The main frontage at Skerries

The main frontage at Skerries

Tue 15 Apr - Boyne Valley

My last day in Ireland! First stop the famous town of Kells. Now this IS the Kells that's associated with the Book of Kells which I saw in the Trinity College, as opposed to the Kells I went through on my way to Kilkenny. I don't know if I was expecting too much, or was looking in the wrong places, but I found this Kells disappointing. There was a small historical information centre in the local council offices, but that was the only thing about the Book of Kells which I found.

  • The local Credit Union, with the St Vincent de Paul theatre in the background, behind the statue of the Virgin.

You may remember that in Dublin Castle we saw a portrait of Elizabeth, Marchioness Conyngham (1769 - 1861), mistress of George IV. The Conyngham family seat is Slane Castle, but it wasn't open to visitors. These days the castle is most famous as the home for an annual summer rock concert, attracting up to 80,000 people to hear acts such as the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, and others of that ilk. This local hostelry is named in honour of the landlord, so this is where I just had to have lunch.

Despite what the plaque says about there being the family crest above the doorway, it is nowhere to be seen, and the receptionist implied that previous owners might have removed it as a souvenir. I would have been intrigued to find out whether it was the same as the "Over Fork Over" crest of the Cunningham clan.

Slane sits on the River Boyne, arguably the best-known river in Irish history. From here down to the coast at Drogheda is steeped in history, going right back to Newgrange, a neolithic passage tomb or temple dating back around 5,000 years, making it older than Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids.

Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun. Above the entrance to the passage at Newgrange there is a opening called a roof-box, which allows sunlight to penetrate the chamber on the shortest days of the year, around December 21st, the winter solstice.

Unfortunately time was once again my enemy. To get to the site, one has to go to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, from where guided tours leave on foot and then by bus for the monument itself, but the time that was going to take would have prevented me from achieving my next and final objective. All I could do was browse the informative exhibits in the Centre.

This is the view from the visitor centre. You can see the pedestrian bridge over the Boyne, and on the far horizon, between the dark trees, you may just be able to make out the low mound-shape of Newgrange. This is as close as I got.

If strangers know only one date in Irish history, it is almost certain to be 12 July 1690, the occasion of the Battle of the Boyne, when King William III of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II, thus delivering the country from the yolk of Papacy. Well, of course, it wasn't that simple. For a start, the date is wrong - the battle actually took place on 1 July 1690 according to the Julian calendar then in force, which equates to 11 July in the later Gregorian calendar.

The 12 July date, which is celebrated to this day, in fact relates to the more decisive Battle of Aughrim the following year.

More importantly, the battle wasn't just about religion in Ireland, it was part of a Europe-wide struggle for power. PhD theses will have been written explaining it; I shan't attempt to do so.

The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre drove me mad, much as the 1798 Rebellion Centre in Enniscorthy had done. I have two ears and one pair of eyes, but my brain isn't capable of processing three separate information sources simultaneously. So when I am trying to read the card explaining the course of the battle, and relating it to a model of the battlefield, I don't want one recorded message shouting at me in my room, and another blaring away on yet a different topic in the room next door!

Drogheda is probably best known historically for the seige and slaughter at the hand of Oliver Cromwell in September 1649. When the Royalist defenders submitted, in Cromwell's own words "their officers were knocked on the head, and every tenth man of the soldiers killed and the rest shipped to Barbados".

QF8164/EK164 wasn't due to leave Dublin airport until 10.20pm, but I had finally had enough of touristy stuff, and consistent with my practice of by-passing main towns and using secondary roads, I cut through south of Drogheda city, via Donore and Duleek, coming out on the coast at Balbriggan.

  • Balbriggan harbour.

  • They've installed various bits of gym equipment for those who want to do more than walk the dog.

  • My final resting place in Ireland. That's me, second car from the right, VW Tiguan Diesel 151CW603

I parked on the South Strand at Skerries, and sat on a bench looking out on the Irish Sea. What an unbelievable, unforgettable experience it had been, even if tinged by some regret that I had barely scratched the surface of this fascinating country which in a convoluted way is my homeland.

Then it was time to have a tidy-up of the car that had been my home for the past fortnight, and a final re-pack of my suitcase ready for check-in, managing the double inconvenience of leaving my spectacles in the suitcase, so that I couldn't read very well all the way home; and leaving a corkscrew/bottle opener in my carry-on bag, where it incurred the attention and displeasure of the security gestapo in Dubai airport.

I traced the coast road south to Rush, then inland to Swords and the M1 motorway, and so to Dublin Airport. The Hertz docket showed that I had driven 2,180 kms since leaving Dublin 16 days ago.

What chance of such an unspoiled coastline less than 40 kms from the centre of any Australian capital city?


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