Slow Sunday

4 October 2015, Sunday
Gosh, it was good to sleep, and sleep late. That’s another thing I like about the Portmarnock—it’s quiet. We went down to breakfast around ten o’clock. Alli and Sabas joined us for tea after they finished eating. I really enjoyed spending time with my niece and her husband on this trip.

Later I got a text from Conor and Laura, and I went down to the lobby to say good-bye. They are longtime friends of mine and had flown in from Rome for the party … and as is the case in these sorts of situations, I’d barely had time to visit with them. This was my chance.

As we sat there, just chatting, other friends came by.* Pris and Emmet sat down with us, and then Alli and Sabas were checking out and waiting for their ride. As we all talked I realized my friends had already connected on Facebook, on WhatsApp, had exchanged business cards and phone numbers … I’d seen it happening last night too. Most importantly, they’d had a good time, and they’d met new friends. The thing that makes me happiest is everyone, literally everyone, has reported not just having a “nice” time but a “GREAT” time. I can almost get tearful about how wonderfully it all went. I’ve given plenty of parties in my time, but never with so many strangers in one room.

I believe we pulled it off. 🙂

Good-byes and hugs and smiles (no tears) … and that left John and Gerry and I. John had spent a lot of time being a good sport with us while we ran errands and took care of business, but he hadn’t really done any sightseeing yet. I planned to change that. We dropped Gerry at his house—he need to take care of some yardwork and other chores—and John and I set off.

Our first stop was Mellifont Abbey—a ruined twelfth-century site in County Louth. It was the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland, founded in 1142. It’s all a ruin now.

In the foreground, all that remains of the great cruciform church. On the left, the chapter house, which would have been adjacent to the church. The grassy area in the center is the cloister, on which sits the original lavabo. I’m standing next to a site map. (John took this photo.)

In the foreground, all that remains of the great cruciform church. On the left toward the back, the chapter house, which would have been adjacent to the church. The grassy area in the center is the cloister, on which sits the original lavabo. I’m standing next to a site map. (John took this photo.)

That’s the chapter house on the left; it was closed for renovation when Margaret and I were here in 2012.

That’s the chapter house on the left; it was closed for renovation when Margaret and I were here in 2012.

Looking inside the chapter house. Those are medieval-era glazed tiles on the floor that originally were in the church.

Looking inside the chapter house. Those are medieval-era glazed tiles on the floor that originally were in the church.

As is the case at historic sites all over Ireland, this one has changed since I was last here. You can see it if you look at the photos from 2012: what was once gravel has now been paved. This certainly makes an easier stroll around the cloister.

What was once gravel is now paved. The cloister is to the right, the barely there church is straight ahead, miscellaneous buildings on the left. Far in the distance, the towering remains of the original gatehouse of the old abbey. The entrance road formerly led through the archway beneath the tower.

What was once gravel is now paved. The cloister is to the right, the barely there church is straight ahead, miscellaneous buildings on the left. Far in the distance, the towering remains of the original gatehouse of the old abbey. The entrance road formerly led through the archway beneath the tower.

The gatehouse; it’s three stories high.

The gatehouse; it’s three stories high.

The monastery lasted until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, at which time the property was sold and became a fortified manor house (in 1539). The house—property of Sir Garret Moore—was also a focal point of Irish history. The Moores continued to live at Mellifont until 1927. (Interestingly, the abbey still exists, just in newer quarters.)

I’m standing among those miscellaneous buildings now. The river is behind me. In the distance, the dark chapter house. Immediately ahead is the beautiful lavabo.

I’m standing among those miscellaneous buildings now. The river is behind me. In the distance, the dark-doored chapter house. Immediately ahead is the beautiful lavabo.

A capital in the lavabo.

A capital (the decorated top of a column) in the lavabo.

You can really see the passage of time. How beautiful these must have been in their day!

You can really see the passage of time. How beautiful these must have been in their day!

