Brú na Bóinne December Solstice 2015

by J. Oster, March 2016

This is Newgrange, in County Meath, Ireland, 30 miles north of Dublin. It was built 5,000 years ago, around 3300-2900 BCE. It’s 400 years older than the pyramids in Egypt, a thousand years older than Stonehenge in England. There are religious ruins in Turkey and on Malta that are a thousand years older than Newgrange, ruins in Brittany, France, that are 500 years older. So—not the oldest man-made structure in the world, but nearly.

Newgrange overlooks the River Boyne, in an area known as Brú na Bóinne, Irish for the Mansion of the Boyne. The structure is what archeologists call a megalithic passage tomb or an incised tumulus. A cairn of 220,000 tons of medium-sized stones interspersed with layers of turf was built over a passage and central chamber of large stone slabs. No mortar was used. The roof has never leaked. There are more than 40 passage tombs in the so-called Bend of the Boyne. Nothing is known about the people who built them. Whatever they did there, they stopped doing it by 2045 BCE.

In 1967 AD, Michael O’Kelly, an archeologist from University College Cork, Ireland, discovered that Newgrange was more than a ceremonial tomb. O’Kelly had been supervising the excavation of Newgrange since 1962 (and continued until 1975) and had heard stories from local people that on certain days of the year the rising sun illuminated the 60-foot-long passage. On 21 December 1967, O’Kelly went into the passage before dawn and at 0858—when the sun appeared over Red Mountain, on the opposite bank of the Boyne—he observed a thin pencil of light that widened to 17 cm (6.5 inches) and illuminated the central chamber for 17 minutes before it narrowed.

On 20 December 2015, 48 years after O’Kelly, 5,000 years after the construction of the passage tomb, I was one of 21 people inside Newgrange at 0858. Our names had been drawn in a lottery from among 30,000 entrants. We saw a golden bracelet of light on the floor of the chamber. It grew wider and longer until the chamber was bright enough that we could see one another’s faces. Some of us, at the invitation of our guide, placed objects in the beam of light. Someone put down a ring, someone else a bracelet. I put down my 24-year AA medallion. We were asked not to take photographs of the solstice event, but after the band of light had moved across the chamber, I made this photograph:

A little later, outside the tomb, I made the photograph at the top of the page.


Visitors waiting to enter the chamber, 20 December 2015

Newgrange vanished from history until 1699, when workers for a Scottish farmer who owned the land dug up stones to use as pavers and uncovered the entrance. A succession of archeologists, most prominently Edward Lhwyd, director of Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum (1699), and Sir Thomas Molyneux, Professor of Physick (sic) at the University of Dublin (1725), visited the site. Most attributed the monument to such foreign invaders as the Vikings and the Normans. In the words of Michael O’Kelly, the archeologist who oversaw the 20th century excavation of Newgrange, “almost any race under the sun was considered eligible save for the natives themselves,” the Irish being thought too unsophisticated to have built such a structure.

Another early visitor was archeologist Sir William Wilde (1847 and 1849), father of Oscar Wilde, author of a charming book, The Beauties of the Boyne, that be can read online. Inside the chamber, Wilde wrote, “an air of mystery steals over the senses—a religious awe pervades the place; and while we do not put any faith in the wild fantasies of those antiquaries of the last century, who would make the world believe that this was a great Druid temple…in which the sacred rites of Paganism, with its human sacrifices were enacted, we wonder less at the flight which their imaginations have taken.”

Brú na Bóinne, the Irish name for Newgrange, was mentioned in the dindshenchas, stories about ancient Irish places and how they got their names. But the British and Scottish landowners who had come to control much of Ireland were ignorant of these traditions. The Irish learned class had ceased to exist and books in Irish went undeciphered in libraries.

In 1882, Newgrange came under the care of the state Board of Public Works (now the Office of Public Works). An iron gate was erected to control access. In 1912, George Coffey, first keeper of antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, presented a paper, “Newgrange and other Incised Tumuli in Ireland,” to the Royal Irish Academy.

"Tumulus” is the term used on the OPW sign at entrance to the tomb site

Day trips from Dublin began in 1896, first by train, then by bus. A somewhat inaccurate guidebook was published in 1939. Electricity was installed on the site in the 1950s. O’Kelley’s excavation began in 1962 and continued until 1975. The entire Bend of the Boyne was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. The Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center opened shortly after.

