I’m back from Ireland, readers! Weretoad and I returned to the US Friday evening and have been recovering ever since. Although my husband became ill, we had a fun time and it was a bit hard to return from a green isle with blossoming flowers to a snow storm in Update NY. I must admit, as much as I love winter, I’ve had my fill for the year… Can I go back to Ireland now?
We spent our first day there resting and exploring the streets near our hotel off O’Connell Street. I made a point to find the Garden of Remembrance because I wanted to see the beautiful statute of the Children of Lir. It’s one of my favorite stories, even with the children’s conversion to Christianity at the end. In addition to the statue, there’s a beautiful cross-shaped reflection pool featuring a mosaic complete with Celtic weapons. Again, I’m always amazed by the beautiful way that Christianity and Irish Paganism have blended.
That night we went to The Oliver St. John Gogarty pub in Temple Bar for some drinks and trad music. Before you ask, no – we didn’t have Guinness. As much as my Weretoad and I used to enjoy it, it isn’t vegetarian. Instead we had some German beer – a safe bet for veg*ans and, perhaps, a way to get in touch with our Viking blood. I loved sitting in the pub and singing along to familiar songs. They even played a Beatle song for fun. This added to my enjoyment!
Things became a bit complicated on the second day. Unfortunately, Weretoad came down with the stomach bug which would remain in place until returning to America. This was especially horrible because we had reservations for a trip to the countryside that day. At the very last moment, he decided to go back to the hotel to sleep while I went on a magnificent tour of Tara and Newgrange with Mary Gibbons. It was perfect for an Irish history junkie. Thinking she would guide us around the actual sites alone, I brought a book with me to busy myself until reaching the destinations. That was completely unnecessary as she explained so much along the way. I got to see other sites around Dublin and the countryside from the bus. If you ever get to Dublin, I highly, highly recommend this tour. Definitely bring your camera and dress for mud.
As much as I loved Dublin, I was happy to get into the countryside. I got to see firsthand why Ireland is called the emerald isle and why Imbolc marks its spring. While the trees are only just budding, the grass is so green, ferns have unfurled, and flowers are blooming all over. I even saw some trees covered in blossoms! I got to see old castles and monasteries across the countryside as well as some castles still in use, such as Slane along the Boyne.
Getting to Tara was amazing. Since I started on this Druidic path, I’ve read about its importance to ancient religion and Irish culture. To be there was, for me, akin to a Christian visiting the Holy Land. Here was where the High Kings were ceremonially enthroned! Here was where the ancient Druids lit the sacred fires! I didn’t dare climb the actual Hill of Tara. It was very steep and muddy. I watched a German guy try and fail miserably. This ditzy Druid was not about to try! I was happy circumnavigating around it and climbing the nearby, shorter hill with the Stone of Destiny.
Close to the hills was something I didn’t think I would have an opportunity to see – an actual clootie tree in Ireland! They usually occur near wells but I didn’t see one. It was surely there because of Tara’s importance. As you can see, many have left offerings here. I felt compelled to make my own but what? I felt so unprepared for offerings. I remembered a rope on my passport pouch – something I never used. I ripped it off and tied it to a branch, whispering prayers and thanks. It felt amazing to participate in such an old religious expression at such a holy spot.
From Tara we drove along the River Boyne to the Newgrange visitor center where I learned more about prehistoric burial mounds. The building is amazing – beautiful fountains, nature trails, and interesting architecture. Along the trails are markers by trees and other plants with ogham symbols and explanations. Inside is a replica of Newgrange and, should you ever visit, you absolutely must make sure that you get the ability to visit the actual tomb. Some people are not able to because the caretakers limit the traffic. Book with Mary Gibbons and you will get that privilege! Thus, after a short lunch in the tea room, I crossed a bridge over the Boyne (I offered a shiny coin to the Goddess Boann. I felt her very strongly around her river.) and boarded another bus to Newgrange. Here was another amazing place to finally visit. I read about it every Winter Solstice – how the sun enters the chamber for 17 minutes on that day. To actually see it in person took my breath away. It is larger than I thought! To see the prehistoric art, including the famous triple spiral exclusive to the Boyne Valley, is humbling. To enter was to trust the ancients for this structure is older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza. I was not able to take photos inside, but you can see the original corbelled ceiling here. They simulate the Winter Solstice inside which is also kind of amazing – not necessarily the faux sun, but to stand in this tomb in darkness. It is said that An Dagda built this structure and that his son, Angus Mac Og, lives there. I was happy to have visited a site associated with An Dagda. It made me feel better about not making it to Kildare.
Weretoad felt better in the evening (he always did – mornings were always hard), just disappointed not to have seen the countryside. We walked by Trinity college and had dinner at the Cornucopia Wholefood & Vegetarian Restaurant. It was somewhat difficult to find and incredibly busy. We had a hard time finding a seat, but the food was very good.
The next day, our last full day in Dublin, was spent exploring more of the city. We went to the archaeology museum to see the amazing collection of Bronze Age and Iron Age gold, bog bodies, Viking artifacts, and more. Included was a replica of the Gundestrup Cauldron (I thought it was the real one at first which nearly made me pee myself with excitement. The real one is in Denmark. I. Must. Get. There.). Even if it wasn’t the original, to see the size was impressive. We also saw the beautiful and famous Tara Brooch along with other intricate and impressive Celtic treasures. My gosh. Our ancestors were so talented… Should you get to Dublin, as a Druid or Pagan you absolutely must visit this museum. You won’t be allowed to take photos but entrance is free, free, free!
Next we went next door to the National Library where we went to the impressive Yeats exhibit which you can view virtually online. Once more, this was a free exhibit and totally worth going to, especially if you’re a Yeats fan like Weretoad and me. Included are examples of Yeats’ occult work which have always been of particular interest to me.
After leaving the National Library, find Setanta Pl nearby (Any Druid worth his or her salt should get giddy at that street name!) and take a right. Keep walking and, just south off the sidewalk on Nassau Street, you’ll find the impressive Táin mural. You’ll see only a portion of it at left. I’m assuming the woman depicted is Queen Medb. Definitely worth finding.
Later in the afternoon we walked a long way in search of the Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery. Unlike Guinness, it’s safe for veg*ans and the tour is supposed to be less busy and boisterous. Finding it is a bit of an effort. You have to walk a long way and eventually enter a questionable looking featuring a scary Pooka statue on an iron fence. When you find it, you will not be disappointed. If I remember correctly, it was about €13 to enter or €11 with a student ID. We learned a lot about whiskey and gained a very great appreciation for Jameson. I was even selected for a whiskey tasting which not everyone on tour gets to participate in. I was able to compare their lovely “water of life” to Scotch and Jack. I much preferred the Jameson to either. It’s smoother and goes really well with coke or cranberry juice! I ended the tour with a very bitter Irish coffee. I left slightly drunk.
After that we went to another vegetarian restaurant – Govinda’s. I had an amazing Indian dish next to a statue of Lord Krishna. To end the day, we went to a theater and saw “The Fighter” which was amazing! Great movie for American Irish diaspora!
So now I’m back in America and already looking forward to going back. Ireland was wonderful and there is still so much to do and see!