 I don’t know what this is; it’s not identified on the site map. It’s a tunnel, of course, and is in a little structure that lies beyond the lavabo. I had to crouch to walk through it (and I’m short), and I can’t imagine what the purpose of that would have been. And look at that ceiling! Razor-sharp!

I don’t know what this is; it’s not identified on the site map. It’s a short tunnel, of course, and is in a little structure that lies beyond the lavabo. I had to crouch to walk through it (and I’m short), and I can’t imagine what the purpose of that would have been. And look at that ceiling! Razor-sharp!

Here’s a better look at that sharpened ceiling in the little tunnel. Perhaps it was storage? It’s a mystery.

Here’s a better look at that sharpened ceiling in the little tunnel. Perhaps it was storage? It’s a mystery.

We took our time, strolled around, looking carefully at everything. There were wild blackberries everywhere.

It’s a beautiful property.

It’s a beautiful property. (Remember that you can click on any photo to enlarge it.)

After this, we drove to Monasterboice. (I’d been there twice before, most recently in June.) All that’s left, really, of this early Christian settlement (it was founded in the late fifth century) is the graveyard and a round tower.

The round tower at Monasterboice. October 2015.

The round tower at Monasterboice. October 2015.

There are the remains of two fourteenth-century churches, too, but the site is most famous for its tenth-century high crosses.

It is a truly beautiful place.

It is a truly beautiful place.

Since I have been here before, I have taken other photographs, which you can see in those posts. (Both are linked above.) So if you’ve been to Monasterboice, you may or may not find the ones I’ve put here representative of your experience—but the photos in this post are just me looking at different things … differently.

This grave is inside the South Church, which means iut is much newer. I’m guessing Victorian era, since this is an overly sentimental depiction of the Crucifixion.

This grave is inside the South Church, which means it is much newer. I’m guessing Victorian era, since this is an overly sentimental depiction of the Crucifixion.

I just love the colors here … the white and orange scattered on the gravestones … the “blue” hills on the horizon … the tree spreading its arms over the community here.

I just love the colors here … the white and orange scattered on the gravestones … the “blue” hills on the horizon … the tree spreading its arms over the community here.

I often take photos of interesting gravestones.

Like this one, which memorializes fourteen deaths. Are they all buried right here?

Like this one, which memorializes fourteen deaths. Are they all buried right here?

And this one, which mentions the man who erected the stone (Patrick Cooney Nockmontha) and later records his death. Love the little hand-drawn heart, and the way the person who chiseled the words had to really squeeze in Nockmontha. (Was that a village? It looks like a last name but if his parents were Cooneys and he is male … hmmm.)

And this one, which mentions the man who erected the stone (Patrick Cooney Nockmontha) and later records his death. Love the little hand-drawn heart, and the way the person who chiseled the words had to really squeeze in Nockmontha. (Was that a village? It looks like a last name but if his parents were Cooneys and he is male … hmmm.)

On this trip I was quite taken with what lay outside the walls.

The cemetery is surrounded by this high rock wall, with the sharp, deterrent stones along the top. It sits in the middle of farmland.

The cemetery is surrounded by this high rock wall, with the sharp, deterrent stones along the top. It sits in the middle of farmland.

Cows graze on the hill outside the cemetery at Monasterboice.

Cows graze on the hill outside the cemetery at Monasterboice.

But, as mentioned above, it is the ten-century high crosses that people come to see. There are three: the famous Muiredach’s Cross, the Tall Cross, and the North Cross.

The Cross of Muiredach (South Cross)

The west face of the Cross of Muiredach. Just look at all that detail.

The west face of the Cross of Muiredach. Just look at all that detail.

I’m certain it’s just the way these guys have weathered, but they look very Asian to me. “Confucius says …” (Actually, that’s Christ in the middle, giving the parting commission to the apostles.)

I’m certain it’s just the way these guys have weathered, but they look very Asian to me. “Confucius says …” (Actually, that’s Christ in the middle, giving the parting commission to the apostles.)