Additional excavation has been done around the site, but there is a consensus among archeologists that extensive work should await the development of new tools and methods.

Newgrangeana II

Newgrange is circular, with a flattened front. Its average diameter is 103.6 metres, or 113 yards. (These are O’Kelly’s drawings, gratefully borrowed, as all the information on these and other pages is borrowed, from books by O’Kelly and by other writers.)

The interior passage (the cruciform shape in the lower right quadrant of the drawing above) is 18.95 m (20.7 yards). The passage is formed by 22 standing stones, called orthostats, on the left side, 21 on the right. (See the drawing below.) The passage ends in a chamber with three recesses and a domed ceiling 20 feet high.

There are 97 sandstone kerbstones, averaging roughly 6 feet by 3 feet and about a ton in weight, placed so that their tops are exactly three feet above the ground.

The kerbstones were quarried from Clogher Head, near the mouth of the Boyne, about six miles from the site. They were transported by water, perhaps by being strapped to canoes that were lifted by rising tides in the River Boyne estuary.

The bright white stones at the front of the tomb are quartz, from the Wicklow Mountains, 80 miles away to the south. O’Kelly found them collapsed on the ground at the front of the tomb, but conjectured that they had been intended to be part of a nearly vertical wall.

To accomplish this in his reconstruction he had to use reinforced concrete. A very good book, Newgrange, by Geraldine Stout and Matthew Stout, husband and wife archeologists, states: “It was the last time in Ireland that scientific opinion, no matter how well founded, and a modern esthetic would be allowed to impinge so forcefully on the ancient. If it were done again, the current approach to the presentation of ancient monuments would have seen Newgrange restored as unobtrusively as possible; accessible, yes, but a ruin…As an approach to interpretive reconstruction, new Newgrange is itself a monument to past standards. It stands at the end of a tradition of an intrusive style of presenting ancient monuments throughout the world…It has been included in an international list of the world’s worst archeological reconstructions.”

Newgrange was built over several generations, at a time when the average age for men was 28, for women 25. The people who built it were neolithic or megalithic hunter-gatherers. (Neolithic means new stone, megalithic means large stone.) They developed farming around 4000 BCE and by 3000 BCE were well fed and had the time and the reserves of food to look beyond their day-to-day survival. They were sufficiently wealthy that large areas of turf could be permanently removed from farming. This compromised the fertility of the land. Thus Newgrange, in the words of the Stouts, was both the apogee of this prehistoric civilization and the origin of its demise.

How Newgrange works

The winter solstice—more accurately known in the northern hemisphere as the December solstice since in the southern hemisphere it is the summer solstice—occurs on December 20, 21, 22, or 23. The 2015 December solstice was on 22 December at 0448 GMT. At that point, the sun was directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, 23.43721° south of the equator. The North Pole, therefore, was tilted 23.43721° away from the sun, its greatest distance from the sun and the reason the days are short and the temperatures (usually) low.

At Newgrange, which is closest to the town of Donore, Ireland, the sun rises over Red Mountain, which is 100 meters above sea level, at 0854. At 0858, sunlight beings to appear on the floor of the passage. It widens to a band of 17 cm by 0909. At 0925, the band of light disappears. The whole things lasts 17 minutes.

How it happens is that the sunlight shines through gap between two lintel stones 2.5 meters from the entrance. The gap, 1 meter by 60 cm, is known as the roofbox. This is what it looks like from outside the chamber:

The floor of the chamber is on the side of a hill. When we entered the chamber, we made our way up a slope to a point two meters higher than the entrance. The passage was so narrow that we had to squeeze past the orthostats and to keep our heads down so we didn’t whack them on the lintels. In five days in Ireland, I knocked my head more than once, in Newgrange and other passage tombs, and even on the replica of the Newgrange passage in the Brú na Bóinne Visitors Center. (Neolithic males, according to Wikipedia, averaged 5'5" in height, women 5'1". I'm 5'9" [down from 5'11"].)

The roofbox acts as a kind of lens, narrowing the light of the rising sun. The placement of orthostats L18 and L20 in the passage further narrow the beam of light. The target of the solstice sunlight is the innermost recess of the burial chamber, which is decorated with a triskele, or triple spiral, the same shape inscribed on the entrance kerbstone.

