Thursday, 25 June 2015
After breakfast I couldn’t resist taking my camera out to the plantings at the entry of the hotel. At an American hotel, the beds would be symmetrical and manicured to within an inch of their lives. Here at the Portmarnock, the gardener has used a more eclectic style, and I like it.
We had to drive back into town (more banking business), then drove back via Howth (pronounce this with a long O: HOE-th), which is both a peninsula and a village. As you might imagine by its location, it’s a very well-to-do Dublin suburb.
There are several nice walks along the cliffs, and one of these days … but my feet were still problematic. So we drove. But honestly, the streets are very narrow and confusing. I needed a map! The one thing I hadn’t thought to bring. Ah well.
So we traveled back up the coast past Portmarnock and stopped in at Sonairte, which is the National Ecology Centre, near Laytown. Discover Ireland says,
Sonairte was established in 1986 by members of the local community and concerned environmentalists to promote environmental awareness and education. Sonairte has been certified as an organic food producer with the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association since 1986 and has been teaching organic horticulture and providing courses in various aspects of environmental education ever since. … Their courses aim to provide information, education and practical skills on a range of topics, such as biodiversity, organic gardening and sustainable living. Their approach is holistic, and with small numbers on each course, learner focused.
It’s settled on an eighteenth-century farmland and buildings, including a walled garden (Lots of information at their website here.)
We strolled around the gardens … I took some photos. There was a professional photographer there, too, taking what looked to be high school graduation photos of a couple of teenage girls.
I wandered into the gift shop to browse, we admired the windmill, and then we got back in the car and headed to Duleek. I’d read there was a nice pile of rocks there—and indeed, there was.
Duleek began its life as an early Christian monastic settlement, founded by St. Cianán, who was the bishop of Duleek in the fifth century. (All that’s left of Cianán’s church is a wall about a block away.) In the late twelfth century, the Augustinians built a new abbey, St. Mary’s, of which much more remains.
At one point, the Church of Ireland built a newer building on the grounds. That building was later turned into a restaurant, as you can see in the photo above. It’s a little … unsettling … but it could have been worse. (They could have painted the building blue, or something.)
It’s said the body of Brian Boru, killed in the battle of Clontarf, lay in state here at St. Mary’s in 1014, as it made its way to Armagh for burial. Brian Boru was an Irish high king, founder of the O’Brien dynasty, who unified many regional kings to break the political domination of the Uí Néill family dynasty. Brian Boru is considered a hero in Ireland, and his accomplishments should not be underestimated—though he apparently had a very good publicist (probably a grandson or greatgrandson), whose account of his explots assure his place in Irish history.
There are several ninth-century (according to my research) Celtic crosses in the graveyard, in varying stages of decay. I didn’t catch them all.
Remember that these large churches were laid out in a cruciform design, so what you see left here is only one quarter of what it once was.
There was, of course, a lot of interesting gravestone art.
The church, tower, and graveyard lie between two well-used streets, and there’s a sidewalk that bisects grounds. While we were there people cut through often: a man in a suit, a woman pushing a baby in a stroller, a couple of teens. You don’t see that too often in American towns, where the graveyard is often a public one, separate from the churchyard.
After the quiet afternoon in Duleek, we made our way back toward the coast and the Strand Road home. It had been overcast all day, and islands and cliffs were shrouded in mist.
And as chilly as it was, people were still swimming out there!
We had a simple dinner in the Seaview Lounge—too cloudy to count airplanes—and then ordered ice cream to take upstairs to our room and those wonderful strawberries, where one of us watched a little television and one of us read. (I was reading Ben Fountain’s brilliant Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.)