Two cats at the base of the west face. The inscription behind them reads, “A prayer for Muiredach, who had the cross erected.”

Two cats at the base of the west face. The inscription behind them reads, “A prayer for Muiredach, who had the cross erected.”

At the base of the east face, two animals playing. I assumed dogs, but probably they are lions.

At the base of the east face, two animals playing. I assumed dogs, but probably they are lions.

Also from the east face, this panel shows Eve offering the apple to Adam, and Cain murdering Abel.

Also from the east face, this panel shows Eve offering the apple to Adam, and Cain murdering Abel.

The Tall Cross (West Cross)

This is the east side of the Tall Cross; the central scene represents the Last Judgment.

This is the east side of the Tall Cross; the central scene represents the Last Judgment.

This is the west side of the Tall Cross. Although this is a crucifixion scene, Christ is fully clothed in a long-sleeved garment.

This is the west side of the Tall Cross. Although this is a crucifixion scene, Christ is fully clothed in a long-sleeved garment.

The North Cross
I took photos of this in June, so I spent less time with it on this trip. It’s very plain, and the shaft is not original.

The North Cross, with the Crucifixion on the west face. To the right in the iron enclosure is a sun dial.

The North Cross, with the Crucifixion on the west face. To the right in the iron enclosure is a sun dial.

As the sun started slipping lower, John and I meandered back to Artane to pick up Gerry, and then headed back to the Portmarnock. We fancied a table in the Seaview Lounge for dinner, but were told it was completely booked (though it was mostly empty when we were standing there). We had to go to the bar for dinner—same menu, the staff said, but it was the ambience we were after. The bar was crowded and noisy. After dinner we made an early night of it, to prepare for the five-plus drive to the northwest on the morrow.

* Tiffany and Camille had set off early for Galway with Robert and Phillip; ’Becca and Mike kept their lodging in Dublin City. So we did not see them.

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Sightseeing … By Ourselves

Wednesday, 24 June 2015
The beds at the Portmarnock, I’m sorry to report, were pretty hard too. A little less hard than the Doubletree—and at least I’d learned how to deal with it (pillows under my knees, which is what my massage therapist does too). But we loved the room, and never got tired of the view from the tiny balcony.

The breakfast is nice, too, and the dining room overlooks the courtyard garden, which is a lovely thing to wake up to.

Courtyard garden from the breakfast room at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, June 2015.

Courtyard garden from our table in the breakfast room at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, June 2015.

We’d scheduled a meeting with our party planner for late morning, so we decided to drive up to Lusk to see where the wedding would be on Friday. It’s always good to know the parking situation and how long it will take to get there, particularly because Gerry would be filming the event.

Our little Volkswagen Polo. I really enjoyed driving this car.

Our little Volkswagen Polo. I really enjoyed driving this car.

As it turns out, it takes about thirty minutes to get to Lusk from here. On the way up and back, I did some serious thinking about things I’ve learned about driving here in Ireland—tips that I can pass on to my American friends who will be coming. (I’ll put it in a separate post.) One thing we discovered: a dead spot where we lose our GPS for about three or four minutes. Eeek—you can cover a lot of ground in that amount of time.

When you start a journey from Portmarnock, you will spend some time driving the Strand Road.

A view of Lambay Island, June 2015.

A view of Lambay Island, June 2015.

Lambay sits three miles off shore and supports one of the largest seabird colonies in Ireland, as well as other wildlife. (In fact, there is a wallaby population!) The island was purchased in 1904 by Cecil Baring, of the banking industry Barings, and is still owned by the Baring family trust. Though it is privately held, you can tour the island with Skerries Sea Tours.

Another view of Strand Road and the sea. Someone lives in that old bit of a castle wall there on the right.

Another view of Strand Road and the sea. Someone lives in that old bit of a castle wall there on the right.

Came back to the hotel to meet with the party-planner—we finalized the meals, saw the room where the party will be, discussed all the details, got our marching orders (things we still had to decide upon). One thing that came out of the meeting: on our invitations we’d scheduled the pre-dinner cocktail party in the Jameson Bar for 5pm, but we are moving it forward to 4:30pm. Reminders have been emailed.