I have no doubt that I was lucky to see the sun inside the chamber. It’s Ireland. It’s winter—or nearly; it rains a lot, and is often overcast. But O’Kelly wrote in 1982: “It might be thought that sunrise would rarely be clearly seen at this time of year in the Irish climate, but we have seen the phenomenon at Newgrange every year for the last eleven years on one or more of the three or four days centering on 21 December.”

Other old places I’ve/we’ve been

  • Grand Canyon, Arizona – 6 million years old
  • Hoh Rain Forest, Washington State – traces of human occupation 12,000 years ago
  • Canyon de Chelly, Arizona – 1500 BCE – 1350 AD
  • Paracas, Peru – 750 BCE – 100 AD
  • Rome (Colosseum) – 80 AD
  • Tikal, Guatemala – 200-900 AD
  • Acoma, Pueblo, New Mexico – 1100 AD
  • Chartres Cathedral – 1145 AD
  • Cologne Cathedral – 1248 AD

I arrived in Ireland…

…on Friday 18 December on a flight from RDU via Philadelphia. I wouldn’t do that again. Even though I’d deliberately booked an earlier flight than the one American Airlines wanted to put me on, there were delays in the US that I have a feeling are everyday, nerve-wracking occurrences. They were certainly repeated on the way home. Next time, I’d do what we did on our first trip to Ireland, i.e., fly nonstop to Heathrow from RDU and then take a short flight to Dublin in the morning. That way, if there are delays, at least I’m not still in North America.

I’d arranged for a cab to pick me up at Dublin airport, and was met by a congenial driver named Patty. He asked if I minded sharing the cab with a regular customer of his who’d been stood up by his driver. The customer’s name was also Patty, although he pronounced it Pah-dee, so it may be spelled differently.

At Newgrange Lodge, just a hundred yards from the Brú na Bóinne Visitors Center, I took a shower and changed clothes and went downstairs to meet Michael Fox of Boyne Valley Tours, whom I’d hired to drive me around for two afternoons. Michael is a County Meath native who’d worked as a technology consultant for 30 years (for Data General, the company at the center of Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine) before being bought out in the 2008 downturn and starting a tour service.

I’d read a lot over the last year so I had a list of places I wanted to see. We started at Kells, an important place in the story of Colm Cille, also known as Columba, the Irish saint who founded the religious community on the Scottish island of Iona, a place that had a huge impact on me on our visit in the spring of 2015. (This churchyard is one of several places we visited that are behind locked gates, but all one has to do is go to a caretaker’s house and get the key.)

Kells is famous for the Book of Kells, the illuminated manuscript that is actually in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. Again, we saw it last spring. The Book of Kells should be called the Book of Iona, because the manuscript was produced on Iona and only taken to Kells to safeguard it from marauding Vikings.

Our next stop was Loughcrew, a complex of 25 passage tombs arrayed over three hilltops. Cairn T, the most important, is at the top of this hill, known as Carbane East. This view is from halfway up.

From there, the tomb, Cairn T, looks like this.

The entrance, around the other side.

Inside Cairn T, which is older than Newgrange:

Looking out. Martin Brennan, an American of Irish parents, discovered in 1980 that Cairn T is aligned with the sunrise on the spring and fall equinoxes.

Looking back down the hill.

I look as though I’m about to fall over, because I was. The wind was fierce. Listen to Michael Fox, or try to:

Loughcrew, in Irish, is Sliabh na Caillí, the Hill of the Witch or Hag. Legend has it that a witch named An Cailleach Bhéara attempted to gain dominion over all of Ireland by jumping across the country from hill to hill, dropping stones from her apron, forming cairns like this tomb. She tripped and broke her neck on Patrickstown Hill, which is in the direction (east) that I’m facing. There’s a slab at Cairn T called the the Hag`s Chair. If you make a wish while sitting on the chair, the hag will grant it. Our problem was that some kids were hogging the chair while we went by.

We were running out of light (it gets dark in this part of Ireland, which is 54º north latitude, about 4:15 pm), so we hotfooted it to the Hill of Tara, Michael proudly demonstrating the acceleration of his Audi Quattro’s diesel engine. Trisha and I had spent a wonderful hour at Tara in the spring, listening to a charming talk by Michael Slavin, an author and proprietor of a used bookshop on the hill, and walking around the hilltop, which looks out over 23 of Ireland’s 32 counties.

