October 15:

Back west to Loughcrew today. I thought I’d play it safe and take a slightly longer route that stayed on the main roads for longer. Wouldn’t you know, there was roadwork and I got shunted onto a detour ‘ same little R roads only now with tonnes of detoured traffic. Sigh. All went well though and I arrived at Loughcrew Gardens, a nearby tourist site that holds the key to the one of the two cairns on Loughcrew that is an actual passage, but locked.

Keep in mind that Loughcrew consists of three hills, much like Knocknarea, Carrowmore and Carrowkeel, much like Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. These Loughcrew hills are usually referred to as Cairnbane east and Cairnbane west. Each hill (or cairnbane) has one passage remaining, that’s locked and only accessible if you obtain the key. (The third hill seems to have had few mounds to begin with and there’s little of note left on it.) At Loughcrew Gardens, I left my driver’s licence as assurance, they gave me the key and I drove back to the road that takes you partway up to the hills. The key for the other cairn is much harder to get. I’ve been trying to contact that office for weeks with no reply.

Cairnbane east is the easiest hill to find. The path leading to it begins in the parking lot and a swath of cut grass heads up and clockwise around the rise of the hill itself. The walk is quite steep. I’ll be in better shape after all this walking! At the top you can spin in almost a complete circle, views extending for miles and miles in all directions. The day wasn’t clear, but the view was still impressive, in person. (The pictures may not look like much’) I was met with some cheeky sheep. They’re hilarious. They just stand there looking at you with those vacant eyes. I’m not sure who was more nervous of whom. What do I know about sheep’ Maybe they charge if you look them in the eye, how do I know’

Once at the top, it was easy to spot Cairnbane T, the one with the passage. (The others have collapsed or never had passages to begin with.) I found the door and the lock, got the key in and turned but couldn’t get it to open. Fiddled and twiddled and still nothing. I got wondering if I had the wrong hill. I wiggled some more and decided to head back down and look for the other hill.

Back in the parking lot, I found a sign and diagram of the hills. According to it, I was on the right hill and at the right cairn. There were by now some other people in the parking lot, a group of friends who had attended a school reunion the previous night and wanted to extend their time together with an excursion. I said hello, explained my predicament and asked if they were headed up to the top. They said yes, and that they’d help me with the key.

So, one more time up to the top, even more out of breath this time. We put the key in the lock. It took a tug from someone stronger than I but they got it to open. The inside of the cairn was similar to the ones I was in at Carrowkeel, but larger. And with art. There is lots of carving inside Cairn T. It is interesting though. Maybe I only think this because I’ve been told it’s older, but the art here looks more primitive, less precise. It does look very full of life, though.

The passage has lost some of its atmosphere. There is an opening with a grate in the ceiling. I suspect it was intentionally placed there to allow light into the passage. I could be wrong. At any rate, it means you don’t even need a flashlight when you’re in the main chamber. You do need one to see in the recesses however.

My key helpers were pleased to get inside, and I was pleased that they’d helped me get in. There were eight of us in the main chamber. It was bit of a tight squeeze. They had a look around, then continued on their way, back outside. I stayed inside for a while, ate my sandwich and then did a couple of pastel rubbings of the artwork. It’s an interesting place to be. Like Carrowkeel, the wind up there is overwhelming. It is, after all, the highest point on the landscape. I’ve never been a big fan of wind, but it isn’t hard to believe that someone millennia ago coming to this highest point of land would believe the spirits were near. The wind made me feel the need to leave the whole time I was up there. It just felt so ominous. (Maybe on a sunny day that would be different. Today the sky looked like it might open up at any moment.)

Back down in the parking lot, I checked my instructions for finding cairnbane west. I know that sounds silly. Why would I need instructions to find the other big hill, right’ Well, guess what’ I tried to follow the instructions but bore left when I should have born right. Yep. Climbed the wrong hill. At least once I got to the top, I could see where I was supposed to be. So, much huffing and puffing, back down the other side of the hill and up the next one.

Up on cairnbane west it’s cairn L that’s intact and locked. (I tried my key just in case. No luck.) It’s much larger and, where Cairn T like Newgrange has three recesses, this one has five. No hole in the top of this one either. I’d love to get in there, but it looks like it’s not to be. Still, I got a sense of the distance between these two major hills, the amount of time to walk from one to the other and I’ve learned lots about what birds go up there and what ones don’t, what wind sounds like when you turn your head and so on. It was worth the trek.

Back at the parking lot, I found a tour group hoping to get the key to Cairn T. Oops. Guess I took too long. I had been told at Loughcrew Gardens where I got the key to return it to Loughcrew House just down the road. This tour operator said he’d get his partner to meet me at the house for the switcheroo. When I drove to the house, I found that it was a sprawling property with a courtyard, farm, huge yard, all empty of people. The tour guy arrived just after and the two of us walked around calling, trying to rouse someone. There was nobody there. Great. I need my drivers’ licence. He needs the key. I’m glad he didn’t just ask for the key and leave. That would have been difficult. He poked his head through another doorway in the courtyard and found two people waiting in a car. I have no idea what they were waiting for but they seemed to be familiar with the place and people.

The woman said that sometimes when they’re not home, they leave the key under a rock on the second window sill. We explained that actually we had the key but needed my drivers’ licence. After much looking and calling, the tour fellow asked if there was any chance they’d have left my drivers licence under the rock. She said she couldn’t imagine that they’d do that, but she looked anyway. And there it was!! I can’t quite believe they did that. Though at least it meant I could get it back. Glad they didn’t ask for my passport. Or the 50Euro deposit I’d been told they’d ask for.

So, I took my licence out from under the rock and he put his back there. Then he turned to me and said, ‘It’s good to know that some things still work in Ireland!’

I drove back through Kells and on to Slane. It still hadn’t rained. I’d been sure it was going to while I was on the hills but the clouds just kept on slipping by. I had decided to drive back through Slane and up to the hill of Slane. I knew my hosts had said I could walk there through the fields out back of the hostel, but I thought I’d drive there first to see where exactly it was. My other goal was to figure out where to park in the town! I’d driven through but never stopped with the car.

Up on the Hill I found the remains of an old abbey, founded on the spot St.Patrick lit the paschal fire, on Easter of 433 AD. I don’t think it was a coincidence that he did it on a hill. Yes, partially that was so it would be seen and send a message, but the message was directed to the pagan kings, men who, thought they didn’t actively worship at the site of Newgrange, still respected the druidic code that honoured those sites as religious. The fire on the Hill of Slane could have been seen as a direct challenge to the beliefs of those who felt the power of Newgrange. But that’s just my personal observation.

The abbey and the school that was later built beside it are quite ruinous. Great for pictures though! I could take pictures all day in these old rocky places. This hill is another of these highest points of land, so once more I was assailed by strong winds. I’ve never looked so wind-blown, I’m sure!

Back down the hill, I pulled onto the main street (ONLY real street) in Slane and noticed a parking spot. I proceeded to parallel park on the lefthand side of the street on the FIRST try! Woohoo! Okay, so maybe there was a break in traffic and no cars behind me, but I’m still proud of myself. I picked up anew more groceries, knowing I’d be cooking for the next week, and drove on home. It was still early, but I was exhausted from all my exercise and walking. Only six and a half days left. Hard to believe.

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