I’d scheduled a treatment in the spa from Dublin, so after our meeting I made my way downstairs to the Oceana Spa for my “foot massage.” I was desperate for some relief from the swelling and pain—and it did help. In all honesty it was more about the goop and the relaxation—in the thirty-minute treatment, only about ten of them were hands-on—but I was impressed by the quality of the massage (and you know I’m picky).

So I returned to the room with a new spring in my step and hope in my heart. 🙂 Poor Gerry had been trying to nap (he’s not a great sleeper, suffering from insomnia quite a bit), but it still wasn’t happening, so we went out for another drive (and found that dead spot again, coming and going).

We decided to find our way to the Monasterboice monastic site—I wanted Gerry to see it. My friend Margaret Lambert and I visited this place in September 2012 and were charmed by it. We’d gone from Brú na Bóinne to Mellifont Abbey to Monasterboice that day—all were part of the same monastic settlement at one time, which we’d heard on the tour at Brú na Bóinne, and thus decided to see, spur-of-the-momentish. Margaret and I arrived at Monasterboice in the very late afternoon, almost dusk, after being very lost; it’s out in the country on a single-lane road.

See that fragment of a tower? That’s Monasterboice in the distance. I recognized it immediately.

See that fragment of a tower? That’s Monasterboice in the distance. I recognized it immediately.

That day in 2012, Margaret and I had the place to ourselves, and we just meandered and talked quietly. It was, I don’t mind saying, magic, and you all know how I am about finding the magic. (Or, I should say, letting it find you.) Today, Gerry Hampson and I did not have the place to ourselves—it’s the tourist season in Ireland, and boy, can you tell—but we strolled around and invoked the name of our dear friend Margaret, who died earlier this year. It was not the first time her name has been mentioned on this trip.

Aha—here’s that round tower! Monasterboice, June 2015.

Aha—here’s that round tower! Monasterboice, June 2015.

In the foreground, much newer gravesites, but you can see remains of the church, the tower, and at the rear, one of the historic crosses.

In the foreground, much newer gravesites, but you can see remains of the church, the tower, and at the rear, one of the historic crosses.

Founded in the late fifth century by St. Buite, Monasterboice (Mainistir Bhuithe—the monastery of Buite) was an early Christian settlement before it was co-opted by the Cistercians.

All that’s left there now is the round tower, a bit of two churches, and the cemetery (the wall that surrounds it is much later—1870s), which has three fifth-century Celtic-era crosses in it. This article has a lot of information and photos of the historic crosses (this has even more); we were not able to get close once that stinkin’ tour bus arrived.

The wall that surrounds it is newer than the site of the graves and church.

The wall that surrounds it is newer than the site of the graves and church.

When you have a fairly finite area, you slow down and start looking at everything. (And one of these days I will see everything at Monasterboice. The first time Margaret and I were stopped by the setting sun; this time Gerry and I were interrupted by a tour bus.) Still, I was fascinated by the gravestone art.

This is the Sacred Heart, of course, which arose in the Middle Ages as a facet of Catholic mysticism. Wikipedia says: "The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by the lance-wound, encircled by the crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding."

This is the Sacred Heart, of course, which arose in the Middle Ages as a facet of Catholic mysticism. Wikipedia says: “The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by the lance-wound, encircled by the crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding.”

Another, more recent representation of the Sacred Heart, surrounded (clockwise) by a lily, ivy, grape leaf, and I have no idea (a daisy?). I believe this is from the Victorian era; they were big on plant symbolism.

Another, more recent representation of the Sacred Heart, surrounded (clockwise) by a lily, ivy, grape leaf, and I have no idea (a daisy?). I believe this is from the Victorian era; they were big on plant symbolism.

While I was researching for this post, I came across several interesting articles for those who might want to know more. This one is about the old crosses; this one from the Irish Times is lovely.