Atop the hill is the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, which is said to roar when it is touched by the rightful king of Ireland. (Trisha gave the phallus a huge hug in the spring, and it didn’t say a peep, so there’s that.) I hadn’t slept since I don’t know when and it was cold as well as dark, so I didn’t do the place justice, photographically. In the car on the way back to Newgrange Lodge, I nodded off several times.

That didn’t mean I slept, though. I fell asleep right away, at around 9:30, but woke before midnight, unable to go back to sleep. Michael had loaned me a number of archeology books, and I read them for a couple of hours. Even archeology didn’t work for a while, and then it did.

Full Irish, Druids, Dowth

Saturday 19 December. After a so-called continental breakfast, Lucia, a Dutch woman who works at the Newgrange Lodge, gave me a map of walks in the area, and I started out on one that would have taken me east along the Boyne. I don’t know exactly why, but I turned back after just a few feet and headed for the Brú na Bóinne Visitors Center. (This is the sign that confronts drivers, from left-hand drive countries and right-, leaving the center.)

And this is the first view of Newgrange, from an overlook on the way from the parking lot that I doubt many visitors experience:

I had a real breakfast, “a full Irish,” at the visitors center, window-shopped for quite a while at the gift shop, getting Christmas presents (Irish wool socks for Trisha, a Newgrange t-shirt with a triskele for Lily, two books for me—First Light: The Origins of Newgrange, by Robert Hensey, and A Pocket History of Ireland, by Joseph McCullough—then set out to walk a mile up the hill to the L1607, the road to Drogheda.

A half a mile east at Glebehouse, a wedding/event location, cars were pulling in and parking and there was this sign:

And this van, with a Dublin license plate. (Baile Átha Cliath means Town of the Hurdle Ford.)

The web site is dedicated to “Awakening Consciousness Through Sacred Entertainment.” The people parking were there to celebrate the solstice the next morning. They were going to stay up all night at Glebehouse, have a sweat lodge, and walk to Newgrange in time for sunrise. A very serious young man with a very Irish name—not Aidan, but I’ll call him Aidan because it was like Aidan—asked if I wanted to join them. I think he said it would cost 95€. I said no thanks, and added that I was a solstice sunrise lottery winner. Aidan said, “Well done,” but he obviously didn’t think I’d done well, because he added: “When you’re in the chamber, there’s all there is. The sun comes in and then you leave.” Some of the people coming in to Glebehouse—they looked like hipsters of all ages, the sort you’d see at Burning Man or Coachella—said they’d signed up for chanting or drumming. All the newcomers got big hugs. Many of them carried sleeping bags and pillows, which I couldn’t reconcile with staying up all night. Nobody used the word, but I think at least some of them were Druids.

Later, on my way back down to the intersection, a young woman in a tiny car full of camping gear pulled over and rolled down the window. When I leaned down, she asked if I knew the way to Glebehouse. She said Glebehouse, whereas I think Americans would say Glebehouse. I said, “Top of the hill, on your right.” She said, “Fantastic” and drove on. I felt like a native. (Months later, I discovered that a "glebe" was in the 18th and 19th centuries a piece of land serving as part of the benefice of a clergyman and provided him with income.)

Just next to Glebehouse is Dowth, a passage tomb that is part of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site. It’s the same diameter (280 meters) as Newgrange, but nowhere near as impressive. Most remarkable to me, though, is that you can walk right up to it, climb on it, peek inside it. There’s no one around. There’s a sort of stile gate, but it’s unlocked. As with so many places in Ireland, there’s no merch, nothing for sale. I had to explain merch to some Irish friends I made, and had to explain how stunning was its absence. When you compare the Hill of Tara, the holiest place in Ireland, with nothing but a tasteful gift shop/cafe, to Sedona, AZ, a supposedly sacred place that is nothing but merch, well, there’s no comparison.

In William Wilde's book about the Boyne Valley, there's this drawing of Dowth in 1847, when the then landowner built a teahouse on top of the tumulus to enjoy the view.

On the way back to the visitors center, I passed these locals, as curious about me as I was about them.

Doubt, Nowt, Tink, Tree

Many Irish speakers don’t say “th” sounds. They pronounce Dowth “Doubt.” Knowt is “Nowt,” think is “tink,” three is “tree,” thirsty is “tirsty.”

