October 17:

I feel that I’m getting down to the wire now. Counting today, I have just four days left in the Newgrange area and still a number of things I’d like to see. I started off early, intent on getting a few things crossed of my list.

I began by calling the Office of Public Works. They hold the key to Cairn L, the cairn I could only photograph from the outside when I was at Loughcrew on Saturday. I had been trying to reach the woman responsible for the key since last month, e-mailing her about my project since I’d heard she needed evidence of serious research before she’d let the key out. The Mackens here at Slane Farm have been terrific about helping me and just invited me into the hostel office to use their phone, rather than struggling with the difficult payphone in the lobby.

I managed to get through to the woman at OPW after a few calls. She told me I’d need permission from the landowner before she’d release the key. But of course she wouldn’t give me his phone number because that is private info. She suggested I drive there and knock on his door. Drive for an hour so I can turn around and drive back, only to return there with the key the next day? Yeah, right! Fortunately the owners of Loughcrew Gardens, the place where I’d got the OTHER key, were not so scrupulous and a simple phone call to them got me the name and number of the landowner. One call later, I had my verbal permission. Hopefully as a result, I’ll be able to get into L one day this week. I also set up a time to meet with Prof. Cooney again this Friday when I’m back in Dublin.

With my calls made, I headed off to walk along the Boyne river. The morning miraculously turned from cloudy to sunny as I walked. It was good to just soak in the surroundings, the whole time with Newgrange looming just across the river. I also drove up the slope to take pictures of the Newgrange site from where Conor feels the settlements most likely were. I thought I needed to drive higher up the road, but just then I met a fellow leading a roadful of cows toward me. Yikes! I turned around, drove a bit and there was the angle Id been looking for. Thank you, cows!

Then I went back to the visitors’ Centre. Some of the photos I’d taken of the displays were not clear and I wanted to reshoot. I also had a desire to see the inside of Newgrange with the electric lights off. When I arrived, I explained to the fellow at reception what I wanted and asked if there might ever be a time for me to see the passage in natural light, say, between tours. He said that the next tour group going was quite small and there’d be extra time. He told me just to ask the tour guide.

Out at the site, I walked through the tour again. (They say slightly different things each time so it is useful.) After the sunbeam recreation, I hung around inside the chamber and asked another question. Then the tour guide said, “The centre called to say there’d be a lady on this tour who wanted to see the passage without the lights. Is that you?” She then turned out the lights and allowed me to see just how much ambient light reached the chamber. Quite a bit, as it happens. (Turns out on the tour they get another guide to block the ambient light so the demonstration is more effective.) It was way more light than I’d expected to penetrate, so it was extremely useful for me to see. I got to see the whole passage in natural light. I’m so glad I asked!

On the way back, I asked the driver to drop me at the nearest point to Dowth, then I walked to have a look there. There’s not a lot to see, but it showed me how visible Newgrange is from that mound. And that though Newgrange is mild, that wild wind I associate with the other passage sites is definitely at Dowth. I hiked back to the visitors’ centre and reshot the photos I needed.

By then it was 3:00, but I still had time to drive down the nearby motorway to Fourknocks, yet another, slightly younger, passage tomb. The motorway speeds trips up tremendously. And no stress! They have passing lanes and everything! I got mixed up twice on my way to find this site. It’s not particularly well known and rather off the beaten path. I eventually found the signs, then the site itself. Next challenge: finding the nearby house of the man who holds the key to the chamber. Stopped for directions THREE times, but eventually found Mr. Fintan White, in the house with the leprechaun on the front stone fence. It was a simple matter of leaving a deposit and I was back to the mound. (I find it quite bizarre that by showing up at some private citizen’s house, I can gain access to a 4500-year-old structure. That’s rural Ireland!)

Fourknocks is very different. It has three recesses again, but the central chamber is very large, like a room. It makes you feel that this was a structure that a group entered, not just a select few. Just like at Loughcrew’s Cairn T, the rehabilitators have cut holes in the top of the mound to let in light. The passage is short as well, so lots of light comes in through the door. Actually, they’ve replaced the entire roof. Nothing but concrete above you.

Once the key was returned and deposit pocketed, I shot back up the motorway and came into Slane from a new direction. I’ll know every road around here by the time I leave! There was just enough time for me to get some ground beef from the butcher, a small bottle of wine from the corner store and head home for a lovely meal of pasta in meat tomato sauce and a glass of wine. (The good thing about cooking for one is that when a meal is good, you can look forward to the leftover second half of it in a few days!)

Back at home, Joanna told me the OPW had called to say I could pick up the key in Trim when I want it, leave a deposit and return the key to them after. Looks like that’s what tomorrow holds. It means a fair bit of driving to get the key (30 km southwest of Slane), then back up to Loughcrew (52 km westnorthwest from Trim), then back down to drop the key and back to Slane. Here, that’s about four hours driving. Still, I think it will be worth it to be in that large, significant passage alone. (I’m armed with my headlamp as well as tealight candles (courtesy of Joanna) and matches. I’ll try to get an early start and have plenty of time. That makes a huge difference.

And so, I’m down to my last three days in this region. With luck, I’ll get to see one clear sunrise before I go. I’ll let you know.

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