Here’s a stone that’s more than 200 years old: Christy Kirwan died at Brownstown in 1807. At the top a Christogram—IHS—flanked by angels. I’m not sure if the bird below is meant to be a dove; it looks like a sea bird.

Here’s a humble stone that’s more than 200 years old: Christy Kirwan died at Brownstown in 1807. At the top a Christogram—IHS—flanked by angels. I’m not sure if the bird below is meant to be a dove; it looks like a sea bird.

I have no idea about this one: armor, a shield with three crosses, a disembodied hand holding a dagger? The plant … I have no idea. Is it a stylized lily?

I have no idea about this one: armor, a shield with three crosses, a disembodied hand holding a dagger? The plant … I have no idea. Is it a stylized lily?

The North Cross is the plainest of the ancient crosses here, and, in fact, it is in pieces, all of which are enclosed in an iron fence (probably from Victorian times).

This is about all that survives of the North Cross. This is the eastern face (a medallion); the reverse is a simple crucifixion. In its day it was probably painted.

This is about all that survives of the North Cross. This is the eastern face (a medallion); the reverse is a simple crucifixion. In its day it was probably painted.

This old stone was impossible to read, but you can make out Christ on the cross, two tilted angels … and a skull and crossbones. This is a memento mori—a symbolic reminder that we all will die.

This old stone was impossible to read, but you can make out Christ on the cross, two tilted angels … and a skull and crossbones. This is a memento mori—a symbolic reminder that we all will die.

And then … before we were finished … a huge tour bus arrived and vomited out enough tourists to cover every inch of the place. Ambience was ruined. We weren’t done seeing, yet, but it became impossible to get close enough to see or to take photos without a half-dozen people in them. I have a tendency work my way around the edges of things, looking at the things that most people skip in their haste to get to the One Big Thing they are meant to see—the important thing, the oldest thing, or whatever. Which means I didn’t take photos or even get within thirty feet of the other two very old crosses or the churches.

We departed, disappointed.

 On this road, you would not be able to pass by this bus in another car; you would have to pull over and let it pass. I know this because I have driven on this tiny piece of seemingly unnamed road now in both directions. It’s a one-laner.

On this road, you would not be able to pass by this bus in another car; you would have to pull over and let it pass. I know this because I have driven on this tiny piece of seemingly unnamed road now in both directions. It’s a one-laner.

On our way to Monasterboice we’d seen several roadside vendors selling fruit and produce (mostly strawberries). Since strawberry season was long gone in Tennessee, the temptation proved too much for me—we stopped and I bought a couple pints. We’d get cream—or ice cream!—when we got back to Portnarnock.

After we had the strawberries, we hopped on the M1 to get south a little more quickly, and I was delighted to find myself driving over the Mary McAleese (Boyne Valley) Bridge. There was no place to pull over and we were in the middle of rush-hour traffic, so I’ve borrowed a photo from the engineering firm that designed the bridge.

Isn’t it gorgeous? I borrowed this from the website of ROD Consulting Engineers © 2013.

Isn’t it gorgeous? I borrowed this from the website of ROD Consulting Engineers © 2013.

We arrived back at the hotel at a quarter to five and were distracted … er, reminded that we wanted to try afternoon tea at some point while we were here.

Well, you can hardly miss it, there by the front door in between you and the elevator. :)

Well, you can hardly miss it, there by the front door in between you and the elevator. 🙂

Margaret and I, along with the Hampson ladies and my sister and niece, had had a very fancy high tea at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin’s city centre back in 2012—and I was thinking of organizing something like it for our celebration this fall. Then Gerry told me that his nieces had taken their Nana (Bridie) out to the Portmarnock for tea. Oh, reeeeally? I’d said.