Written Irish, however, is littered with h’s. Just look at this sentence: “De bharr an teanga a bheith ag forbairt i rith an ama, tá bearna shuntasach tagtha chun cinn idir an caighdeán scríofa agus nósanna áirithe sa teanga bheo.”

These are examples of lenition, known in Irish as séimhiú. Séimhiú is indicated with a letter h after the first consonant of certain nouns and adjectives. The h is not a letter, it is an "operation" that changes the pronunciation of the consonant.

It gets more complicated. Consonants are “broad” or “slender,” depending on the vowels that surround them. So there are broad and slender versions of séimhiú.

There’s a great Web site called forvo. You can search for Irish words at Volunteer pronouncers offer suggestions. If you create an account (it’s free), they’ll pronounce words you ask about if they think they’re worthwhile.

Here are some doozies you encounter when you’re trying to learn a little Irish. (These links open in new tabs. Use back arrow to return to this page.)

December 20 redux

I woke up about 6, had some yogurt and fruit and coffee with some fellow lottery winners, a couple from California, and walked to the visitors center at 7. It was the first time I’d been out that early, so I can’t say whether the fact that there were stars on the horizon was unusual, but it certainly felt propitious.

At the visitors center, I spotted a woman sitting alone, and uncharacteristically asked if I could join her. Coincidentally, she turned out to be Mia, a Belgian native who works as art historian in Dublin and is occasionally a guide for Mary Gibbons, whose tour Trisha and I took in the spring and whom I’d invited to be my solstice guest. Even more coincidentally, Mia was a lottery winner herself. We were joined by Mia’s solstice guest, Pat, a high school Irish teacher who on weekends drives a tour bus for Mary. Mary arrived just as we were about to board a bus up to the site, having nearly overslept.

The weather was holding as we took the bus up the hill.

And walked up the hill to the tumulus, where Druids and others were gathered:

The orthostats on the right are part of a fragmented ring of nine stones erected a thousand years after the tomb was built.

The weather continued to hold over the Boyne, though the clouds on the left were getting that look that clouds get just before they obscure a rising sun.

But as you already know, we were about to hit the jackpot:

Here’s another angle. Sorry about the focus problem. I guess I was excited.

Here’s Mary Gibbons, a woman who talks for a living and who could say only: “Extraordinary,” over and over.

Here’s Mary outside, followed by Pat. Inside, I had to ask Pat for a tissue, since we were both in tears. He gave me a whole packet, which I needed.

Mia (l.) and Leontia Lenahan, supervisor of Newgrange guides and our guide in the chamber today.

“Druids” at kerbstone 52 (O’Kelly: “…rivals the entrance stone in the quality of its ornament….):

Solstice sunbather:

After another Full Irish...

…provided by the Visitors Center as part of our solstice prize, Michael Fox took me on another high speed archeological tour, starting with this stone that’s been incorporated into a decorative wall in the town of Ardcath, where Michael lives with his wife, Bernadette Fox, a fabric artist. The figure is a woman spreading her legs—something to do with fertility.

We continued on to Fourknocks (from the Irish Fuarchnoic, or Cold Hills), a small passage tomb that, unlike Newgrange, had a great many cremated and unburned remains inside.

Next stop: Monasterboice, from the Irish Mainistir Bhuithe (Monastery of Buite). Buite was a follower of St. Patrick who once raised the king of Scotland from the dead. We’re in historical Ireland now; the tower and crosses are from the 9th and 10th centuries.

At the base of a cross, Eve giving the apple to Adam (l.), Cain killing Abel, with what looks like a hurley, the stick used to play the national game, hurling, which at times resembles field hockey, baseball, and lacrosse.

Next (and next to last) stop with Michael, who is a wonderful man who became a friend over our few days together and who took me at my word that I wanted to see as much of ancient Ireland as possible, was Mellifont Abbey.

Last stop: the Hill of Slane:

I gave the Hill of Tara short shrift in this blog, though it is perhaps the place that most took my breath away, not just for the view but because it is seems so close to, well, to heaven. I was jet-lagged, cold, and hungry at Tara this time, and I was as well at Slane, but I perked up when Michael pointed out that from Slane I could see Tara and Newgrange and Dowth (kind of, the left arrow) and Knowth, the right arrow (we haven’t talked about Knowth yet) and the Irish Sea, on the horizon.

