveheart, was surprisingly small. I suppose we're conditioned to think of castles as being these huge expanses, but it was really not very large. We got to wander the grounds a bit and look at the ruins, and then we got a private guided tour through the castle itself and right up to the roof. It was very interesting to learn about all the functions that the various designs of the building had; for instance hanging the clothes over the latrine so that the ammonia from the waste would fumigate the lice from the clothes, or the fact that the north tower has crumbled away completely because it was the cooking area and fire will make rock brittle. Also the reason for clockwise spiral staircases, the placement of the bedrooms, and the design of the doors that were all for defensive purposes. It must have been a very dangerous time, indeed, if your entire daily existence was based around the idea that someone could come along any minute and kill you.
Then we drove up to the Hill of Tara. There were some people there, but since it was cold and windy it wasn't crowded at all. It was actually quite peaceful. It's where the pagans worshipped and the high kings of Ireland (at least in that area; Ireland was swarming with kings right up until Brian Boru) ruled from, because it is the highest point in the area and you can see for many miles in every direction. One of the features of this place was that a bonfire was lit there once a year, and no other bonfires were allowed to be lit to compete with the holy fire, or else the gods would strike the offender dead. Saint Patrick then decided to light the Paschal fire on the hill, which of course was seen for miles around, and to the astonishment of the druids, he survived the night. Convinced that his God was in fact stronger than theirs, they and the kings converted on the spot, and began to convert their people as well. Hence Tara is a Celtic place, a royal place, and a holy place. The distinguishing mark of Tara are the concentric circles that are built into the landscape; they don't look like much unless you see an aerial view. The kings would build their own mound once they were elected in order to make a mark of their reign, but they incorporated the mounds of the previous kings to show continuity as well.
Finally, before heading back into the city, we went to a pub out in the middle of nowhere that was built in the late 1500s and has served various functions. But the food was excellent and not expensive, and they let me pull my own pint of Guinness, and we even got a demo for making Irish coffee that resulted in the best-tasting Irish coffee I have ever had, hands down. It tasted like hot chocolate with a kick.
Then today I headed into town with one of my roommates to go to a church with a professional choir, one of two in the city. And it was so nice out that we went for a walk along the river and looked at the Famine memorials (they are all over the city) before running into two other girls we knew, and then heading home.
Today was nice and relaxing. Now if only my back will simmer down a bit, because I have to be back in the library tomorrow, and I can't read while reclining in the library.