But they stop serving afternoon tea in the Seaview Lounge at five o’clock, and now it was ten minutes before the magic hour. We lingered in the doorway, and a young server laughed when we wondered if it was too late. “Of course not!” he said, and seated us by the window. Soon we were presented with two pots of tea (green for Mr. Hampson, black for his wife) and a tiered tray of sandwiches and baked goods. When they brought it out I knew we’d never eat it all (we took a full plate back to the room for later) but we made a valiant attempt.

Afternoon tea in the Seaview Lounge.

Afternoon tea in the Seaview Lounge.

We sat there for fifty minutes, counting planes on their final approach for landing and Dublin International Airport (there were about seventeen or so of them—one every five minutes), and making a list of what to do tomorrow. Comparison to afternoon tea at the Shelbourne in downtown Dublin? A little less pomp and circumstance, but just as delicious and significantly less expensive. And the view of the sea was spectacular. We’ve already reserved a group table for Friday afternoon before our party on Saturday. 🙂

Oh-o, It’s Magic (the Cars Version)

Day 6 / Sunday, 16 September 2012

When we were in Bettystown last night, Margaret noticed a little restaurant that served breakfast, so that’s where we headed this morning after Margaret had a nice lie-in (which was great, since she’d been sick with a cold). The Red Rose Café was small and busy, but the service and food were grand.

We’d decided to head to Brú na Bóinne (pronounce this BREW-nah-bowANN) today. This translates as Palace (or Mansion) on the Boyne—the Boyne being a river bisecting a beautiful valley in County Meath. A historic river, I should add: the site of the Battle of the Boyne in July of 1690, the outcome of which set the stage for more than three centuries of sectarian violence in Ireland. And the Orangemen still march in Ulster.

It’s all quite peaceful now, this valley. And long before that #&%@!! Dutchman came along, Stone Age men were building cairns, chamber tombs, standing stone circles, henges, and other megalithic structures in a roughly 1900-acre area along the north side of the Boyne.

You may know it as Newgrange (see this too), but the site also includes Knowth (pronounce this NOE-th), Dowth (DOE-th) and many smaller mounds. These are called passage tombs—a cruciform chamber in the center of a mound of rocks, connected to the outside by a long passage. Tomb is a misnomer, as it is not believed the dead were interred here. The mounds are aligned with the sun: at sunrise of the winter solstice, light shines directly along the long passage into the chamber at Newgrange for about seventeen minutes. It’s too precise for this to be accidental; the builders of the cairns knew exactly what they were doing. These mounds exist all over Western Europe, but this is quite a collection here in a bend of the Boyne.

I had seen Newgrange before (in fact, I lost a beloved necklace there; eventually that story will be in the archives) in 2003, so we opted for the Knowth tour. You can see either or both; in 2003 Dowth was included with Knowth but it isn’t now, although you can visit it if you can find it. (If you’ve been to Ireland you are laughing now. Finding it is the issue.) Regardless, Newgrange and Knowth are guided tours only. (Unfortunately, the woman who sold us our tickets also sold us each a 50-cent explanatory brochure—in German, which we didn’t notice until we’d gotten home. What a disappointment!)

It’s beautiful country, the Boyne River Valley.

You have to cross the Boyne on a foot bridge to get to the tour bus.

It’s a fantastic, rustic site of six or seven mounds; Knowth1 is the largest.

Here are a couple of them. I wish I’d photographed all the kerbstones.

I have a photo without the guy, but here you can see the size by comparison. It would’ve taken awhile to build this.

Some haven’t yet been excavated.

This is one that has collapsed; the cruciform shape is there: the “arms” are just past the fallen rock. This is what they all look like inside.

This is Knowth1, the largest at this site.

One of the most appealing features, of course, are the kerbstones that surround Knowth1 (and Newgrange). Imagine prehistoric men carving these shapes into rocks, using other rocks as tools!

Concentric circles and spirals are a symbol used frequently by the ancients.

More kerbstones. Can you see the triple spirals on this one?

This one seems to illustrate a plan for a henge, seen from above.

Hold a straight stick in the hollow from which the lines emanate here, and you have a crude sundial.

We were allowed to climb to the top.