Legend says that St. Patrick lit an Easter fire on this hill top in 433 AD in defiance of Lóegaire, the High King of Ireland, who had ordered that there be no other fires while a festival fire was burning on the Hill of Tara. Lóegaire summoned Patrick to Tara and was so impressed by his devotion that he let him continue missionary work in Ireland.

We finished our day with a lovely dinner at the Conyngham Arms hotel in Slane. By virtue of showing up at Newgrange, I’d been refunded the 100€ deposit I’d paid to claim my place, so I was flush and picked up the check.

One last thing…

Staying just down the road from the Brú na Bóinne Visitors Center, I hung out there a lot. On Monday, 21 December, the center celebrated the December solstice, never mind that the actual solstice was on the 22nd, putting tablecloths on the tables in the dining area. It rained that morning, but by noon the rain stopped and the sun came out. I decided to take one more tour of the tumulus. I guess I had been hanging around for a while, because one of the guides recognized me from my previous day, and even knew my name.

She took me to where I was able to get a good look at Knowth, the third tumulus in the world heritage site. Knowth is open to tours only between April and the end of October. This is what it looks like from Newgrange:

This is from a photograph at the visitors center:

I came back to the center around 2:30, and ran into Mary Gibbons and Pat, who were there with one of Mary’s tours. Michael had mentioned that the center was going to open the tumulus at Dowth that afternoon, when there is an alignment with the setting sun in one of the chambers. While talking with Mary and Pat, we were approached one of the drivers of the buses from the visitors center up the hill to Newgrange. She asked me if I wanted a ride to Dowth. And back, since it would be dark by then. Mary and Pat encouraged me to go with her.

I was nonplussed, but the bus driver explained that “we’re all a kind of family here,” and that Mary was especially valued for offering her Dublin-based tours throughout the winter. I, in turn, had earned peoples’ gratitude for having Mary as my solstice guest. “You’re a good gent,” the driver said as we walked up the path to the bus terminal. Probably the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me. She turned me over to Frank, another driver, who said I’d been noticed by some of the drivers when I walked up the hill two days before on the way to Dowth. One of the drivers had radioed the others: “I think I just saw Brush Shiels walking up the hill toward Newgrange.”

Explanations ensued. Brendan (“Brush”) Shiels, according to Wikipedia, is “is an Irish musician from County Dublin (born 1945), best known for being the frontman of Gary Moore’s first band, Skid Row….He now appears regularly providing musical accompaniment on the Joe Duffy Liveline radio programme on RTÉ and still performs live around venues in the UK and Ireland. Brush also enjoyed a brief spell as a footballer representing Bohemian F.C. in the 1960s. Shiels has helped Bohemians recent times by making appearances at fundraising events to try and ensure the survival of his former club.

“In 1971 Billboard praised Shiels, Bridgeman and Moore for their album 34 Hours suggesting the “lads will travel far.” Shiels played at such internationally known music venues such as Fillmore West and Whisky a Go Go.” I’ve been to both clubs and also heard Ireland’s Van Morrison at the Fillmore East.

Brush wore a variety of hats over the years. One of them was this:

See the resemblance?

This is Brush’s greatest hit, "The Fields of Athenry," written in the 1950s by Irish folksinger Pete St. John, about a man exiled to prison in Australia for stealing food for his family in the Irish famine of the 1850s. There are nearly 100 covers on Spotify and there's one by Bruce Springsteen that's not on Spotify.

The song is a staple of Irish sports supporters, as they call themselves, and there's a remarkable recording of a 2012 European Cup match in Gdansk, Poland, between Spain and Ireland in which the Irish fans, about to lose the game and be eliminated from the tournament, sang the song for the final six minutes. Arsène Wenger, currently manager of Britain's Arsenal Premier League team, was a commentator for French television at the time, and he asked his broadcast colleagues not to talk while the Irish sang.

Frank, the bus driver, is just to the right of the woman in the red parka among the people waiting to see the sunset at Dowth. He grew up just over the hill, and played in these tombs as a kid. I asked if he and his friends had found that scary. He said, “We never thought about it.”

I couldn’t squirm into the chamber at Dowth. Michael Fox did, and took this photograph.

Frank drove me back to Newgrange. On the way, he pointed out his mother’s house on this hillside.

It was a fitting end to things that he told me one of the hills in the distance is the Hill of Slane. Everywhere I went in Ireland, I could see where I’d been.

The end

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