03 September 2006 Sunday - Drogheda to Carrickfergus

This morning, we woke up, showered, packed, took our things to the car and headed to breakfast which was included at our B&B. The breakfast was fantastic, but only because I’m a carnivore. They had eggs, ham, sausages and “white pudding,” a strange meat-based nub that had the texture and consistency of Braunschweiger. I purposely avoided the “Black Pudding” which my friend Ryan said was made with blood.

Yesterday, we were too tired to see everything we wanted to see between Dublin and Dundalk so today we drove back to Drogheda and saw two neolithic sites called Knowth and Newgrange. Driving to the sites was easier, and the scenery was beautiful.

Kathy especially loved the flowers that were everywhere.

Many of the houses had fifteeen-foot (5-meter) high walls of flowers facing the roads. It was amazing. They had enormous bushes of flowers everywhere.

When we got to the Newgrange site, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that it was Heritage Week and therefore our entrance into all of the sites would be free for the week. They asked us if we wanted to buy a special yearly pass that got us into all the sites for free, but it seemed silly since we were getting in free anyway. [In retrospect, this was a mistake. We should have bought the pass because sites we visited later in the trip would easily have paid for the passes and saved us tens of euros].

These neolithic sites were fascinating for the same reason as places like Stonehenge and Avbury; because several thousand years ago, ancient people created these huge monuments by hauling enormous multi-ton stones fifty or more kilometers to the site, carved them and used them for some unknown pagan religious purpose 2500 years before Christ. Like Stonehenge, the inhabitants righted circles of tree trunks for rituals.

The trees weren't original, of course. The people who looked after the site set them there to demonstrate how it would have looked.

The monuments themselves consisted of huge man-made hills

that were encircled by huge rocks

that were engraved with neolithic designs and symbols.

Both of the sites had long corridors and originally contained the ashes and cremated remains from ancient ancestors. One of the sites had opposing tunnels

that were perfectly aligned with the sun of the solstice. That is to say that during the summer and winter solstices, for about five days, the light of the sun would shine into these corridors and illuminate the place. In some cases the hills were surrounded by a man-made river of rocks.

There was a third site nearby called Douth, but we decided not to see it because it was getting late and we had a lot of driving to do. Instead, we headed North. After carefully studying the map, Kathy said that there were thousands of historic sites all around Ireland, but unless they were in the book, it would be impossible to say whether any particular site would be good or bad. For example, she said, not far from where we were driving, there was a historic site marked on the map, and she wondered if it was significant or not. Kathy hates to miss out on anything, so it irritated her that we were driving by so many historic sites, not knowing what they were without the book. So I suggested we track down the nearest one and find out. We had a plan.

We turned into the next historic site on the map. We knew absolutely nothing about the site except the name: it was called Proleek Dolmen. We followed the signs, which led us down a long road and dumped us into a golf course. We drove around the golf course, but didn't see any historic site. Finally, we parked the car, grabbed our cameras and headed off on foot down a path that looked promising. Eventually, we saw a promising sign

and we knew we were on the right track. The path led us down onto the golf course and dumped us on a green! We were confused. We obviously must have taken a wrong turn. We turned and followed a different fork and it also dumped us onto a green. The only other choice was a very long pathway that led through the golf course. Kathy was ready to turn back, but I boldly encouraged her to walk down the path. After what seemed like walking a half-mile through the golf course, with players on both sides, we reached the end of the path. And there it was: the proleek dolman.

It was just a pile of rocks. Apparently, these dolmans are prehistoric grave sites, where the ancient people buried an important person and arranged rocks in a special pile for them. Needless to say, we were disappointed. We decided we had wasted too much time, and should probably stick to the sites in our guidebooks.

We drove North back to Dundalk and beyond, stopping near the border to Northern Ireland to exchange money. Northern Ireland still uses British Sterling (pounds) rather than the Euro for money. I was surprised that there was no formal border crossing and barely any indication we were leaving the Republic of Ireland and entering Northern Ireland. If there was a sign, I didn’t even notice it.

We stopped for lunch after that, and when we came out, we were surprised to see a bunch of Goldwing motorcycles in the parking lot!

We had to take a few photos for the sake of our club. We spoke to some people who said that there was a large Goldwing following in Ireland, and groups

that tour around Ireland on them.

Next, we drove to the city of Downpatrick where we saw our next site: Inch Abbey,

the remains of a once-great big church.

Further north, by a big inlet of water called Strangford Lough, we stopped and saw Audley's castle, a big square stone tower.

It was up on a serene hill, dotted with content and cuddling cows,

overlooking the water and the sailboats anchored nearby.

Our next site was the Audleystown Cairne,

which is another prehistoric gravesite. It supposedly was once like Newgrange, a hill with a long passageway running through, although not as big or grand.

The sun was getting low and we were getting concerned about it getting dark before we found a Bed and Breakfast before nightfall.

We drove north, through Belfast, a city with a long history of violence. It seemed tired, gray and uninteresting to me. I would have liked to have stopped and gotten a few photos, but the place just seemed depressing. It was dirty and ugly with lots of traffic. We thought it best to move on and find accommodations elsewhere.

Our goal was to find a Bed and Breakfast that would take our travel vouchers. These were five special vouchers we decided to buy that entitles us to stay at a large number of Bed and Breakfast Inns for a fixed price of $95 per night. Before we booked our trip, we didn’t know if this was a good price or not so it was a huge dilemma. The thing that sold us on the vouchers is that it came with a book that gave us a list of B&Bs that accept the vouchers, so we thought it would help us find places to stay at night. The long and short of it is that Kathy looked in her little book and located a B&B just north of Belfast that accepted the vouchers, so we decided to spend the night there. It is called the Beechgrove Bed and Breakfast.

It's located in a town just north of Belfast called Carrickfergus. The room was nice and comfortable. The only down-side was when I went downstairs to fetch something from the car, I saw a spider on the hallway wall that was enormous. When I got back to the room, I told Kathy about it. This was the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in my life, except for the tarantulas we saw in Peru. This was the thing nightmares are made of. This spider was bigger than a half-dollar coin and probably closer to the size of the rim of a glass. It should probably be named Shelob after the spider in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.