They’ve carved a tiered path out of the cairn. It’s steep; those chain handholds are there for a reason.

Gorgeous view, though! That’s the Boyne again.

At the end, we were allowed to climb through the “back door” into the chamber inside. It’s a completely different experience from Newgrange, which is significantly larger (the passage from the front door to the central chamber is sixty feet) and much more fixed up, but I am really glad we saw Knowth.

And our docent was very well-informed and interesting. Something she mentioned set in motion our plans for the rest of the day: the land on which the mounds lie was a part of a large monastic settlement—the Abbey of Mellifont, which was the first Cistercian house in Ireland, founded in 1142. It “replaced,” in a sense, the much older Monasterboice (pronounce this MON-a-ster-BOYSE), which was formed in the fifth century by St. Buithe. Monasterboice had been in decline since its last abbot died in 1117; when the highly organized Cistercians arrived, that was truly the end of Monasterboice.

The ruins of Mellifont were just two kilometers away (and Monasterboice just 2km further), so we dashed into the Brú na Bóinne gift shop and the café for bottled water, then hit the road to Mellifont Abbey.

You drive in at Mellifont and you think, Um, there’s nothing here. I mean, there are a lot of old piles of rocks in Ireland (ahem: ruins), but of all the ruins I’ve seen, Mellifont is the most ruined of all.

This is what you see when you arrive at Mellifont. Meh.

And then you take another look. It was late afternoon, which was lovely light.

The lavabo (where the monks washed their hands). Look at those long shadows. Soon to get longer.

Take a closer look.

Closer. Lovely hearts and fleurs-de-lis top this capital.

We walked around and around. It was peaceful.

The sky darkened. Storm’s coming. Somewhere.

I just like the interplay of light and line.

And then we saw our first rainbow. Magic.

Rainbow! It’s there!

From there we drove to Monasterboice. It was harder to find, and the last little bit of it was on a one-lane road with high hedges. (Driving in Ireland can be exciting.) Now the sun was very low.

Honestly, there’s not much left at Monasterboice, either. A round tower. A piece of a wall. A large cemetery.

There’s not much left here either … except this magnificent cemetery.

There are five members of one family buried beneath the cross in the foreground; the last died in 1950.

And then we saw it: a “Celtic” cross. We could tell immediately it was important. Further investigation yields this: it is Muirdach’s Cross, and it dates from 900–923 AD.

Muirdach’s Cross.

It’s gorgeous. That’s a bishop, though, not Christ. He’s on the other side.

Remember, these crosses were intended to tell the gospel story to an unschooled population; every panel tells a story.

What Bible story do you think this tells? Those are the tonsured heads of monks, but are those snakes? Dragons? The head of the upper snake looks sort of fox-like, don’t you think?

In their time, crosses like this would have been brightly painted too. I think they’re lovely now, but imagine what they might have looked like in living color!

Muirdach’s isn’t the only important cross here. There’s the West Cross and the North Cross.

West Cross. It was getting dark very quickly. This isn’t great, but the best of those I took.

North Cross. This simple crucifix is similar to one we’ll see at Kilfenora.

Back of the North Cross.

These are some other Monasterboice images I liked:

At Monasterboice.

IHS: the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, iota-eta-sigma.

Muirdach’s Cross again.

Detail on a cross at Monasterboice.

I just liked the way this turned out, with the sunspots and all.

Eventually it was just too dark to take pictures, and we were hungry. We came home through Drogheda and stopped at the Black Bull again for dinner. The pear and blue cheese salad I had was delicious.

At the end of our trip, Margaret and I were discussing some of our favorite moments and this day—every bit of it—was the first thing that sprang to my mind. It was as nearly perfect as a day can be. Magical.

Today’s Image

Monasterboice at sunset was … indescribable. Indescribably beautiful. Surrounded by shade trees that brought the dark on quickly and filled with monuments to the dead that had unimaginable grief still clinging to them in words and visuals. If you ever get the chance, you should see it. I’m glad I did.